Although there has been a revival of historiographical interest in eighteenth-century British trading companies, the Russia Company continues to be misunderstood and unappreciated. Far from being a relic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Russia Company was one of the outstanding success stories of eighteenth-century British commerce. By the middle of the century, the imports of the Russia Company into Britain rivalled those of the East India Company. Furthermore, the Russia Company worked closely with the British government to further Britain’s strategic interests in the volatile Baltic region. Part of the reason for the lack of appreciation of the eighteenth-century Russia Company is that the organization of the company and the political influence of its key managers are not well understood. This article describes the organization of the Russia Company, discusses its overall economic and political significance in the eighteenth century, and illuminates its operations using the experience of some leading company members.
For example see Larry NealThe Rise of Financial Capitalism: International Capital Markets in the Age of Reason (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge1990) and A. Carlos K. Maguire and L. Neal ‘Financial Acumen Women Speculators and the Royal African Company During the South Sea Bubble’ Accounting Business and Financial History vol. 16 issue 2 (2006) 219–43.
SternHistory and Historiography p. 1161. K.N. Chaudhuri’s The Trading World of Asia and the East India Company 1660–1760 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1978) remains the best economic study of the eic and has been supplemented for a later period by Huw Bowen’s The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain 1756–1833 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2006).
P. J. SternThe Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty & the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (Oxford University press: New York2011). Stern argues that the eic was already behaving as a ‘company-state’ in the seventeenth century.
Jacob M. Price‘Shiffner, Matthew (c. 1690–1756)’ and ‘Holden, Samuel (1674/5–1740)’Oxford Dictionary of National BiographyOxford University Press 2004; online edn. May 2011 [http://ezproxy.ouls.ox.ac.uk:2117/view/article/54963 and 47785 accessed 14 Jan 2012].
J.H. Appleby‘Robert Dingley, F.R.S. (1710–1781), Merchant, Architect and Pioneering Philanthropist’Notes and Records of the Royal Society of Londonvol. 45 no. 2 (Jul. 1991) 147. The Levant Company and hbc were less prominent philanthropists. Morden College the charity most closely affiliated with the Levant Company was founded in 1695 to help older merchants who had fallen on hard times.
Patrick O’Brien‘European Economic Development: The Contribution of the Periphery’Economic History Reviewnew series vol. 35 no. 1 (Feb. 1982) 1–18. O’Brien excluded the Baltic Eastern Europe Ireland and Scotland from his definition of the periphery.
In1724the Russia Company sent a memorial to the King complaining about the importation of Russian hemp via Holland due to cheap freight rates. Guildhall library Ms 11741 vol. 5 pp. 126–7 Russia Company minutes 4 Feb. 1724.
Douglas ReadingThe Anglo-Russian Commercial Treaty of 1734 (Yale University Press: New Haven1938) 36–7. Reading described English commercial ambitions as being to make Russia to all intents and purposes ‘a very profitable satellite’ of England’s economic system but he also recognized that English trade was a hugely profitable source of foreign currency for the Russians 39–41.
Jacob Price‘Shiffner, Matthew (c. 1690–1756)’Oxford Dictionary of National BiographyOxford University Press 2004; online edn May 2011 [http://ezproxy.ouls.ox.ac.uk;2117/view/article/54963 accessed 14 Jan 2012].
Geoffrey JonesMerchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Oxford University Press: Oxford2000) 24. Jones noted the disruptive impact of the Crimean War on Anglo-Russian trade.