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Muscovy Company

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Updated: 27.12.2003

Also called Russia Company, body of English merchants trading with Russia.

The company was formed in 1555 by the navigator and explorer Sebastian Cabot and various London merchants and was granted a monopoly of Anglo-Russian trade. It was the first English joint-stock company in which the capital remained regularly in use instead of being repaid after every voyage.

In 1553 Sir Hugh Willoughby and Richard Chancellor had sailed to seek out a Northeast Passage to China and the East Indies (Indonesian archipelago). Willoughby's ship was lost, but Chancellor reached Arkhangelsk on the White Sea and established trade links with Moscow.

The original aim of the Muscovy Company was to exploit these contacts, as well as to continue the search for the Northeast Passage. About 1630 the company ceased to function on a joint-stock basis and became a regulated company, in which, subject to various rules, merchants traded on their own account. Exports to Russia included woolen cloth, metals, and Mediterranean goods; the English traders brought back, through Arkhangelsk, hemp, tallow, cordage, and other Russian products.

Although the tsar Alexis ended the company's privileges in 1649, and at home it lost its monopoly of the Russian trade in 1698, it survived as an influential City of London institution and shared in the 18th-century revival of Anglo-Russian trade.

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