The History of Sir Richard Whittington

Henry B. Wheatley
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Title: The History of Sir Richard Whittington
Author: T. H.
Editor: Henry B. Wheatley
Release Date: January 31, 2006 [EBook #17652]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by Julie Barkley, Janet Blenkinship and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at

Folk-Lore Tracts.
Edited by
G.L. Gomme, F.S.A.

H.B. Wheatley, F.S.A.
First Series.
BY T. H.
The popular story of Whittington and his Cat is one in which a version
of a wide-spread folk-tale has been grafted upon the history of the life
of an historical character, and in the later versions the historical
incidents have been more and more eliminated. The three chief points
in the chap-book story are, 1, the poor parentage of the hero; 2, his
change of mind at Highgate Hill by reason of hearing Bow Bells; and, 3,
his good fortune arising from the sale of his cat. Now these are all
equally untrue as referring to the historical Whittington, and the second
is apparently an invention of the eighteenth century. When the Rev.
Canon Lysons wrote his interesting and valuable work entitled _The
Model Merchant_ he showed the incorrectness of the first point by
tracing out Whittington's distinguished pedigree, but he was loath to
dispute the other two. It is rather strange that neither Mr. Lysons nor
Messrs. Besant and Rice appear to have seen the work which I now
present to my readers, which is the earliest form of the life of

Whittington known to exist. This is printed from the copy in the
Pepysian Library, a later edition of which, with a few typographical
alterations, will be found in the British Museum library. This History
will be found to differ very considerably from the later and
better-known story, which appears to have been written early in the
eighteenth century. A comparison between the latter which I print at the
end of this Preface (p. xxix.) with T. H.'s earlier text will not, I think,
be found unprofitable. The Famous and Remarkable History here
reprinted is undated, but was probably published about 1670; the later
edition in the British Museum is dated 1678. One passage on page
7--"The merchant went then to the Exchange, which was then in
Lumber-street, about his affairs"--seems to show that it was originally
written quite early in the century, and it is just possible that T. H.
stands for the voluminous playwright and pamphleteer Thomas
Heywood. The Exchange was removed to its present site in 1568, and
therefore our tract could not have been written before that date, but
must have appeared when the memory of the old meeting-place was
still fresh in public memory. On page 11 it will be seen that
Whittington, when discontented with his position in Fitzwarren's house,
set out before day-break on All Hallows-day with his clothes in a
bundle, in order to seek his fortune elsewhere. He had only got as far as
Bunhill when he heard Bow bells ring out what appeared to be--
"Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London,
Turn again,
Whittington, Lord Mayor of London."
These words took complete possession of him, and he returned before it
was known that he had run away. In the more modern chap-book
Whittington is made to reach Holloway, where it would be less easy to
hear Bow bells, and from which place he would have found it more
difficult to return before the cook had risen. As far as I can find there is
no allusion to Holloway or Highgate hill in any early version, and it is
evident that this localization is quite modern. Mr. Lysons is certainly
wrong when he says that at Highgate "a stone continued to mark the
spot for many centuries." It is not known when the stone was first
erected there, but it was probably put up when the name of the place
was first foisted into the tale. One stone was taken away in 1795, but

others have succeeded it, and now there is a Whittington Stone Tavern;
and the situation of Whittington College, which was removed to
Highgate in 1808, has helped to favour the supposition that Whittington
himself was in some way connected with that place.
The form of invitation which
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