I’ve been writing Dick Whittington up as a Story Storks workshop and wanted to share the story with grown-ups too because it’s about a real person who became the real Lord Mayor of London. He was infact Lord Mayor of the City of London which is different to Mayor of London, the role that Boris Johnson currently holds (April 2016). There is still a Lord Mayor of the City of London – currently it’s Jeffrey Richard de Corban Evans, 4th Baron Mountevans who is a London shipbroker and UK hereditary peer. You can find some awesome photos of both Jeff and the Lord Mayors parade on the brilliant and gorgeous website of Mark Witter (he does corporate and weddings too – take a look if you need a photographer).
Click here for more pictures from Mark.
Dick Whittington is one of the only English fairy tales that has passed the test of time (along with Jack and the Beanstalk).
The real Dick was born in Pauntley in Gloucestershire around 1358. He was the youngest son of Sir William and Joan Whittington. Sir William was poor, but liked to live as if he was rich. The only way to do this was to borrow substantial amounts of money so when he died in 1371 he left his family with debts.
Of course at this point in history Joan couldn’t exactly reignite her former career as a lawyer so it fell to the sons to repay the debt. As the youngest son, Dick was expected to learn a trade so at the age of 13 he left for London to become an apprentice to a Mercer (cloth merchant).
The legend says that as Dick walked sadly away from Pauntly, he was followed by his pet cat. When I played Dick Whittington in pantomime I met my pet cat on the side of the road to London. We sang ‘bigger isn’t better’ together, became unlikely friends and off we went to make our fortune. Other stories have Dick buying his cat when he gets to London to catch the mice and rats that are keeping him awake at night. We’re going with this in the Story Storks version because it’s the most realistic. We’re all about realistic!
Dick of course chose London because the streets were paved with gold. If they ever were then the gold was nicked a long time before because Dick didn’t find any lying around. Like the rest of us mere mortals, Dick had to work very hard and very long hours to earn his coin. He showed great promise in his chosen trade from the start and is reported as being very humble of his achievements.
At aged 22 Dick met and fell in love with Alice Fitzwarren. In the panto when I met and fell in love with Alice, we met in the kitchen where I’d been taken in by Sarah the Cook to work as a lowly household servant. She was the daughter of a merchant – I was too poor to marry her. We sang a duet anyway and hoped that our mutual love of Elton John ballads would see us through.
Me as Dick. You can see why Alice went for me!!!
In reality Dick had a decent job and some decent social skills so he was allowed to marry Alice in 1380.
The legend tells us that Alice’s father was a merchant who earned his money sailing far away to trade. He asked if any of the servants had anything they wanted to sell. Dick had nothing but his cat. He gave the cat to the merchant to sell in the hope that it would help to raise enough money to marry Alice.
A year passed and Alice’s father still hadn’t returned. Dick gave up all hope of ever being rich enough to marry Alice. He decided to give up and go back home to his mum. As he walked out of London he heard the bells toll and they seemed to sing to him……
Turn again Whittington Lord Mayor of London
Turn again Whittington thrice Mayor of London
Dick ran back to the house to discover a big box of gold and jewels waiting for him. Alice’s father had sold the cat to the King of the Land of Barbary who had too many rats and nothing like a cat. The King was so thrilled with the cat that he paid a small fortune.
Now Dick had enough money to marry Alice. In the panto I first had to defeat King Rat before I could marry Alice.
Infact, in the Panto I didn’t sell the cat. The cat and I stowed away on the ship wearing comedy beards and I still managed to get the girl.
In real life Alice’s father, Sir Ivo, gave Dick a substantial sum of money as a wedding present which Dick used to start his own business buying fine cloth and selling it to rich Lords and Ladies. His business grew and by 1395 he became the Head of the Mercer’s company, making him the most important cloth merchant in London. One of his best customers was King Richard II to whom Dick started to lend money to help the King fight his campaigns. In 1397 Dick Whittington was made Lord Mayor of London for the first time.
King Richard made many an enemy and was forced to give up the throne in 1399. King Henry IV took the throne and also needed money to pay for the many battles he and his armies fought. Cue the bank of Dick! (The firewalls are going to block this blog at every turn!!!) Dick also supplied the cloth for the wedding dress of King Henry’s daughter and at the age of 48 he was made Lord Mayor of London for a second time.
Henry IV died and his son, King Henry V asked Dick to lend him the funds to take his army to Agincourt where he earned himself a famous victory against the French King in 1415. In 1419 Dick Whittington was made Lord Mayor of London for the third time.
When Dick Whittington died in 1423, at the age of sixty-five, he was one of the richest men in England. He had no children and so left his money to the people of London to help improve their lives. The money paid for the city’s first library and homes for the poor. It was used to repair St Bartholomew’s Hospital and create scholarships so that kids from poor homes could study. It also ensured that fresh water wells were dug so that the people of London had decent (ish) water to drink.
Needless to say, after his death the people of London told stories of Dick and those stories became legends, many of them lasting for several generations. It was said that he once held a banquet and invited King Henry and his Queen as the guests of honour. To keep them warm Dick ordered the servants to throw on to the fire all the papers the King had signed when he borrowed money.
But the legend that has outlived them all is that of Dick Whittington and his cat. There is no written record that Dick ever owned a cat but there is a picture of him which hung in the Hall of Mercers, and along with all his finery, he is featured holding a cat.
- Dick Whittington: Famous People Famous Lives by Andrew Matthews, published by Franklin Watts in 1996 and available in Kingston’s children’s library to borrow any time. It’s written for kids and has some lovely illustrations by Lesley Bisseker.
- Dick Whittington, Read it yourself with Ladybird, Ladybird, 2015.