1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Richard Whittington

Sir Richard Whittington
English mercer
(c. 1358 - 1453)

SIR RICHARD WHITTINGTON, (died 1423), was the son of Sir William de Whittington of Pauntley, Gloucester-shire, who died an outlaw in 1360. His mother was Joan, daughter of William Mansell, who was high-sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1308. Richard Whittington makes his first appearance in 1379, when he contributed five marks to a city loan. In 1392 he was elected alderman and sheriff of London, being at that time a member of the Mercers' Company. He was appointed or elected mayor in 1397, 1398, 1406, and 1419; and in 1416 he was chosen member of parliament for London. In April 1402 he supplied cloth of gold for the marriage of the king's daughter Blanche with Louis, son of the emperor Rupert, and four years later (July 1406) for that of Philippa and Erik VII. of Denmark. In March 1413 the king repaid him a loan of £1000, and in September 1415 he was granted a lien on the customs of Boston, Kingston-on-Hull, and London, in discharge of 700 marks lent to Henry V. (by whom he seems to have been knighted). He died in March 1423. Among his chief benefactions by will were the rebuilding of St Michael's church, in connexion with which he founded a college, and of Newgate. He is said to have also restored St Bartholomew's hospital, London.

All that is known about Whittington has been carefully collected in the Rev. Samuel Lysons's Model Merchant of the Middle Ages (London, 1860), from which the above account is taken. Lysons argues very strongly in favour of the famous story of "Whittington and his Cat," and rejects the rationalization which explains the legend by supposing Whittington's fortunes to have been made in the voyages of a mediaeval cat or merchant-vessel. He is, however, only able to trace back the actual quadruped to a picture which is inscribed "R Whittington 1536." Even this picture he had never seen ; and he has to admit that it bore marks of having been altered from its original size, and that the inscription is later than the alteration. The story, however, was evidently current by the end of the 16th century. Moreover, it is said that the figure of a cat was represented at the feet of the statue of Liberty on the gate of Newgate previous to the great fire of 1666; or, according to another account, Whittington's own "statue with the cat remained in a niche to its filial demolition on the rebuilding of the present prison." In repairing a house which once belonged to the Whittington family at Gloucester in 1862, a stone of 15th-century workmanship was discovered and on it appeared in bas-relief the figure of a boy nursing a cat in his arms. All this, however, cannot be said to go very far towards proving the veracity of the old legend. Clouston (Popular Tales and Fictions, London, 1887, ii. 65-78) traces the main features of the story in the folk-lore of Denmark, Russia, Norway, Brittany, and even Persia. It was current in Italy during the 15th century; but its earliest appearance seems to be in Abdullah's History of Persia, written towards the close of the 13th century. This writer ascribes the occurrences he tells of to the first half of the 11th century. Even this, in Clouston's opinion, is not the original form of the story, which from one or two of its details he suspects to be of Buddhist origin.

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