We’re just about still in the pantomime season. Oh no, we’re not! oh yes, we are! (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) It is, therefore, just about time to let you know that a document was found in the Harpur Crewe collection which shows that there was indeed such a person in history as Dick Whittington. The document in question is an indenture which is part of a series of documents which were written to help ensure the conveyance of the manor of Repton by Sir John de Strauley to Henry de Knyveton and others in 1412. In the indenture there is reference to a binding financial commitment of £500 having been made publicly in the the Court of Staple by Sir John in front of Richard Whittington (spelled Whityngton in the text) who was serving in his capacity as the Mayor of the Staple of Westminster . The sum of £500 was being used as security to make sure the conveyance went through, and it would have been a massive sum for the time, roughly equivalent to £250,000. (OK, so not massive by Premier League footballer standards, but you get the picture.)
It is an undeniable fact that Richard, or Dick, Whittington came to London and made his fortune, becoming lord mayor of London on at least three separate occasions. He made his fortune as a mercer in London, dealing in the purchase and sale of textile goods, usually at the higher end of the market and he notably became the major supplier of such goods to King Richard II, a particularly flamboyant follower of fashion. Dick also developed as a leading player in the money market of the time, lending heavily on several occasions to the Crown. It was largely through the medium of such mercers that the international banking system developed in the late Middle Ages, with the extension of substantial credit at substantial rates of interest. On the whole Dick’s hero status has not been damaged in recent years by the falling stock of super rich bankers, and it would be something of a shame if it was. His reputation of philanthropy was fully deserved, as he does seem to have used his wealth extensively for the common good and even willed that all his estate after his death in 1423 was to be sold off to be used for good causes.
Although he wasn’t exactly born a pauper, his status as the third son of a lesser Gloucestershire landowner did mean he probably did have to move to London if he was going to make a real fortune. Whether he had a cat with him or not is unknown, but the association of one with Dick seems to have already been established by the early 17th century. Cats would, of course, have been extremely useful in the London of the times to help keep down the size of the rat and mice population, regardless of any comfort, psychological well-being or material assistance they might have given their owners. There is no mention, believe it or not, of a cat in the document, but if you are looking for a Puss, here are picture of a few bootless ones taken from late 19th century Harpur Crewe family scrapbooks.