Meyrick, John (d.1638) (DNB00)

MEYRICK, Sir JOHN (d. 1638), English ambassador to Russia, was the second son of William Meyrick or Merick, at one time of Gloucester, but afterwards of London. The father became one of the original members of the Russia or Muscovy Company, which was founded by Cabot in 1554, and before 1567 seems to have acted as agent of the company in Russia. John's youth was spent at the factory of English merchants at Moscow. In 1584 he became the agent of the London Russia Company at Jaroslavl, and in May 1592 he was filling a like position at Moscow. By 1596 he had been admitted to membership of the London company, and had entered into partnership with his elder brother, Richard, who lived in Leadenhall Street. Through 1596 and 1597 Meyrick forwarded from Russia much political intelligence to Queen Elizabeth, and on 14 March 1598 he reported the Tsar Fedor Ivanovitch's death. In 1600 he came home in the company of Mikulin who was sent as Russian ambassador to England. The new tsar, Boris Godounoff, was anxious to find an English bride for his eldest son, and in February 1601–2 Meyrick was despatched as ambassador to the tsar with instructions to strengthen the friendly relations between the two countries, but to treat the matrimonial proposals evasively. Meyrick was honourably received by the emperor at the Kremlin Palace. He translated Elizabeth's letters to the tsar into Russian in a personal interview, and laid before him a pedigree of the English royal family. Elizabeth (Meyrick declared) had selected a daughter of the Earl of Derby as the tsarevitch's bride; but she was eighteen years old, and seeing that the Russian prince was only thirteen, Meyrick argued that the union was undesirable. Meyrick remained in Russia till June. On the 22nd of that month he had a final audience with the tsar, who promised full protection to English merchants, and sent cordial greetings to Elizabeth, besides entrusting Meyrick with four Russian youths of high birth to be educated in England. Meyrick journeyed home in July. A full account of his embassy, written by himself, is in the British Museum (MS. Cott. Nero B. viii.); it was printed by Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1824, pt. ii. pp. 226 sq.

Meyrick soon returned to Russia. In 1603 he forwarded as a gift to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, two Russian manuscripts—a bible and ‘Canones Patrum Muscov.’ (Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, p. 30). In October 1603 his partner and brother, Richard, died in London, and John was described in the dying man's will as ‘then residing in Muscovy.’ After the death in 1605 of the Tsar Boris, probably by poison, the utmost confusion prevailed at Moscow. An impostor named Demetrius seized the throne, but Meyrick obtained from him protection for English commerce, and when in 1606 Basil IV (Vassily Shuiski) became tsar, Meyrick was again successful in obtaining a renewal of the privileges previously accorded to his fellow-countrymen. Political disturbances compelled Meyrick to remove at times from Moscow to Archangel and Cholmogorü, and late in 1606 he returned to England to report the progress of affairs. He was soon, however, again acting as ‘agent’ in Russia, but paid another visit to London in 1611. In 1614 he was reappointed English ambassador to the tsar's court, with full powers to use his influence to reduce the anarchy prevailing in the Russian government. Before his departure James knighted him at Greenwich (13 June 1614). He travelled with forty-four persons, and with a large sum of money to be advanced, if need be, to the tsar and his ministers. Meyrick's mission proved successful. Michael, of the house of Romanoff, was securely installed on the throne, and Meyrick took part in the negotiations for bringing to a close the long-standing warfare between Russia and Sweden. In 1615 he journeyed to Staraia-Russa, and met envoys from the two countries, as well as commissioners from Holland, who agreed to take part in the mediation. On 4 March 1616 an armistice for three months was arranged under Meyrick's guidance; on 20 Nov., owing to his intercession with Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedes raised the seige of Narva; and on 27 Feb. 1617 he helped to secure the final peace of Stolbovo, which bore his signature as that of one of the contracting parties. In November 1617 Meyrick came again to England, accompanied by an elaborate embassy from Russia, and bearing rich presents from the tsar to James I. On 19 Oct. 1620 he was reappointed the English envoy at Moscow, and was directed to negotiate a commercial treaty and to recover the money recently lent to the tsar. In 1623 a commercial treaty with Russia—the first of its kind—was duly signed by Meyrick and the tsar's councillors (Rymer, Fœdera, xvii. 504). In 1628 he was still in Moscow, and was then governor of the Russia Company. He died ten years later, and was credited at the time with more knowledge of Russia than any other Englishman (cf. Bond, Russia at the Close of the Sixteenth Century, Hakluyt Soc., p. 265). In his will he desired that he might be buried in his parish church of St. Andrew Undershaft, if he died in London, and he bequeathed 100l. to the Merchant Taylors' Company, with 300l. to be lent to scholars of the company's school on their commencing business; he also left legacies to many London parishes and hospitals. His wife Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Cherrie, also a Russia merchant, predeceased him; she had no issue.

[Articles by Sir S. R. Meyrick in Gent. Mag. 1824, pt. ii. pp. 226, 401, 495; Hamel's England and Russia, translated by J. S. Leigh (1854), pp. 374–407; Nichols's Progresses of James I, iii. 6, 440, 766; Early Voyages to Russia and Persia (Hakluyt Soc.), i. 120, ii. 211.]

S. L.