The Old English Court: Trade links with Russia

Situated in northern Asia and Eastern Europe, the Russian state originated from the expansion of the principality of Muscovy. It played an increasing role in Europe from the time of tsar and emperor, Peter the Great (1672-1725), who established Russia as a major power. Legendary are the sumptuous life styles and grand palaces of the Romanov dynasty of tsars and emperors who ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. In October 1917 the Tsarist regime came to an end with the Revolution when the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, his wife and family were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and executed at Ekaterinburg on the night of 17 July 1918.

Trade links with Russia

Ivan the Terrible (1530-84) was Grand Prince of Muscovy (1533-84) and crowned tsar in 1547. His reign became brutal and tyrannical. He reformed the legal code in 1555, expanded his territory and established commercial relations with England. He presented the The Old English Court to a group of English merchants who arrived in Mumansk in 1553 from the court of Edward IV, under the command of Richard Chancellor. They had been sent to search for a northern passage to India but took the opportunity to establish trade links with the Tsar who welcomed them warmly, provided them with a headquarters and allowed them unlimited duty-free trade. Although good relations suffered when Elizabeth I repeatedly rejected Ivan’s proposals of marriage – the third English envoy to the Tsar was kept under house arrest here – trade flourished between the two countries for almost a century with the English bringing wool, metals and wine in return for furs, caviar, honey and other Russian produce. Russian timber was used to build the English fleet, and the Russian army was equipped with English muskets and ammunition.
In 1649 Tsar Aleksei I brought the alliance – which had seen an unprecedented number of foreigners journey to Russia to work as craftsmen, civil servants and explorers – to an abrupt end, expelling the English traders as a mark of his disgust at the execution for treason of Charles I on 30 January 1649.

The Old English Court

The building became private property and was the home of several prominent men and their families. The house was remodelled several times and was unrecognisable by the twentieth century when it was split into apartments by the Soviet authorities. A Muscovite architect and restorer, who almost single handed protected Moscow’s medieval legacy in the Soviet Union, painstakingly restored the house to its original form. There were no records of the interior designs of the building so restoration is based on the present d?cor of Tudor interiors existing in Britain including those on display in Hampton Court Palace.
Close to Red Square the Chambers of The Old English Court are part of the Moscow History Museum. In one of the city’s old districts it was initially built at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the past it was used as a residence by the English Moscow Trading Company and later housed the first foreign representation in the Russian capital. The Museum contains two exhibitions displaying large wall panels of historical texts, detailed documents and maps, photographs and other images entitled « Medieval Russia from the Eyes of the Foreigner » and « The History of Anglo- Russian Relations ». The collection mostly of coins and documents was donated from a number of sources, including the British Library and the Marquis of Salisbury’s private collection. One of the oldest secular buildings in Moscow, of special interest are the meticulously reconstructed interiors especially that of the Formal Hall with its low vaulted roof and elaborate brick fireplace where meetings were held and the transaction of official business took place. Concerts of early music are held regularly and related events for children also take place there.
The Old English Court Museum was opened to coincide with a State Visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. It is commemorated with a plaque placed on the outside of the building.
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It is drawn from Moscow and St. Petersburg: Heritage and history (by Ita Marguet, May 2008).