Muscovy Company

gigatos | May 26, 2022


The Muscovy Company (in Russian, Московская компания, was a trading company founded in London in 1551, the first large company created as a joint-stock partnership – a forerunner of joint-stock companies – that was a forerunner of a type of business that would soon flourish in England. The Muscovy Company had a monopoly on trade between England and Muscovy (Principality or Grand Duchy of Moscow, the name of the Russian state between the 14th and 16th centuries) until 1698 and survived as a trading company until the Russian Revolution of 1917. Since 1917, the company has operated as a charitable organization, although it now continues to work in Russia.

Fundada en Londres en 1551 como “Ministry and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown” en 1555 recibió su carta real, cambiando el nombre a “Marchants Adventurers of England for the Discovery of Lands, Territories, Iles, Dominions and Seigniories Unknowen, and Not before that Late Adventure or Enterprise by Sea or Navigation Commonly Frequented”, aunque será pronto conocida informalmente como “Muscovy Company”, “Russia Company”, o “Company of Merchants Trading with Russia”. …

Its name is closely associated with famous English navigators, such as Henry Hudson and William Baffin, and with the search for the long-awaited Northern Sea Route that would make it possible to reach the East, avoiding the Atlantic Ocean, then almost exclusively under Spanish sovereignty.

Similar English ventures led to the creation of the Levant Company (in 1581), the Venice Company (1583), the East India Company (1600), the Virginia Company (1609) and the Hudson”s Bay Company (1670).

The background of the company is to be sought in the desire of a sailor of Venetian origin, Sebastian Caboto, who had always been interested in making a voyage to Asia through the Arctic. Caboto, having sailed almost all his life for the kingdom of Spain – having become captain general and having led an unsuccessful voyage to the Indies – had returned to England in 1547 after his retirement. The now elderly and experienced navigator, King Edward VI granted him a life pension and appointed him grand pilot of the realm. Caboto then convinced the king to support new explorations, sponsored by royal favor and with the support of English merchants.

The Company of Merchant Adventurers (1553-1554)

In 1551, in London, Caboto, as director, and Hugh Willoughby and Richard Chancellor as principal merchants, founded a company to develop that enterprise. founded a company to develop that enterprise, the “Ministry and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown”, a company that had the Duke of Northumberland as its main patron and to which some 240 merchants (adventurers, investors who bought shares of 25 pounds) contributed funds. The hope was not only to discover a new trade route to the East – to Cathay (China) and the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, now part of Indonesia – the much sought-after Northern Sea Route, but also to find new markets for English woollen cloth.

A Royal Charter was prepared for the company under King Edward in 1553, making Sebastian Cabot its governor. However, the king died before it could be approved. The circumstances are described in the opening of the 1566 Charter:

varios muy buenos súbditos de este Reino de Inglaterra en el último tramo del reinado del difunto príncipe elevado y poderoso, nuestro Señor Rey Eduardo el sexto, con el aliento gracioso, justo y buen agrado de dicho rey, y por el ejemplo de sus Maiesties Liberall, se juntaron para aventurarse, y para la gloria de Dios, el honor y el aumento de los ingresos de la Corona, y la utilidad de todo el Reino de Inglaterra, pusieron tres barcos para el descubrimiento por mar, de islas, tierras, territorios, dominios y señoríos desconocidos, y por los súbditos de dicho rey difunto no comúnmente por mares frecuentados: y después de eso, Dios Todopoderoso llamó a su presencia a dicho rey, quien murió antes de que terminaran y sellaran sus más amplias y graciosas cartas de privilegio prometidas a los súbditos mencionados. .. varios muy buenos Subiectos de este Reino de Inglaterra en el último fin del reinado del difunto alto y poderoso príncipe, nuestro Señor de la Surrección, el rey Eduardo VI, por el gracioso estímulo y la buena voluntad de dicho rey, y por el ejemplo de sus Señorías, lo hicieron a su medida, y por su gran cargo, y para la gloria de Dios, el honor y el aumento de los ingresos de la Corona, y la vtilidad común de todo el Reino de Inglaterra, enviaron tres barcos para el descubrimiento por mar de islas, tierras, territorios, dominios y señoríos conocidos y frecuentados por los súbditos del difunto rey: y después de que Dios Todopoderoso llamara a su merced al dicho rey, que murió antes de terminar y sellar sus amplísimas y graciosas cartas de privilegios prometidas a los dichos Subiectos. .

The company”s first expedition was entrusted to Willoughby, who seems to have been chosen for his leadership ability and, unfortunately, did not have much nautical or sailing experience. The expedition consisted of three ships: the Bona Esperanza (the Edward Bonaventure (and the Bona Confidentia (90 tons), commanded by Cornelias Durfoorth.

The ships left London”s Deptford Docks on 10 (or 11) May 1553 and a terrible whirlwind in the Norwegian Sea off the Lofoten Islands separated the Chancellor”s ship. On September 14, 1553 Willoughby managed to reach the North Cape, near the present border between Finland and Russia, and set an easterly course, entering the present Barents Sea (at that time the Murmansk Sea) and reaching the western shores of New Zembla. After reconnoitering the coasts of the archipelago, they set sail back to Scandinavia. Near the mouth of the Varzina River, east of present-day Murmansk, the ships became trapped in the ice. The ships, and the crew of about 70 men, were unprepared for the harsh polar winter, and after several unsuccessful attempts to find help, they all died, probably from frostbite or carbon dioxide inhalation. The ships, with the frozen crews and Captain Willoughby”s diary, were found by Russian fishermen the following year.

In turn, Chancellor, with the ship Edward Bonaventure, was more fortunate, sailed around the North Cape and along the Kola peninsula and by the end of August had found the entrance to the White Sea, where local fishermen were surprised by the large size of his western vessel, managing to drop anchor on August 24, 1553 in the harbor of the Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery, in the delta of the Northern Dvina (about 35 km west of today”s port city of Arkhangelsk, which would eventually be founded in 1584 to serve the growing trade. The region had just recently been added to Muscovy). Chancellor was welcomed by the local Russians, and when Tsar Ivan the Terrible learned of his, he immediately invited the exotic guests to visit Moscow for an audience at the royal court.

While his crew spent the winter in Arkhangelsk, Chancellor made the journey over 1000 km to Moscow through snow and ice-covered country. He found Moscow very large (much larger than London) and with very primitive buildings, as most of the houses were made of wood. However, the Czar”s palace was very luxurious, as were the dinners he gave in honor of Chancellor. The Russian tsar was pleased to open sea trade routes with England and other countries, as Russia at that time still had no connection to the Baltic Sea and the whole area was claimed by the neighboring powers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Swedish Empire. In addition, the Hanseatic League had a monopoly on trade between Russia and Western and Central Europe. Chancellor was also hopeful, finding a good market for his English wool and predicting a good reception for Russian furs and other goods in return. The tsar gave him letters to take to England of invitation to British merchants, promising them commercial privileges.

Foundation of the Muscovy Company (1555-1556)

Chancellor returned to the White Sea in March 1554 and was back in England by the summer of 1554. King Edward had died, and his successor, Mary I of England, had executed Northumberland to put Lady Jane Grey in his place. He had nothing against Caboto and Chancellor, but the Company of Merchant Adventurers was officially renamed by royal charter on February 26, 1555, described as: “Marchants Adventurers of England for the Discovery of Lands, Territories, Iles, Dominions and Seigniories Unknowen, and Not before that Late Adventure or Enterprise by Sea or Navigation Commonly Frequented”, soon to be known informally as “Muscovy Company”, “Russia Company”, or “Company of Merchants Trading with Russia”.

Chancellor was sent back to Russia the following year, 1555, via the White Sea, on the Edward Bonaventura with the Philip and Mary. On that voyage Chancellor learned of Willoughby”s tragic fate, recovered his papers and ships, and found the notes on the discovery of New Zembla. Chancellor spent the summer of 1555 dealing with the tsar, organizing trading parties and trying to learn how he could reach China by the northern route.

In 1556 Chancellor sailed back to England, taking with him the first Russian ambassador to his country, Osip Nepeya. They left the port of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery in the autumn, with a fleet consisting of the Edward Bonadventure, the Philip and Mary and the two ships recovered from Willoughby. In October

Chancellor died but had found a new way to reach Russia by sea, and although it was eventually replaced by a better one, that route remained for years the only viable route for the English. The Muscovy Company began to serve as an important link between diplomats from Muscovy and England, and was especially important for the then isolated Muscovy.

Anthony Jenkinson Expeditions

Chancellor was succeeded as chief merchant of the Muscovy Company by Anthony Jenkinson, who made two important voyages: one attempting to reach Cathay overland from Moscow, eventually stopping at Bukhara; the other, between 1562 and 1579, to establish overland trade routes through Russia with Persia.

In 1566, when Sir William Garrard and Sir William Chester were governors, Elizabeth I of England again modified the royal charter.

When in 1567 Muscovy began to fare badly in the already long Livonian War (1558-1582), Tsar Ivan sounded out Jenkinson about the prospect of a marriage to Queen Elizabeth I of England, which would provide him with an invaluable alliance and a refuge if the Tsar was forced to flee the country. Negotiations were unsuccessful and Tsar Ivan was forced to sign a cease-fire with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

English crown guarantee: whaling

The Muscovy Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth II in 1577. The main and most profitable motive was whaling, which became the main activity of the joint-stock company, carried out around the island of Spitsbergen, at the beginning of the 17th century. Initially the English tried to keep their competitors away, but after a few years, they only claimed for themselves the southern waters of that Arctic archipelago.

A new voyage undertaken by the Muscovy Company shortly after Chancellor”s death was another attempt to complete the Northeast Passage, led this time by Stephen Burrough. He succeeded in sailing through the Kara Gate, as the strait between Vaygach Island and the New Zembla Archipelago was known at the time. The Company appointed representatives or “factors” in Russia, hence the term “British factors” for the entire group of British agents.

In 1646, the English merchants were expelled from Muscovy, but trade resumed in 1660, with the English Restoration of Charles II, when the company was also reorganized as a regulated company. They enjoyed important privileges until 1649 and a monopoly on English trade with Russia until 1698, when they lost their privileges due to political opposition. The headquarters of the factory was until 1717 in Moscow, and then moved to Archangel. In 1723 the factory was moved again, this time by imperial decree, to St. Petersburg.

In the mid-1770s, whaling subsidies to ships flying the English ensign were increased and import tariffs and other economic restrictions were put in place that limited access to British ports for non-British and non-English whaling vessels. This led to a British whaling fleet ten times larger. These Arctic gains diminished during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) and the Napoleonic Wars (1795-1802, 1803-1813). In 1816, there were 146 British whalers in Arctic coastal waters, and the number of whalers continued to decline over the next two decades. In the 1840s, the British government abolished subsidies, ceding the market to whalers from America and other countries.

With the expansion of trade in the 19th century, the number of Company trading posts in Russia grew, with branches opened in Archangel, Cronstadt, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Company continued to exist until the Russian Revolution of 1917. The headquarters (the so-called Old English Courtyard), built during the reign of Ivan IV, not far from the Kremlin in Moscow, were visited by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.


  1. Compañía de Moscovia
  2. Muscovy Company
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