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   Chapter 20 PART III. No.20

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 4562

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


In the year 1384, being then about twenty-six years of age, Whittington was elected a member of the Common Council. In the year 1389 he was assessed at the same sum as the richest citizen. So that these ten years of his life were evidently very prosperous. In the year 1393 he was made Alderman for Broad Street Ward. In the same year he was made Sheriff. In the year 1396, the Mayor, Adam Bamme, dying in office, Whittington succeeded him. The following year he was elected Mayor.

In the year 1401, water was brought from Tyburn (now the N.E. corner of Hyde Park) to Cornhill in pipes, a great and important boon to the City.

In the year 1406 he was again elected Mayor. The manner of his election is described in the contemporary records. After service in the chapel of the Guildhall, the outgoing Mayor, with all the Aldermen and as many as possible of the wealthier and more substantial Commoners of the City, met in the Guildhall and chose two of their number, viz., Richard Whittington and Drew Barentyn. Then the Mayor receiving this nomination retired into a closed chamber with the Aldermen and made choice of Whittington.

In the year 1419 he was elected Mayor for the third and last time, but, counting his succession to Bamme, he was actually four times Mayor. In 1416 he was returned Member of Parliament for the City.

It was not a new thing for a citizen to be made Mayor more than once. Three during the reign of Edward III. were Mayor four times; two, three times; seven, twice.

In Whittington's later years began the burning of heretics and Lollards. It is certain that Lollardism had some hold in the City, but one knows not how great was the hold. A priest, William Sawtre, was the first who suffered. Two men of the lower class followed. There is nothing to show that Whittington ever swerved from orthodox opinions.

In 1416, the City was first lighted at night: all citizens were ordered to hang lanterns over their doors. How far the order was obeyed, especially in the poorer parts of the City, is not known.

In 1407 a plague carried off 30,000 persons in London alone. If this number is correctly stated it must have taken half the population.

Many improvements were effected in the City during these years: it is reasonable to suppos

e that Whittington had a hand in bringing these about. Fresh water brought in pipes: lights hung out after dark: the erection of a house-Bakewell Hall-for the storage and sale of broadcloth: the erection of a store for the reception of grain, in case of famine-this was the beginning of Leadenhall-the building of a new Guildhall: and an attempt to reform the prisons-an attempt which failed.

In his last year of office Whittington entertained the King, Henry V. and his Queen.

There was as yet no Mansion House: every Mayor made use of his own private house.

The magnificence of the entertainment amazed the King. Even the fires were fed with cedar and perfumed wood. When the Queen spoke of this costly gift the Mayor proposed to feed the fire with something more precious still. He then produced the King's bonds to the value of 60,000l. which he threw into the fire and burned. This great sum would be a very considerable gift even now. In that time it represented at least six times its present value. The Mayor therefore gave the King the sum of 360,000l.

This is, very shortly, an account of Whittington's public life.

He lived, I believe, on the north side of St. Michael's Paternoster Royal. I think so because his College was established there after his death, and as he had no children it is reasonable to suppose that his house would be assigned to the College. There is nothing to show what kind of house it was, but we may rest assured that the man who could entertain the King and Queen in such a manner was at least well housed. There is a little court on this spot which is, I believe, on the site of Whittington's house. They used to show a house in Hart Street as Whittington's, but there was no ground for the tradition except that it was a very old house.

Whittington married his master's daughter, Alice Fitzwarren. He had no children, and he died in 1423 when he was sixty-five years of age.

Such was the real Whittington. A gentleman by birth, a rich and successful man, happy in his private life, a great stickler for justice, as a magistrate severe upon those who cheat and adulterate, a loyal and patriotic man, and always filled with the desire to promote the interests of the City which had received him and made him rich.

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