Richard Whittington

Whittington, Richard, 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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