Tag Archive | Richard Chancellor

16th April 1786. Slow Boats to Cathay.

Today in 1786 Sir John Franklin was born later famous for sailing in an attempt to discover the North West Passage to China in 1845, but tragically died in the ice two years later. (1)

Franklin’s lost expedition.

In his efforts to find a short passage to China he was following in the tradition of the Muscovy Company of three hundred years earlier when due to several years of lessening demand for England’s chief export, wool, it was imperative that new markets be found.

The Merchant Adventurers Company was founded in 1552 when Edward VI granted a Royal Charter to the master and wardens of the Community of Merchant Venturers of the City of Bristol, who were granted a monopoly of seaborne trade from and to Bristol.

Then it was the lure of the fabled North-East Passage which led seamen like Sir Hugh Willoughby of Risley and Sir Henry Sydney’s protegee Richard Chancellor, born in Bristol, to find a route to Cathay (China). However they arrived in Russia.

Victorian engraving of Richard Chancellor at the court of Ivan the Terrible.

£6,000 was raised to equip a fleet and the Company appointed Willoughby to lead the expedition and Chancellor to be Pilot-General, initiating the history of Arctic exploration.

Thus it was on 10th May 1553 that three ships left Radcliffe Dock, Stepney with Willoughby  captain of the Bona Esperanza of 120 tons and the Edward Bonaventure of 160 tons under Chancellor.

By 14th September the three ships sailed into a bay near to the present border between Finland and Russia. However  Willoughby didn’t survive the winter with his ships becoming frozen in the ice and dying in 1554.

However Chancellor survived, later to accidentally discover the White Sea from where he was summoned to Moscow and to the Court of Ivan The Terrible, resulting in the opening of trade with Russia to last 300 years.

Chancellor spent his time negotiating trade and attempting to find how China could be reached, but on the way back with the Russian envoy, he was drowned, the envoy surviving to reach London and the formation of the Muscovy Company.

Seven years after the expedition sailed, on May 5th 1560, the Governors of the Muscovy Company wrote to their Agents in Moscow: ‘Also we send you Nicholas Chancelour to remaine there, who is our apprentice for yeares: our mind is hee should be set about such business as he is most fit for: he hath been kept at writing schoole long: he hath his Algorisme, and hath understanding of keeping of bookes of reckonings.’(2)

The lad thus launched was one of two orphan boys left behind by Richard Chancellor, who barely seven years earlier, had discovered the route to the White Sea, and Archangel, thus putting England for the first time in history in direct communication with Russia.

Four hundred and fifty years later President Putin of Russia attended a dinner at Guildhall in 2003 to celebrate 450 years of trade links with Britain and marked the day when Chancellor discovered the northern route to Russia.(3)

In September 2014 the wreck of Franklin’s ship HMS Erebus was discovered and two years later HMS Terror was discovered in pristine condition, south of King William Island. The crews it appeared had died from starvation, TB, hypothermia, lead-poisoning and scurvy.

(1) Sailed on 19th May 1845  and died on 11th June 1847.

(2) Nicholas had been given the usual education for a business career; a clear handwriting, the first four rules of arithmetic, the Rule of Three (his Algorisme) and some elementary bookkeeping necessitated by the rise of commerce since the 13thc.

(3)  The last Russian as opposed to Soviet Head of State to experience Guildhall hospitality was Tsar Alexander II back in May 18th 1874 who ploughed his way through twenty-two courses which included seven desserts.

Ref: John Rae/Franklin Fatal Passage. Ken McGoogan 2001. Story of John Rae hero whom time forgot.

Ref: wikipedia.org/Pics.


25th June 2003. Route to Muscovy.

This evening President Putin of Russia attended a dinner at the Guildhall, London in 2003. The last Russian, as opposed to a Soviet Head of State, to experience this hospitality, was Tsar Alexander II back in 1874, who had a choice of twenty-two courses which included seven desserts.(1)

That impressive menu was headed: ‘Reception By the Corporation of the City of London of his Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of All The Russias, at the Guildhall’ followed by the date: in 2003 it just said ‘Menu’.

Map of Muscovy by Anthony Jenkinson and Gerard de Jode. 1593.

The President was here to celebrate 450 years of trade links with Britain, and marked the day when Richard Chancellor accidentally discovered the northern route to Russia, via the White Sea, which led to the formation of the Muscovy Company in 1555. (2)

The history of Arctic exploration goes back to 14th September 1553 when Sir Hugh Willoughby of Risley, the Arctic explorer, sailed into a bay near to the present border between Finland and Russia. His chief pilot was Richard Chancellor, under the auspices of what was later to be called the Muscovy Company, to find a north-east route to Cathay (China).

Seal of Muscovy Company founded by Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot and Sir Hugh Willoughby.

In the 15thc the Cabots and Columbus journeyed largely unnoticed, and Geography where taught, was based on the out-of-date ‘disc’ maps which displayed Britain as the ‘utmost corner of the West’, instead as the island outpost ideally placed to become the intermediary between the old world and the new.

The greatest mathematicians of the day were thus to produce by the latter part of the 15thc a Nautical Almanack and Manual of Navigation. But we lagged behind however in these matters for Britain, down to the time of Henry VII, was anything but a maritime people.

The oldest arithmetic books were simply Ready-Reckoners. Commerce implied ships and this implied navigation, and the ability to set a course by compass and chart.

Checking a position by even the simplest observation of a star something more than arithmetic was needed. The ship-master must be familiar with the measurement of angles.

Navigation was primitive, so two Cambridge scholars, Robert Recorde, John Dee and Richard Chancellor were brought to London  to give the most up to date training in the science of navigation that Europe could provide; thus, ‘Shooting the Sun’ began to replace ‘Rule of Thumb’.

The ability was now needed to fix the latitude of the sun and to understand the solar declination which alters daily. Thus astronomy-‘shooting the stars’ for navigation, acquired a practical significance.

By the time Henry VIII had died in 1547, a group headed by the Duke of Northumberland had embraced the project of discovering a short Arctic passage to Cathay, and accepted that maths theory was fundamental to technical advance in navigation: the beneficiaries were the Muscovy and later trading companies.

(1) May 18th 1874.

(2) The City’s first commercial links with Russia were established when Tsar Ivan IV granted a charter to the company giving it the monopoly of English trade with Russia.