Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How the English Discovered Russia

During the reign of King Edward VI. the Lord High Treasurer of England and other "grave and wise citizens of London," having at heart the welfare of their country and grieving at the decay of trade, met together and formed a company of "Merchant Adventurers, for the discovery of lands, territories, isles, and seigneuries unknown and not by the seas and navigations commonly frequented." Six thousand pounds sterling were collected; three ships were bought, put in order, and given into the hands of Sir Hugh Willoughby, "a right valiant and worthy gentleman."

The beginning of the first voyage was discouraging; adverse winds kept them off the English coast for two months, but at last they managed to put out in search of the northeast passage around the world, toward that sea spoken of by the Romans, "sluggish and motionless, which forms the girdle of the world, where the sound of the sunrise is heard." Violent gales overtook the squadron. Richard Chancellor, the pilot-major in charge of the Bonaventura, lost sight of his companions and succeeded in doubling the Holy Cape. An unknown sea lay before him; as he ploughed its stormy waters the mouth of a river and a monastery came in sight. He landed, and learned from some fishermen that the river was the Northern Dvina, and that he was in the dominions of the Great Tsar of Moscow. Chancellor left his ship near the monastery of St. Michael, where afterwards was built the city of Archangel, and made the journey to Moscow, where he delivered to Ivan the Terrible the letter written in Latin by Edward VI., addressed vaguely "to all the kings and princes and lords, to all the judges of the earth and the captains thereof, to any who possesses high authority in all the regions under the universal heaven," and asking them to let his subjects have free pass and to entreat them with humanity and kindness.

Ivan allowed the Englishmen to see "the lustre of his eyes," entertained and feasted them in his Golden Palace, and he granted to Richard and his guests from beyond the sea to come and go in safety in the Russian dominions and to buy and build houses without let or hinderance. While Richard was in Moscow some Laplanders brought word that they had found on the west coast of the White Sea two ships at anchor in a bay and the crew of eighty-three men all dead. It was the missing squadron; Sir Hugh Willoughby was seated at his table with his journal before him. He had perished of the cold. Ivan commanded all the merchandise, the cannons, the culverins, and the rigging to be returned to the pilot-major.

"Bloody Queen Mary," with her Spanish husband, Philip II., was on the throne when Chancellor returned to England. The Merchant Adventurers received from them a new charter, and named Sebastian Cabot governor for life. The company was licensed to make discoveries in the North, Northeast, and Northwest, to

carry the royal banners, flags, and standards, "to subdue, possess, and occupy as our subjects all towns, castles, isles, and mainlands of infidelitie," and to use force on strangers who "attempted to block their trade. Chancellor, taking letters to the Tsar, written in Polish, Greek, and Italian, again set sail for the mouth of the Dvina, and with two other members of the company came in safety to Moscow. The Tsar gave them letters-patent, allowing the English to settle in two Russian towns and to trade east and west in all wares without duty.

Chancellor's two vessels, the Edward Bonaventura  and the Philip and Mary, laden with wax, train-oil, furs, felt, and other commodities worth 20,000, set sail for England. A November tempest scattered the fleet, which had Willoughby's two ships in convoy. Three vessels were wrecked on the coast of Norway. The Bonaventura, after a stormy passage of four months, struck on the rocks of Pitsligo. The first Russian envoy to England, Joseph Nepeia, was on board. Chancellor succeeded in getting him safely on shore, but he himself, his son, and nearly all his crew perished. The savage natives of the Scottish coast plundered the cargo and the property of the ambassador and the gifts of the Tsar.

Joseph was met near London "by fore-score merchants with chains of gold and goodly apparel," and after being presented with "a right faire and large gelding richly trapped, together with a foot-cloth of orient crimson velvet enriched with gold laces, all furnished in most glorious fashion," he was conducted to his lodgings in London by the Lord Mayor and all the aldermen in their skarlet."

Tartar maid


Nepeia, whose "gravity, wisdom, and stately behaviour" won great praise, set sail for Russia on the Primrose, accompanied by the bold English sailor, Jenkinson, whose life was a romance. Jenkinson spent the winter in Moscow, and by his ready wit and his wide knowledge won the Tsar's favor. Ivan gave him a letter to the princes of Asia, and in the spring of the next year he descended the Volga, and was the first to fly the red cross flag of St. George on the Caspian. He landed on the coast of Turkestan, and with a thousand camels loaded with English goods struck boldly into unknown regions infested with brigands; he was nearly massacred, but succeeded in reaching Bukhara and making his trade before that city was sacked by the Sultan of Samarkand. Three years later he again crossed the Caspian and brought to Shah Thamas, King of Persia, letters and specimens of English manufacture. The jealous Venetians poisoned the Shah's mind, and Jenkinson was received with insults. When he left the court sand was scattered "to efface the impure footsteps of the giaour  from the floor of the sacred palace." Jenkinson returned to Moscow with the envoys of Bukhara and the Turkomans; he brought the Tsar for gifts a white cow's tail and a Tartar drum, for the company six hundred camel-loads of merchandise, and for Queen Elizabeth a Tartar maid named Aura Sultana.

In acknowledgment of Jenkinson's services Ivan allowed the English to trade on all the rivers of the North and to settle in all the Russian towns from Novgorod to Astrakan. The merchants of Holland, Spain, and France tried to rival the English. Sweden made a treaty by which its merchants could go freely into the inheritance of the Tsar and its envoys pass through to India and China. But the English, who were the first to get the Tsar's support, kept the lead.