This post was published in June 2022.
In celebration of the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, we are delving into the past to meet some of the Merchant Adventurers making waves during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth II and her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I.
From a Tudor merchant wealthy enough to fund a Queen’s favourite, to the man behind the Chocolate Orange, join us in this third blog as we discover the men and women who made, and witnessed history in the great Elizabethan eras.
William Robinson was one of the most successful merchants in Elizabethan York. He was a Member of Parliament, Sheriff of York and twice Lord Mayor as well as being the Governor of the Merchant Adventurers on three occasions. His influence on the Company and their Hall can still be seen today.
William was born during the reign of King Henry VIII and spent several years as a merchant in Hamburg before settling in York. Much of his wealth came from trade in Denmark and Sweden which he used to buy properties, orchards and even a pub!
In 1558 he joined the Company of Merchant Adventurers and would remain a Member for 58 years. Just over ten years later he was in dispute with the Lord Mayor for refusing to buy and wear a “crimson gown” in his capacity as Sheriff. He only relented when he was threatened with the closure of his shop and a fine of £20, he does appear to have got used to his red gown though, as he is wearing one in his portrait!
His house was a five-minute walk from the Hall and stood on Pavement, it looked similar in appearance to another property which still stands on the street; Sir Thomas Herbert’s House. A fireplace that was once in his first-floor parlour can now be seen in the Governor’s Parlour – it shows the Coat of Arms of the Merchant Adventurers of England. He was one of several Members who were instrumental in the process of acquiring a Royal Charter, which in 1581 changed the guild’s name to the Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York.
‘William Robinson’ by a follower of Marcus Geeraerts the Younger, c.1590
The late 16th century fireplace surround, once in the parlour of William Robinson’s house on Pavement. Now in the Governor’s Parlour at the Hall.
HRH The Princess Royal
During the lifetime of Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, six British monarchs would sit on the throne including Queen Victoria and her niece, Queen Elizabeth II. Training as a paediatric nurse, she married Yorkshire nobility, making the county her home. She became an Honorary Merchant Adventurer in 1949 and remained one until her death in 1965.
Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary was born at York Cottage, Sandringham in 1897, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. During the First World War she devised an idea of giving every serving member of the armed forces a Christmas present, known as the Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift Fund. Raising the modern equivalent of £11million, the gifts consisted of a tin filled with tobacco and chocolates and proved to be a huge success. During a visit to Canada decades later, veteran soldiers would still proudly show off their tins to Princess Mary.
In 1918, when Mary turned 21, she became the first child of a monarch to undertake the gruelling training to become a paediatric nurse. Training at Great Ormond Street Hospital, she asked to be treated the same as all the other trainee nurses. Mary remained engaged with the nations’ health throughout her life. She became the Commandant-in-Chief of the British Red Cross in 1926 and in 1941 she featured in a radio broadcast to donate blood to the Regional Blood Transfusion Service. When the desired uptake from the broadcast did not materialise, she gave blood at the Leeds School of Medicine spurring thousands in the region to do the same.
In 1922, she married Viscount Lascelles who would become 6th Earl of Harewood. Despite the 15 years age difference they were happily married, first settling at Goldsborough Hall and then Harewood House. She was a patron of the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education, became the first female Chancellor of the University of Leeds in 1951 and was a patron of the Leeds Triennial Music Festival. Princess Mary became known to those up North as the ‘Yorkshire Princess’.