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Whittington, Richard

Richard Whittington, 1358–1423, English merchant and lord mayor of London. He made his fortune as a mercer and then entered London politics to become successively councilman, alderman, sheriff, and finally (1397) lord mayor, an office to which he was elected three times. Like most of the London merchants, Whittington supported the usurpation of the throne by Henry IV in 1399, and in 1400 he was made a merchant of the London and Calais staples. He made several loans to Henry IV and Henry V in return for lucrative trading concessions. Whittington had no children and left his fortune in a trust administered by the Mercers' Company, largely for building purposes in the City of London. The famous story of Dick Whittington and his cat is far removed from the actual life of the lord mayor, who was born the son of a Gloucestershire knight. According to the story, Dick was an orphaned kitchen boy who put his one possession, a cat, on his master's ship in the hope that it might be traded. He then ran away but turned back when he heard the prophetic ringing of Bow Bells ( "Turn again, Whittington, lord mayor of London" ) and found that his cat had been purchased, for a large fortune, by the ruler of Morocco, whose kingdom was plagued with rats and mice. Dick was thus able to marry his master's daughter and become a successful merchant. The story was first recorded in a play, now lost, that was licensed in 1605.

See W. Besant and J. Rice, Sir Richard Whittington (1894).

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Whittington, Richard

Whittington, Richard (d. 1423). Mercer and benefactor. Youngest son of a Gloucestershire landowner, Whittington established himself in London, dealing in valuable imported silks and velvets, and thrice becoming master of the Mercers' Company. He regularly loaned large sums of money to the crown, but his licence from Henry IV to ship wool from London without paying the normal heavy export duty and two separate terms as collector of customs and subsidy in London and Calais enabled him to recoup the debts. A city alderman in 1393, he was elected mayor three times (1397–8, 1406–7, 1419–20). When Whittington died widowed and childless, his executors devoted his great wealth to further public works, including improvements to St Bartholomew's hospital, Guildhall, and Newgate gaol. The Whittington charity remains active. The myth introducing a cat, his early poverty, and eventual knighthood evolved in the early 17th cent., but retains its charm today in pantomime.

A. S. Hargreaves

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