Citizen of London
Richard Whittington—The Boy Who Would Be Mayor
A vivid, richly informative biography of the medieval entrepreneur, social reformer and ‘influencer’ at court.
The extraordinary story of Richard Whittington, from his arrival in London as a young boy to his death in 1423, against a backdrop of plague, politics and war; turbulence between Crown, City and Commons; and the unrelenting financial demands of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, to whom Whittington was mercer, lender and fixer.
A man determined to follow his own path, Whittington was a significant figure in London’s ceaseless development. As a banker, Collector of the Wool Custom, King’s Council member and four-time mayor, Whittington featured prominently in the rise of the capital’s merchant class and powerful livery companies. Civic reformer, enemy of corruption and author of an extraordinary social legacy, he contributed to Henry V’s victory at Agincourt and oversaw building works at Westminster Abbey. In London, Whittington found his ‘second’ family: a mentor, Sir Ivo Fitzwarin, and an inspirational wife in Fitzwarin’s daughter Alice.
Today’s Dick Whittington pantomimes, enjoyed by millions, have a grain of truth in them, but the real story is far more compelling—minus that sadly mythical cat.
‘The Whittington who emerges from Citizen of London is an intriguing individual who left a sizeable mark, both real and imaginary, on the city that became his home. Although the man himself remains largely unknowable, Michael McCarthy allows us to see afresh both the turbulent period of history through which he lived and the theatrical tradition in which he stars. The next time someone tells you that Dick Whittington had a cat, you can confidently reply: “Oh no he didn’t”.’ —Times Literary Supplement
‘A masterly London biography, surely the last word on a man, a myth—and a cat.’ — Simon Jenkins, Guardian columnist, and author of A Short History of England
‘There are few more memorable stories of social mobility, enlightened entrepreneurship, civic leadership and inspiring philanthropy than Dick Whittington’s. Michael McCarthy has provided perhaps the definitive account of his remarkable legacy along all these fronts, one which is as much a parable for the present as for the past.’ — Andy Haldane, former Chief Economist, Bank of England, and Head of the Levelling Up Taskforce
‘McCarthy’s book explodes several comfortable myths. His Dick Whittington is a far cry from the familiar panto character: a successful (though often controversial) politician and immensely rich businessman. Less a biography of Whittington, and more a comprehensive portrait of an era—especially of the politics and economy of London at a crucial moment in its history.’ — Nick Higham, former BBC News correspondent, and author of The Mercenary River—Private Greed, Public Good: A History of London’s Water
‘A compelling read. McCarthy’s deep research, delivered with verve and pace, forensically details the facts beneath the Whittington myth. And, as so often, truth beats fiction. This is a vade mecum to statesmanship, both medieval and modern, and a case study in the ethical bridging of the private sector and public service. Financier to three kings including Henry V, protector of the people from abuse, city planner and developer, his philanthropic endowment continues 600 years after his death. Whittington’s understanding of the power of liquidity, with his adaptability, trust and probity are all object lessons for public effectiveness today. And, most important of all, McCarthy’s assiduous curiosity does not, quite, kill the revered cat.’ — John Campbell OBE, Chair of Campbell Lutyens, and author of Haldane: The Forgotten Statesman Who Shaped Modern Britain
‘It’s time to turn again to the tale of Richard Whittington, the man and mayor, and a life bound up so closely with the business, politics and society of London at a time of change—all vividly captured by McCarthy in this fascinating and entertaining account of a figure who continues to capture the imagination and whose charitable legacy survives to this day.’ — Vincent Keaveny, Lord Mayor of the City of London
‘I felt that I had been guided around all the nooks and crannies of medieval London and shown the daily lives, pastimes, rules and regulations, ambitions and differing fortunes of its citizens, embodied in the life of Richard Whittington. An erudite, enjoyable and illuminating read.’ — Elizabeth Chadwick, historical novelist
‘A remarkable story. Forget the cat: look at what Dick Whittington achieved in the City of London, for the crowning military triumph of Agincourt and his own legacy benefiting millions. I hope Citizen of London, through its vivid picture of the early 15th century, will resonate today and inspire new generations.’ — Richard Graham, Conservative MP for Gloucester
‘Michael McCarthy has rescued “Dick” Whittington from the pantomime! “Oh yes he has!” Crafting the history of Whittington’s moral and social compass shown through his civic action, this book establishes his rightful place in the social and political history of British social welfare.’ — Jonathan Parker, Professor of Society & Social Welfare, Bournemouth University
Michael McCarthy PhD lectured in Politics before a career in development, consultancy and in rural and heritage regeneration. His books include Campaigning for the Poor; The New Politics of Welfare; and A History of Their Making.