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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

Men of high station—Prince Rupert primus—Prince James, "nemine contradicente"—The hero of the hour—Churchill River named— Plate of solid gold—Off to the Tower.

The success of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the influence exerted by it during so long a period, has often been attributed to the union of persons of station and high political influence with the practical and far-seeing business men of London, who made up the Company. A perusal of the minutes of the first thirty years of the Company's history impresses on the mind of the reader that this is true, and that good feeling and patriotism were Joined with business tact and enterprise in all the ventures. From the prosperous days of Queen Elizabeth and her sea-going captains and explorers, certainly from the time of Charles II., it was no uncommon thing to see the titled and commercial classes co-operating, in striking contrast to the governing classes of France, in making commerce and trade a prominent feature of the national life.

The first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Rupert, Prince of Bavaria, grandson by the mother's side of James I. of England, is a sufficiently well-known character in general history to require no extended notice. His exploits on the Royalist side in the Civil War, his fierce charges and his swiftness in executing difficult military movements, led to his name being taken as the very embodiment of energy and prowess. In this sense the expression, "the fiery Rupert of debate" was applied to a prominent parliamentarian of the past generation.

After the restoration of Charles II., Prince Rupert took up his abode in England, finding it more like home to him than any Continental country. Enjoying the plaudits of the Cavaliers, for whom he had so strenuously fought, he was appointed Constable of Windsor, a no very onerous position. From the minutes of the Hudson's Bay Company we find that he had lodgings at Whitehall, and spent much of his time in business and among scientific circles—indeed, the famous toys called "glass tears," or "Rupert's drops," were brought over by him to England from the Continent to interest his scientific friends.

We have seen already the steps taken by the returned Commissioners from the American Colonies to introduce Radisson and Groseilliers to Prince Rupert, and through him to the royal notice.

The success of the expedition of Gillam and the building of Charles Fort on Hudson Bay led to the Prince consenting to head the new Company. He had just passed the half century of his age when he was appointed Governor of the vast terra incognita lying to the west of the Bay to which, in his honour, was given the name Rupert's Land.

The Company lost no time in undertaking a new expedition. Prince Rupert's intimate friend, the Earl of Craven, was one of the incorporators, and it was with this nobleman that Prince Rupert's widowed mother, the Princess Elizabeth, had found a home in the days of adversity.

The close connection of the Hudson's Bay Company with the Court gave it, we see very plainly, certain important advantages. Not only do the generous terms of the Charter indicate this, but the detailing of certain ships of the Royal Navy to protect the merchantmen going out to Hudson Bay shows the strong bond of sympathy. Certainly nothing less than the thorough interest of the Court could have led to the firm stand taken by the English Government in the controversies with Franco as to the possession of Hudson Bay.

Several excellent paintings of the Prince are in existence, one by Vandyke in Warwick Castle, showing his handsome form, and another in Knebworth, Hertford. The Prince was unfortunately not free from the immorality that was so flagrant a feature of the Court of Charles II. At that time this was but little taken into account, and the fame of his military exploits, together with the fixing of his name upon so wide an extent of the earth's surface, have served to give posterity an interest in him.

For twelve successive years Prince Rupert was chosen Governor at the General Court of Adventurers, and used his great influence for the Company. He died on November 29th, 1682, at the comparatively early age of sixty-three.

The death of the first Governor was a somewhat severe trial for the infant Company. The Prince's name had been one to conjure by, and though he had been ably supported by the Deputy-Governor, Sir James Hayes, yet there was some fear of loss of prestige to the Adventurers on his unexpected death.
The members of the Company were anxious to keep up, if possible, the royal connection, but they were by no means clear as to the choice of the only available personage who came before their view. James, Duke of York, was a man with a liking for business, but he was not a popular favourite. The famous jeu d'esprit of Charles II. will be remembered. When James informed Charles II. that there was a conspiracy on foot to drive him from the throne, "No, James," said Charles, "they will never kill me to make you king."

The minutes of the Company show that much deliberation took place as to the choice of a successor to Prince Rupert, but at length, in January, 1683, at a General Court, the choice was made, and the record reads:—"His Royal Highness the Duke of York was chosen Governor of the Company, Nemine contradicente."' The new Governor soon had reasons to congratulate himself on his election, for on April 21st, 1684, Sir James Hayes and Sir Edward Dering reported to the Adventurers their having paid 150 guineas to His Royal Highness as a dividend on the stock held by him. Prince James was chosen Governor for three successive years, until the year when, on the death of Charles, he became King. While James was not much in favour as a man, yet he possessed decided administrative ability, and whether this was the cause or not, certainly the period of his governorship was a successful time in the history of the Company.

Failing a prince or duke, the lot could not have fallen upon a more capable man than was chosen as the Duke of York's successor for the governorship. On April 2nd, 1685, at a General Court of the Adventurers, the choice fell upon one of the most remarkable men of his time, the Right Hon. John Lord Churchill, afterwards Duke of Marlborough. Lord Churchill had not yet gained any of his great victories. He was, however, at this time a favourite of the Duke of York, and no doubt, on the recommendation of James, had been brought before the Court of Adventurers. He was one of the most adroit men of his time, he was on the highway to the most distinguished honours, and the Adventurers gladly elected him third governor.

On April 2nd, 1685, the new governor threw himself heartily into the work of the Company. No doubt one so closely connected with the public service could be of more practical value than even a royal duke. The great dividend of which we have already spoken followed the years of his appointment.

The success attained but stimulated the Company to increase their trade and widen the field of their operations. The river running into the west side of the Bay, far to the north, was named in honour of the new governor, Churchill River, and in 1686 expansion of trade was sought by the decision to settle at the mouth of this river and use it as a new trading centre for the north and west. Without any desire to annoy the French, who claimed the south end of the Bay, it was determined to send a ship to the southern part of Hudson Bay, and a few months later the Yonge, frigate was dispatched. The fear of attacks from the French, who were known to be in a very restless condition, led to the request being made to the Government to station a military force at each fort in Hudson Bay. It was also the desire of the Company that steps should bo taken to protect them in their Charter rights and to prevent illegal expeditions from going to trade in the Bay. All this shows the energy and hopefulness of the Company under the leadership of Lord Churchill.

The part taken by Lord Churchill in the opposition to James, and his active agency in inducing William of Orange to come to England, are well known. He was a worshipper of the rising sun. On the arrival of William III., Lord Churchill, who was soon raised to the peerage as Earl of Marlborough, was as popular, for the time, with the new king as he had been with his predecessor. His zeal is seen in his sending out in June, 1689, as governor, the instructions that William and Mary should be proclaimed in the posts upon the shores of Hudson Bay. He was able shortly after to report to his Company that 100 marines had been detailed to protect the Company's ships on their way to Hudson Bay. The enthusiasm of the Company at this mark of consideration obtained through the influence of Lord Churchill, was very great, and we learn from the minutes that profuse thanks were given to the governor, and a piece of plate of solid gold, of the value of 100 guineas, was presented to him for his distinguished services. Legislation was also introduced at this time into Parliament for the purpose of giving further privileges to the Adventurers.

But the rising tide of fortune was suddenly checked. Disaster overtook the Governor. William had found some reason for distrusting this versatile man of affairs, and he suspected him of being in correspondence with the dethroned James. No doubt the suspicion was well founded, but the King had thought it better, on account of Marlborough's great talents, to overlook his unfaithfulness. Suddenly, in May, 1692, England was startled by hearing that the Earl of Marlborough had been thrown into the Tower on an accusation of high treason. For seven years this determined soldier had led the Company to success, but his imprisonment rendered a change in the governorship a necessity. Marlborough was only imprisoned for a short time, but he was not re-elected to the position he had so well filled. At the General Court of Adventurers in November of the year of Marlborough's fall, Sir Stephen Evance was chosen Governor. This gentleman was re-elected a number of times, and was Governor of the Company at the close of the century.

Two decades, and more, of the formative life of the Company were thus lived under the aegis of the Court, the personal management of two courtly personages, and under the guidance of the leading general of his time. As we shall see afterwards, during a part of this period the affairs of the Company were carried on in the face of the constant opposition of the French. Undoubtedly heavy losses resulted from the French rivalry, but the pluck and wisdom of the Company were equally manifested in the confidence with which they risked their means, and the strong steps taken to retain their hold on Hudson Bay. This was the golden age of the Hudson's Bay Company. When money was needed it was often cheerfully advanced by some of the partners; it was an honour to have stock in a Company which was within the shadow of the throne; its distinguished Governors were reelected so long as they were eligible to serve; again and again the Committee, provided with a rich purse of golden guineas, waited on His Majesty the King to give return for the favour of the Royal Charter; and never afterward can the historian point in the annals of the Company to so distinguished a period.

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