Trading with Russia

Dramatis Personae

The Lord John Vassilievich, Emperor of Russland (aka Ivan the Terrible)

Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, The Lord President of the Queen’s Council in the North Parts

Christopher Hildyard, Member of the Council of the North, commissioner to take Gregory’s deposition.

Lawrence Meres, Member of the Council of the North, commissioner to take Gregory’s deposition.

George Cresswell, appointed commissioner but did not act

The Town 

John Gregory, aged 60, Mayor of Hull and Admiral of the Humber (Sept 30th 1579-Sept 30 1580).

John Lewes, aged 48, Town Clerk and Register of the Admiralty Court in Hull

Richard Jackling, aged 55, Common Officer of Hull and Marshal of the Admiralty Court

Richard Legerd, sheriff of Hull (Sept 30 1580-Sept 30 1581) commissioner for taking evidence

William Gee, Alderman of Hull, commissioner for taking evidence and staith owner on the River Hull

Edward Wakefield, Alderman of Hull, commissioner for taking evidence

John Lynne of Hull, aged 43, scrivener

Anne Saltmarsh, staith owner in Hull

Thomas Humfrey, farmer of the woolhouse in Hull

John Waddy, aged 66, keeper of the woolhouse in Hull, mariner, one of the woolhouse farmers

Robert Tailor of Hull, aged 40, shipmaster

John Barker of Hull, aged 48, merchant

John Hewardyne, aged 23, servant to Thomas Hewitt

Thomas Hewitt of Swanland, a gentleman

The Company 

The Governor and Fellowship of the Company of English Merchants for the Discovery of New Trades, (known as the Muscovy or Russia Company)

John Thorneton, merchant and alderman of Hull, aged 60, a member of the Company

William Wilson merchant and alderman of Hull, aged 52, a member of the Company

John Fawether merchant and alderman of Hull, aged 48, a member of the Company

Edward Cooke merchant of Hull, aged 33, a member of the Company.

Henry Cockenedge from London, a factor for the Company

The Interlopers

William Hudson, aged 24, master of the William of Hull and pilot of the Bergen ship to Kola

William Holmes, servant to George Aslaby of York, factor in Kola and on the William of Hull

John Ellis, Englishman, master to a ship of Bergen in Norway

Robert Brodericke

Widow Brotherycke, lock breaker

Christofer Ellys, lock breaker

George Aslaby, a merchant of York

Ralf Aslabie, merchant of York, a resident factor in Narva

Francis Cherry, merchant, vintner of London and well known in Hull and Russia

The Documents in English Merchants v. Gregory 21 & 22 Eliz

STAC 5 M21/5 The Company’s Bill of Complaint, The Company’s Replication and Gregory’s Rejoinder,

STAC 5 M1/31 Gregory’s Answer.

STAC 5 M19/24 Interrogatories to Gregory for the Complainant and Gregory’s deposition.

STAC 5 M36/29 (a bundle of 24 documents)

For the Complainant:

Interogatories to Thorneton Wilson Fawether and their depositions

Interrogatories to Lewes and his deposition.

Interrogatories to Cooke and his deposition

Interrogatories to Jackling and his deposition

Interrogatories to Lynne and Waddy and their depositions

For the Defendant:

Interrogatories to witnesses and the depositions of Jackling,Thorneton, Wilson, Fawether, and Lewes

Interrogatories to Tailor, Hewendyne Barker, and Hudson and their depositions

STAC 5/E3/15 a re-examination of Gregory (yeilding no new information).

The trade with Kola

A ship of Bergen in Norway, the master of which was John Ellis, an Englishman, arrived in June 1579 at the port of Kola. William Hudson was the pilot and William Holmes was also on board. Kola is within the dominion of the Lord John Vassilievich, and therefore under English law the Russia Company had a monopoly of trading there. The Bergen ship had for trade thirty English cloths and a pipe of bastard wine, and possibly also a further sixty cloths.

They loaded thirty-five tons of oil, two hundred and fifty loshe hides (Elk hides, loshe is Russian for elk) an unknown quantity of tallow, thirty-five hundreth of wax and two last of salmon. Francis Cherry owned part of this cargo and the factors for the rest were John Ellis, William Hudson and William Holmes.

The ship sailed to Bergen where the goods were trans-shipped into the William of Hull, the master of which was William Hudson, which then sailed to Hull, arriving in the first week of October 1579. The reason for the trans-shipment was that the goods would then appear as if they were from Norway rather than from Russia. But Edward Cooke a Hull merchant, and a member of the Russia Company recognised some of the cargo landing in Hull as having been laden in Kola.

Cocknedge sent to Hull

The Governor and Company sent Henry Cocknedge one of their factors to Hull to procure the arrest of the goods. For this to work the Company in London must have been alerted by a message from either Kola or Bergen, most probably from Cooke in Kola. Cocknedge arrived in Hull as the William started to discharge its cargo. Cocknedge had a letter directed to Thorneton and other members of the Company to aid and assist him with their advice. He is also probably carried a printed book containing the Act of Parliament establishing the priviledges of the Company, as he later produced it.

Cocknedge enlists the support of Wilson and Fawether 

William Wilson, and John Fawether, Aldermen of Hull and members of the Russia Company, took Cocknedge to see John Lewes the Town Clerk who was also the register of the Admiral Court in Hull “to have his advice.”  Lewes did not know Cocknedge.  Lewes was about to ride from home so the aldermen got him to write out instructions for the arrest to be carried out in his absence. They showed Lewes the book containing the Act of Parliament. Lewes read it and then wrote out for Richard Jackling, the Common Officer of the town, who was also the Marshal of the Hull Admiralty Court, a note in writing declaring the order and form how he should make the arrest. Lewes gave the note, he says, to one of the aldermen, probably Fawether, and, according to Lewes alone, he told them that they should also go and inform the Mayor, who was the Admiral of the port. Lewes says that in his previous fourteen years as register of the Hull Admiralty court he had occassionally given, by note or by token, instructions to the Marshal to make an arrest before informing the Mayor and obtaining a warrant, but he had never made a warrant without the Mayor’s consent, not could he, as the Mayor kept the Admiralty seal.

Wilson Fawether and Cocknedge give Lewes’s note to Jackling 

Jackling was attending a service in Trinity Church when he was sent for by Wilson and Fawether.  The Mayor was also at the same service, but he was not consulted, which later proved to be a mistake. Jackling found Wilson and Fawether with Cocknedge and Alderman John Thorneton at the door of Thorneton’s house and they all five went into the house where the Aldermen instructed Jackling to make the arrest and Cocknedge gave him the “note in writing” and Thorneton told him that it came from Lewes.

The forenoon arrest 

Jackling says he arrested the ship nigh unto Mr William Gee staith, and then went to the Mayor who had returned home from church and was at dinner.  Wilson says that Jackling and Cocknedge went together to make the arrest. All agree that at least a part of the goods were arrested before the Mayor was informed. This first arrest consisted of 34 barrels and three hogsheads of oil in a lighter and six barrels in a little boat. Jackling does not remember arresting any salmon. The little boat is probably the catch lying at Anne Saltmarsh’s staith. Cooke witnessed the arrest and heard the warrant read “At the end whereof the people say ‘God save the Queen.’” Cocknedge rented a cellar in the Woolhouse and the oil was transferred into it and, by all accounts but Jackling’s, both Cocknedge and Jackling hung a lock on it. Jackling only remembers that there was a lock.

Telling the Mayor

Jackling, and Aldermen Wilson, Thorneton and Fawether went to explain things to the Mayor.  The Mayor was sixty years old, an Alderman for only three years, and serving his first term of two as mayor. Thorneton was also 60 but he had been an alderman since the reign of Edward VI, and had already served three terms as mayor, Wilson at 52 Fawether at 48 had each been mayor once.  Gregory claimed to be unable to read the printed Act of Pearliament that they brought him, and so they read it to him, and required his consent to further arrests of the goods which were still being unloaded from the arrested ship.  Mayor Gregory pointed out that he was unlearned, that his learned Clerk was unavailable, and that he had no way of knowing the rights of the case.  The Company members say that he then gave consent to what they had done and to what they were to do (to arrest four more barrels of oil in a keel) provided that they did nothing against the law to put him in jeopardy.  Gregory says that at this stage he added the proviso that they should give him a bond against future claims against him, and that Wilson agreed to do so, although Thorneton and Fawether did not.

The afternoon arrest 

Jackling said that in the afternoon of the same day he arrested one last of oil in a keel of York, (this will be the one that was lying on the ground at the woolhouse staith). Cook also saw this arrest made.

The Conference in the Church 

The next conference seems to have been in Trinity Church after evensong.  The newly arrested goods needed to be landed, and Jackling said he could not do it. Cocknedge obviously needed the Mayor’s help, as the Aldermen’s authority was no longer sufficient.  Fawether says that it was at this meeting that he heard Wilson say that he would be bound although he, Fawether, did not offer to be bound as well. Wilson agrees that he offered to be bound “for one” but both Thorneton and Fawether declined to join him. Thorneton saying that he had come to give advice not to enter into a bond.  It was at this pont that Gregory is said by most to have said “I will not deal, come what come will” although he himself later denied it.  The Mayor is also supposed to have said that “he would not deal except the said Cocknedge would bring him commandment from the higher powers.”

Further discharges of cargo on behalf of the importers may have continued in the small hours of the following morning or the evidence may refer to the discharges of the afternoon. Hewardyne says that there were still goods on the ship at least two days later.

The rape of the locks 

John Waddy was a mariner by trade and was then the keeper of the woolhouse (which also served as a weighhouse and Customs house), and he may have been one of the farmers of it. His duties seem to have extended to the cellar rented by Cocknedge, because the owners of the goods, came to him to demand that he release them, saying that they had paid Customs and all other duties and that there was no reason why they should not have their goods. According to Fawether alone, Waddy warned the Mayor that Widow Brotherick and Christopher Ellys were going to break the locks.  Cocknedge arrived after the locks had been broken and while Widow Brotherick’s two porters were taking her barrels of oil out of the cellar. He asked the Mayor to have the goods stayed, but the Mayor only promised to call a meeting of the Aldermen together “after service, which he did not” and the contents of the cellar were carried away. Mayor Gregory remembers that he said that he would consider and take advice, which he had done, and had found that he had no reason to intermeddle. His view was that as it had been started without him, it could continue without him.

The Letter Missive is delivered to Cocknedge 

In the meantime Raphe Aslaby, owner of a large part of the cargo, was also requesting the Mayor for his assistance, and told him that there was a Letter Missive from the Council of the North on its way from York, which duly arrived. Someone, probably George Aslaby, had sworn out an information in York and this Letter Missive was the standard response.  It ordered Cocknedge and Jackling to release the goods or to show cause before the Court at York why they held them. Jackling heard about the letter, but does not seem to have had it served on him. Jackling was a very unhappy man; all this was way above his pay grade and he was remembering as little as he could credibly get away with. Cocknedge told Fawether that he had the Letter Missive delivered to him, and showed it to him, and others saw him with it and heard him talk about it.  William Hudson heard from Raphe Aslaby that he had served it on Cocknedge while he was still in bed.

Some goods were already carried away others were, according to Hawardyne, still under arrest in the ship.  Probably no-one appeared before the Lord President or the council of the North. Cocknedge returned to London in disgust.

An action was started in the Court of Star Chamber by the Company and a commission was given for the taking of evidence from Gregory which was done in June 1580. A second commission, dated June 22, 1580 was made for the taking of evidence from other witnesses and this was done on October 4, 1580. The verdict, if any, is unknown. Jackling retired the next year but Gregory served a second Mayoralty in 1589-90.

The points that seem to have been in contention, 

1 Was there a lawful arrest of the goods?

2 Did the Mayor have a financial interest in the cargo?

3 Was it reasonable for the Mayor to ask for sureties?

4 Was Justice defeated by the Mayor’s refusal to act?

The answer to the first is possibly, and on the second no-one said that the Mayor had an interest and a number of witnesses said that he had none. On the third point Lewes said that he had never heard of such a thing before, but John Lynne deposed that on a subsequent occassion the Mayor had asked for sureties, and had been refused.  On the fourth only Edward Cooke declares that he believes that this was so.  Edward Cooke’s testimony is interesting because although he was a member of the company and present both in Kola and in Hull at the relevant times, he played no part in the discussions and was not called on by Cocknedge to convince the Mayor. He himself later became a Mayor of Hull.

Some Problems of Chronology

The Bill of Complaint maintains very positively that the 40 barrels were in the cellar for a day and two nights.  On the first day there were two arrests, both in “the morning,” one before noon and one after. The next day, that is “in the morning,” Cocknedge continued his complaints to the Mayor, and “the next day after early in the morning” Cocknedge found the cellar being emptied.  From other evidence the extra day is not apparent.  It is also not clear how long a period lapsed between the rape of the locks and the arrival of the Letters Missive from York. We are told that they arrived after the goods had been carried away, and that they were served on Cocknedge before he rose from his bed, which would imply at least twenty-four hours.  It was known in Hull the day before they arrived that they were on their way. Cocknedge remained in Hull after receiving them for long enough for many witnesses to see the letter and hear him talk about receiving it.

The evidence is generally that all this took place in the first week of October,  There is evidence from Wilson that the first day was about the 3rd of October, but Thorneton gives the dates as about the 6th 7th and 8th, and based on their proven attitude to record keeping in other matters, Thorneton would normally be considered more reliable. But there is also the evidence of church attendance. On the day of the first arrest the Mayor was in church, as was the Marshal, though two senior Aldermen, the Town Clerk and the Company’s factor were not. At sometime after dinner the Mayor returned to church for evening prayer and after the servce an impromptu meeting was held in the church.  October 4, 1579 was a Sunday. After two nights during which the goods were in the cellar Cocknedge found them early in the morning being carried away and the Mayor promised to call a meeting of Aldermen “after service” “which he did not.” In a Catholic country one would assume that the Mayor was hearing mass every morning.  Was he attending a daily service in Trinity Church?  If he was, what was the nature of this service?


Hull merchants were interloping in the Russian trade. It is possible that the Mayor was part of a town-wide conspiracy to against the Company but it seems more likely that it was an unfortunate lack of a Clerk, the failure to get the Mayor’s consent at the start, and then a clash of personalities.  The Clerk’s inability to wait may be due to the demands of the Humber ferry and the tide, rather than a desire to be out of the way. Willan in his History of the Russia Company discusses the case, but he sees a conspiracy of the town government against the company’s monopoly. He does not seem to have understood that the most senior aldermen in the town were also members of the Russia Company.

And you are indebted to Helen Good for drawing your attention to this case.

Not the Pendle Witches – but close by

Once upon a time – in about 1582 – there was in Pemberton in Lancashire a poor widow woman with two beautiful daughters. Well actually when the story starts her husband was still alive and we have no idea what her daughters looked like. The husband was sick, and they spent money and promised more to buy cures, but to no effect. He died and widow Winstanley – that was her name – was so poor that she had to pay his medical bill with cheese. (Lancashire cheese is generally very good – obviously not as good as Wenslydale, but then what is?)  So this newly widowed woman and her two daughters, Alice and Elizabeth, were living very poorly, when into their lives came a yeoman of Norley, Alexander Atherton, a man of good having and greater expectations, and he fell like a ton of bricks for the younger daughter, Elizabeth. Being a rational man, this upset him very much. He was well-to-do and could and should have looked much higher for a wife than this pauper girl. He wrestled with his afliction for a time, and then, being unable to overcome his feelings, he offered her honourable marriage, and she turned him down flat.

He was amazed. This marriage, so much to her advantage and equally to his disadvantage, she had unaccountably rejected. He could only think that the long months spent repressing his love might have altered his appearance for the worse. Being aware of his own worth he did not give up, with the result that the widow, her daughters and half a dozen others visited Norley, with staves, bucklers, swords and daggers, and beat the crap out of him. That was the early-modern way of dealing with stalkers. This made him think, and he worked out what must be the problem. If a rational man like himself could fall in love with such an unsuitable and ungrateful young woman, then it must be because he had been bewitched.

He went up to London to take physick and instruct a lawyer.

He determined that the medico, who had so unsuccessfully attended Widow Winstanley’s late husband, must be the culprit. The man’s name was Ralf Osbarston, originally of Wigan, and I can’t read his profession. He was probably a local cunning man, an unlicenced healer. For some reason he is not included in the subpoenas or in the interrogatories. Anyway Atherton claimed that the widow had procured a love philtre from Osbarston and slipped it into a spiced ale that he drank in her company at John Wayte’s house in Pemberton.

A commission was issued from Star Chamber to take evidence in Wigan, and the three woman gave depositions. They are very short and say in effect. “We don’t know what this man is talking about.”  It seems that the commissioners did not feel the need to press for anything more.

It is interesting that in the Pendle area a man’s mind turned to witchcraft when things went wrong.

TNA STAC 5/A1/36

TNA STAC 5/A22/33

And you are indebted to Helen Good for drawing your attention to this case.