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Richard (Dick) Whittington (c.1350-1423)

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Medieval mercer and Mayor of London
Known for

Richard Whitington.
View full size imageRichard Whittington. © NMM

The pantomime story of Dick Whittington, the poor boy who came to London with his cat.

At first unsuccessful, Dick set out to leave London, but returned after he heard the bells of the City calling him back. In the end, Whittington becomes rich thanks to his cat.

The story first appeared nearly 200 years after Whittington’s death.

Other characters were added, and Dick Whittington became a favourite pantomime in the 19th century.

Port connection

The real Richard Whittington was apprenticed to the Mercers’ Company in the City of London. He became a successful trader, dealing in valuable imports such as silks and velvets. All his goods would have entered London through the river quays.

Whittington was three times Master of the Mercers’ Company and four times Mayor of London.

Interesting facts

Richard Whittington’s fortune was used for many charitable purposes, including almshouses (housing for poor people), a library, and also public works such as improvement to the water supply and a public lavatory. The Whittington Charity still exists, and provides housing and financial help.

Richard II and his successor Henry IV were important customers for Whittington. He supplied silks for the wedding dresses of the daughters of Henry IV.

The legend of Dick is commemorated by the Whittington Stone on Highgate Hill, from where Dick is supposed to have heard the City’s bells. In 1964, a figure of a cat was added to the stone.

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Life story
c.1350Born in Gloucestershire, the younger son of William Whittington, lord of the Manor of Pauntley in Gloucestershire.
1358His father died and his oldest brother inherited the estate.
c.1363Sent to London to be apprenticed to the Mercers' Company.
1389Whittington sold two cloths of gold to Richard II for £11.
1393Became a City alderman, or magistrate.
1397Became Mayor of London.
1398Mayor of London for the second time.
1406Mayor of London for the third time.
1419Mayor of London for the fourth time.
1423Died leaving no heirs. In his will he asked for his great wealth to be used for the benefit of the city.
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Find out more
StoriesThe early port
London grows from a Roman settlement to a bustling medieval port
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