Sinclair McKay

The real Dick Whittington and the folklore legend

Though not exactly a rags-to-riches story, Whittington’s career as mercer, mayor and money-lender was nonetheless astonishing, says Michael McCarthy

Dick Whittington with his cat, in a 17th-century chapbook. [Getty Images]

In that dark world the air pulsed with the melancholy clangour of bells. If, as legend has it, the chimes of St Mary-le-Bow told Dick Whittington to turn again, then what were they saying to all the other medieval Londoners, dwelling in houses so crowded on fouled streets that the sun could not break through?

In the shadow of implacable plague, even London’s super rich were piercingly aware of life’s fragility.

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