Richard Whittington

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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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