Dick Whittington and his Cat:
A cat plays a pivotal role in the true story of Sir Richard Whittington, who became the Lord Mayor of London from 1397-1420, and was knighted by Henry V. The story, not written down until 1605, describes the plight of a poor, destitute orphan by the name of Dick Whittington. The boy goes to London in search of a better life and is taken in and given a job by the Fitzwarrens, a merchant family. Given a room that is filled with rats, he buys a cat with his first penny earned. The cat soon kills all the rats, and because it is such a good ratter, it is taken aboard the Fitzwarren’s ship. While traveling, the captain sells the cat to the King of Barbary, who was also plagued by such vermin in return for a handsome treasure. When the ship returned home, the treasure was shared with the boy who became a wealthy man, and the Lord Mayor of London for three successive terms.
Even though based on a similar Persian tale written in the 10th century, there is no doubt that Dick Whittington was a real person, who became a rich and benevolent man giving generously to many charities. As touching proof that Lord Whittington never forgot to whom he owed his gratitude, there is a bas-relief showing a boy with a cat in his arms which was part of a 15th century chimney piece in Whittington’s home. Discovered in 1862, it is now housed in the Gloucester Folk Museum, U.K.