RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London financiers Richard Whittington testaments funerals piety bequests churches monasteries prayer charity hospitals executors almshouse constitution paupers endowments administration mercers memorial services regulations behaviour travel pension lepers offences punishment careers
Subject: Whittington's Charity
Original source: Item 1: Lambeth Palace Library, Reg. Chichele, I, ff.354-355; item 2: Archives of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, Ordinances for the Governance of Whittington College.
Transcription in: 1. E.F. Jacob, ed. The Register of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury 1414-1423, vol.2, Canterbury and York Society, no.42 (1937), 240-44; 2. Jean Imray, The Charity of Richard Whittington: A History of the Trust administered by the Mercers' Company 1424-1966, London: Athlone Press, 1968, 109-20.
Original language: 1. Latin; 2. Middle English
Location: London
Date: 1420s


[1. Last will and testament].

The testament of Richard Whittington. In the name of God and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, amen. On 5 September 1421, in the ninth year of the reign of Henry V, I, Richard Whittington, citizen and alderman of London, being sound in mind and memory, make this my testament in the following manner. First, I leave my soul to almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints, and my body to be buried in the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal in London, that is, on the north side of the high altar of that church. It is my first and foremost wish that, before anything else, all the debts that I rightfully owe, to whomever I owe them, be paid in full. I bequeath £100 to cover the costs of my funeral expenses and for saying vespers after my death, the Placebo and Dirige, and on the following day a requiem mass; together with a monthly remembrance for my soul, the souls of my father, my mother, my wife Alice, and all those to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I bequeath 1d. for every poor man, woman and child, to be distributed on the day of my funeral. I bequeath 100s. to the high altar of the aforementioned church for tithes or offerings unpaid due to forgetfulness or negligence; also, 6s.8d to each chaplain of that church, to pray for my soul and those of the others mentioned and to say the Placebo and Dirige every day for a month after my death. I bequeath 40s. to Thomas the present [parish] clerk of that church, if he is still its clerk at the time I die. I bequeath 100s. to be distributed in alms, at the discretion of my executors, among poor parishioners known to that church, so that they may pray for my soul and those of the others mentioned. I bequeath 40s. to dom. Thomas Kirton, lately rector of the aforementioned church, to pray for my soul and those of the others mentioned. I bequeath 100s. to John White, master of St. Bartholomew's hospital in the London suburb of West Smithfield, so that he may pray for my soul and the souls of the others mentioned. Also, 100s. to be distributed, at the discretion of my executors, among poor persons who are in that hospital. I bequeath 40s. towards the structural fabric of All Hallows church in Honey Lane and to the repair of the church ornaments, that they may pray for my soul and the souls of the others mentioned. I leave 100s. towards the structural fabric of the church of St. Margaret Lothbury and the repair of ornaments of that church, that they may pray for the soul of Roger one-time rector there, and my soul and the other souls mentioned. I bequeath 53s.4d towards the structural fabric of the church of St. Pancras, London, and the repair of ornaments of that church, that they may pray for my soul and the souls of the others mentioned. I bequeath £13.6s.8d for the alms [fund] of my craft gild of the mercers of London. I bequeath 100s. to each order of friars in London, to pray for my soul and the souls of the others mentioned. I bequeath 8d. to each stipendiary chaplain in London and its suburbs, to pray for my soul and the other souls to be remembered. I bequeath 40s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Stephen Coleman Street, London. I bequeath 40s. [to be distributed], as my executors determine best, among poor people of the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, London. I bequeath 40s. towards the structural fabric of St. Alphege church, London, that they may pray for my soul and those of the aforementioned. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people of that parish. I bequeath 40s. towards the structural fabric of the church of St. Mary Staining and the repair of ornaments of that church, that they may pray for my soul and the aforementioned souls; also, £10 to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among poor people in the hospitals of St. Mary without Bishopsgate, St. Mary of Bethlem, and St. Thomas in Southwark, and among the lepers of Lock, Hackney, and St. Giles without Holborn. I bequeath 20s. to be distributed, as my executors determine best, among the poor brothers and sisters of the hospital of Elsing Spital. I bequeath 100s. to the monastic house at Burnham, that they may pray for my soul and the aforementioned souls. I bequeath 40s. to the monastic house at Cheshunt, that they may pray for my soul and the aforementioned souls. I bequeath 40s. to the monastic house at Rouney near Ware, that they may pray for my soul and the aforementioned souls. I bequeath 40s. to the monastic priory at Bromhale near Windsor, that they may pray for my soul and the aforementioned souls. I bequeath £100 for the marriage of virgins, [to be distributed] as my executors determine best. Also, for the repair and improvement of roads in bad condition, £100 [to be distributed] as my executors determine best, where the necessity is most felt. I bequeath for distribution among those imprisoned in Newgate, Ludgate, Fleet, Marshalsea, and the King's Bench 40s. each week for as long as £500 holds out. I leave to my executors named below the entire tenement in which I live in the parish of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, London, and all lands and tenements that I hold in the parish of St. Andrew, near Castle Baynard, London, and in the parish of St. Michael Bassishaw, as well as in the parish of St. Botolph outside Bishopsgate, in the same city; so that after my death they may sell them as soon as they may conveniently do so and distribute the proceeds for [the good of] my soul and the souls already mentioned, when they see a good opportunity to benefit my soul and please God – that is in the celebration of masses and other works of charity, and to fulfill this my testament. The remainder of all my possessions, wherever they may be, after the payment of my debts has been given priority and my bequests have been fulfilled, I leave to my executors to dispose of in works of charity for [the good of] my soul, such as they would wish me to do for their souls if our situation were reversed. I appoint as my executors of this my testament John Coventre, John White clerk, John Carpenter, and William Grove, and as their supervisor William Babyngton; and I bequeath to the same John Coventre £20 for his labour, to John White £13.6s.8d for his labour, to John Carpenter £40 for his labour, to William Grove £10 for his labour, and to the supervisor £20 for his labour. I do not wish any of my executors to have any administration or involvement whatsoever in anything concerning this my testament or my last will without all my executors approving, or three of them being present, or which three or four it is my wish that John Carpenter be one. I wish that my executors have in their custody a chest, secured with three locks, containing my goods and jewels, to be distributed for [the good of] my soul; and that none of those who are my executors remove anything from the same except in the presence or with the consent of all as a group. I further wish that my executors maintain and support my household together with meals for my personal servants for one year following my death, as they determine best. Also, I bequeath to the house of the Carthusians 100s., that they may pray for my soul and the other souls mentioned. In testimony to which matters I have set my seal to this testament. Drawn up at London, on the day and year indicated above.

[2. Ordinances for the almshouse].

To all true Christians who witness or hear about matters covered by these documents, John Coventre, John Carpenter, and William Grove, executors of the testament of the respectable and famous merchant Richard Whittington, late citizen and mercer of the city of London and sometime mayor of that city, send greetings in our Lord God everlasting. The strongest desire and greatest preoccupation of a prudent, wise, and devout man should be to plan ahead and make provision for the state [of his soul] and the termination of his short life, through acts of compassion and benevolence. In particular, to provide for those poor people who have been crushed by severe hardship and cruel misfortune and who do not have the means to earn a living through a craft or manual labour. So that, at the day of the Last Judgement, he will find a place with those who are saved. Having given serious consideration to this, that respectable and famous merchant Richard Whittington, who while he was alive gave large handouts liberally to people who were poor and in need, gave strict instructions on his deathbed for we, his executors, to establish after his death an almshouse for the perpetual support of the type of poor people indicated above. He fully expounded to us his wishes in this regard; and we wish to do whatever we can to fulfill the commendable intent and beneficial wishes expressed in his will, as is our duty. First, we have founded with official approval, in the church of St. Michael Royal in London where are buried Richard and Lady Alice his wife, a college of priests and clerics to perform divine services there daily for [the souls of] Richard and Alice. We have also founded, in response to his wishes, an almshouse for 13 poor people as a perpetual residence and place of sustenance for them and their successors. This house has been built upon land that we recently bought for the purpose in St. Michael's parish; that is, situated between that church and the wall enclosing a vacant plot to the rear of the high altar of the church, on the south side, and our great tenement that was until recently the home of Richard Whittington, on the north side, and stretching [westwards] from the residence of the master and priests of the college mentioned above. Which [residence] we had built recently on the east side, on a large empty plot of our land; from which we intend, with God's help, to have within a short time a churchyard lawfully consecrated to serve the church, on the west side [of the college]. Calling to our aid the power of the Father, the wisdom of his Son, and the goodness of the Holy Ghost, we have next set out ordinances giving specifications for the foundation and establishment of the almshouse and its poor men.

First, as a result of a licence granted by the authority of the noble and powerful prince and present lord king of England and France, Henry VI, and by the consent and wish of the reverend lord and father in Christ Henry, by the grace of God Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of England, and legate of Rome, under whose immediate jurisdiction are the church and parish mentioned above, and after obtaining the necessary agreement of each and every man who had any title or interest in the property, we wish and ordain that from this time forward there be admitted to reside and obtain sustenance in the almshouse 13 poor people, either men alone or men and women together, according to the best judgement and decision of the overseers identified below and conservators of that house. Who shall every day forevermore at a proper and convenient time pray for all those who are now living and for those who have gone to God, particularly those whose names are identified in the statutes written below.

Of which poor people we wish that there always be one who is the principal, given more authority and respect than the others, and called the tutor. The responsibility and duties of that tutor shall be to administer well and truly the goods of the almshouse that come into his hands, gathering together again any goods that are dispersed. And to take care of those goods which, through his efforts, are gathered together, for the use and support of the almshouse. All almshouse-related matters that he is in a position to oversee he is to manage through decisions and actions, taking care to foster and build charitable and peaceful relations among his fellows, and in all matters to set an example of cleanliness and virtuous behaviour, both in word and deed.

We wish and ordain that the poor people of the almshouse, present and future, are to be upright in their intentions and obedient to the tutor in all matters in which he has authority or that concern the good reputation or benefit of the house.

We wishing to realize the intent of the foundation and above ordinances providing for the almshouse and the 13 needy and devout poor people, well-behaved and of honest character, have now put into operation that intent by designating the poor people who are to be maintained in the almshouse. Of whom one that we consider most suitable and capable to be in authority, by the name of Robert Chesterton, we have appointed and ordain to be tutor of the poor people and the almshouse, as mentioned.

And we have granted and by the tenor of this present document, thanks to the aforementioned licence and grant of the king, handed over to the tutor and the poor people of the almshouse that same almshouse which we founded and recently had built; with all free entrances and exits to the house via the street and the church adjacent, together with the openings, windows, gutters, eavestroughing, chimneys, privies, well and each and every other appurtenance, convenience and easement whatever, as fully and completely as they existed and were built at this present time, even though they open onto our great tenement, lately the residence of Richard Whittington, or in whatever manner they have been built on or overhang any part of that residential property. To have and to hold the entire almshouse, together with the free entrances and exits of the house, the openings, windows, gutters, waterfalls, chimneys, privies, well, and each and every other appurtenance, convenience and easement, by the tutor and poor people and their successors as their residence in perpetuity, without any reclaiming or hindrance from ourselves, our heirs, or our assigns, no matter whoever they be of the chief lords of the fee, in regard to the services due therefrom or the customary rights therein.

We wish and ordain that this house be forever known as God's House, or Almshouse, or the Hospital of Richard Whittington, and that Richard and his wife Alice be considered and credited by everyone forevermore as the true principal founders of that house and hospital.

Furthermore, we wish and ordain that the present mayor of the city of London and his successors who are mayors or wardens of the city are to be overseers of the [administration of] the almshouse; and that the present wardens of the community of the craft of mercery in London, and their successors as wardens of that craft, shall forever be and be known as conservators of that almshouse.

We wish and ordain that each one of the tutors and poor people, and their successors, should have within the almshouse a place to himself. That is, a cell or little house with a chimney, a privy and other necessaries, in which he shall lodge. So that he may in solitude, without the interference of anyone else, give himself over to the contemplation of God, if he wishes. And we wish that the present and future tutors and and poor people, when they are in their houses or cells as well as in the cloisters and other parts of the almshouse, behave in a quiet and peaceable manner so as not to disturb their fellows with noise, and that they occupy themselves in prayer, or reading, or manual labour, or some other respectable activity.

We ordain that every tutor of the house, within a month of having been appointed to take charge of the administration of the almshouse, is to associate with 2 of the most sensible of his fellows (appointed by nomination of the conservators) to make an honest and accurate inventory of all the communal goods of the house. This inventory, to be made without dawdling or delaying, is to be delivered to the then conservators and fellows of the almshouse. At the end of every year, or whenever a tutor is about to resign his post, he is to do the same and render an honest account for the entire period of his administration, before the overseer and one of the conservators and the fellows of the house at that time, so that all men are fully informed in what condition the tutor received, maintained, and left the house during his term.

We have ordained, and ordain, that henceforth within 20 days immediately following a vacancy at the almshouse in the office of tutor, due to a death or any other reason, a member of that house who is suitable and qualified – or someone from outside the almshouse, if one capable of governance cannot be found inside the almshouse at that time – is to be selected and appointed as tutor of the house by we the executors, for as long as we live or the longest-lived among us. After our deaths, [the tutor] is to be appointed by the conservators of the almshouse; that is, the wardens of the craft of mercery in London then in office. If after our deaths the conservators are negligent in choosing and appointing such a tutor, as indicated above, within the deadline set them of 20 days as mentioned, then we wish and ordain that whenever the 20 days have passed the selection and appointment of the tutor [fall] to the overseer of the house – that is, the mayor or warden of London then in office – but only in the event of those special cases, with the proviso that this provision in no way prejudice any rights of the conservators in other selections and appointments of such tutors on future occasions. The provision and appointment of other poor people to places in the almshouse, as often and under whatever circumstances that they become vacant henceforward, we the executors reserve particularly to ourselves, for as long as we live or the longest-lived among us. We wish and ordain that after our deaths the specified provision and appointment belong to the conservators and the master of the college mentioned above, and their successors in perpetuity, in the following form. That is, that on the first occasion after our deaths of a vacancy in the almshouse the master of the college shall provide and appoint a suitable poor man to the vacant place; and in the same way the conservators of the house, on the next 6 occasions when there are vacancies, shall provide and appoint 6 other poor people to fill the vacancies. Thereafter, [the selection] reverts again to the master of the college, and then the next 6 times the selection belongs to the conservators, as indicated previously. And so on in this way we wish that it be done by, and between, the master and the conservators and their successors whenever there are vacancies. With the sole, perpetual exception of the place and office of the tutor. For fear that the place of any such poor man of the almshouse be vacant for a long time – which God forbid – we wish and ordain for perpetuity that he or they to whom after our deaths the provision and appointment, in the form written above, belongs or shall belong be obligated to provide and appoint a suitable poor man to that place within 15 days from the time that any such vacancy becomes common knowledge. If at any future point the master, when it is his turn, or the conservators, when their turn, fail to make the provision within the 15 day deadline assigned them, then we wish and ordain that every time when such a default occurs the provision and appointment of poor people to such vacancies be devolved to the overseer of the house then in office, as often as this situation shall arise, in perpetuity. Reserving to the master and conservators and their successors their right to make the provision and appointment at other times of vacancy thereafter, according to the specifications given above.

We wish and ordain that every poor person who shall be provided, appointed, and admitted to the almshouse, or any place therein, is to be a man mild in manners, destitute of worldly goods in other locations (from which he might be able to make a satisfactory living even if he were not of the fellowship of the almshouse), physically chaste, and known to be of good character. All those to whom, by these our ordinances, it shall after our deaths fall to provide any poor man to the almshouse, or any place in that house, we humbly and earnestly beg and also direct, as respectfully as we can – as they will answer for it to God at the dreadful day of judgement – that they ignore any especial friendships, or influential requests, or gifts made to them, and do not in any way provide or appoint anyone other than suitable and dutiful poor men to vacancies, as indicated above.

We also ordain and forbid that the conservators of the almshouse provide and admit as a fellow of that house any man who is, has been, or shall be of the livery of the mercers' craft, or the livery of any other craft of the city; for which poor men of such liveries the wardens and community of the craft should find sustenance, from lands and tenements given and bequeathed them, under special licence from our sovereign lord the king, or in other ways. Should it happen otherwise than we wish and ordain, then all such provisions and admissions are to be completely invalid. In such a circumstance it is permitted to the mayor or warden of the city of London then in office, as overseer of the house, to remove completely and expel from the house any such man so provided and admitted, and to provide and appoint another poor person in the place of he who is expelled from the house.

Nevertheless, we intend and so ordain that it henceforth be established and respected that poor citizens of London – notably poor infirm men of the mercers' craft who have not been of the livery of the mercers and for whom the community of mercers is not obligated to provide [support], as well as poor and infirm clerics and lower ministers of the college mentioned above who have given long, faithful and commendable service in the college – are to receive preferential treatment in provisions and appointments to any vacancies among the fellows of the almshouse. The present tutor of the almshouse and his successors as tutor are likewise obligated by their duty, through the authority of this document, to admit all types of suitable poor people, as specified above, who are provided and appointed to each of the places of the house when they are vacant, after a certain period (to be set by decision of the conservators) of probation and trial of the suitability and character of those men, if they prove suitable.

Furthermore, we wish and ordain that the present tutor and poor people and their successors in perpetuity shall have and hold in peace and may have and hold without harassment or hindrance from any man the seats that we have assigned for them in the church and college mentioned above. In which college and church it is our wish that the tutor and the poor people be obliged to be in attendance to hear matins, mass, evensong, compline and the recital of other divine offices there, and to give prayers to God there for all those whose names are written next in the statutes. That is, first and foremost for the souls of Richard and Alice Whittington, the founders. Also for the souls of Sir William Whittington knight and Lady Joan his wife, and the souls of Sir Ivo FitzWaren and Lady Maud his wife, the parents of Richard Whittington and his wife Alice. Next, for the souls of the worthy princes King Richard II, king of England and France, and Sir Thomas of Woodstock, late Duke of Gloucester, the particular lords and patrons of Richard Whittington, and for Anne and Eleanor the wives of that king and duke. Furthermore [they are to pray] for the good health and prosperity of the present lord king and lord archbishop, and the conservators and benefactors of the house, while they are alive, and for our prosperity while we live and for their and our souls when they and we have departed this world. And generally for those to whom Richard Whittington and Alice were indebted in any way during their lifetimes, and for all Christian souls. Furthermore, we ordain that each of the tutor and poor people and their successors, every day – first when they get out of bed, and secondly when they are about to go to bed – kneeling on their knees say a paternoster and an Ave Maria, with particular and heartfelt commendation of Richard Whittington and Alice to God and our blessed lady the Virgin Mary. Also that each of the tutor and poor people, at other times of day when each is most likely to have a moment of leisure or when it is the most convenient time, is to say two or three prayer rounds to Our Lady for the well-being of all the souls mentioned above – that is, at least three times an Ave Maria with 15 Paternosters and 3 Creeds – unless he is excused by reason of infirmity or some other reasonable cause.

We wish and ordain that the present tutor and poor people and their successors shall whenever possible at least once a day – that is, after mass or when compline is over – gather together in the college around the tomb of Richard Whittington and Alice; and those who can shall recite, for the souls of all Christian people, the psalm De profundis with the versicles and orisons that are part of the same. Those unable to shall say three Paternosters, three Ave Marias, and one Creed. After this is done, the tutor or one of the eldest of the men shall say in English for all to hear "God have mercy on our founders' souls and all Christians"; and the other standing around shall respond "Amen".

We wish and ordain that the present tutor and poor people and their successors in the future, each and every one of them, be obliged to live and to stay continually within the almshouse and its boundaries, just as other poor people in similar almshouses or hospitals typically reside or are obliged to stay. And that every day, both at dinner and supper, they take their meals within the almshouse, unless they are excused for a good reason.

While they are at dinner or supper, we wish that they will avoid idle and self-centered conversation as much as they can; if they want to talk about any subject it should be one serious and productive.

Moreover, we ordain that the outer garments of the tutor and poor people of the almshouse be of a dark brown colour, not a bright one that will attract attention, and of modestly-priced cloth commensurate with their station.

Furthermore, we wish and ordain that neither the present tutor nor any of his successors as tutors of the almshouse for any reason absent themselves from the house in the future for more than 12 days, whether consecutively or discontinuously, without permission from us or from one of us, while we live, or without permission from the overseer or one of the conservators of the house, after our deaths. [The travel] should then be for some necessary cause and to some reputable destination. Nor should any of the other poor people of the house be absent from the house for any reason for a whole day, or go beyond the parish boundaries, without permission from he then tutor of the almshouse, if he is present, or in his absence the permission of his substitute or deputy; [and then] not unless there is a very pressing reason that demands it, or there is some other good reason which is enquired into and approved by the tutor or his deputy. We also wish that the tutor, whenever he goes out into the town or anywhere else, appoint one of his fellows to take over his responsibilities until his return.

Furthermore, we wish and ordain that those of the almshouse who have their strength and health – especially of the women, if there are any – take care of the residents who are sick or feeble and help them with their basic needs, as often as they are in need of help and support.

We wish and ordain that the tutor and poor people have a communal chest and a common seal. In which chest they are to keep the seal, along with their charters, letters, grants, writings, and valuables of their house, and any other things which seem to the tutor and poor people advisable, for the benefit of the community. Which chest we wish to be placed in a secret and secure location within the boundaries of the almshouse. This chest is to have 3 different locks, with 3 different keys; of which one shall always remain in the possession of the tutor, another be kept by the oldest resident, and the third be kept by one of the other residents, chosen anew each year by us, while we live, and after our deaths by the masters of the mercers mentioned above. No man is to presume to have possession or keeping of all three keys under his control at once; nor is anything to be sealed with the common seal without permission and consent of the overseer and conservators of the house at that time. We also wish and ordain that every year all the remaining money and revenues from rents and their communal goods, after the accounting given by the tutor for the expenses of the house, are to be kept in that chest, along with the precious objects belonging to the house that are not for everyday use.

Moreover, we wish and ordain that none of the present or future tutors or poor people dare in any way to waste, use up, give away, or pawn unnecessarily the possessions, or any part of the possessions, belonging to the house. But that all of them do their utmost to devote their thoughts and energies towards preserving and increasing those possessions. When one departs this world, he is to give or bequeath all his personal possessions – or a significant part thereof – to the almshouse.

We wish and ordain that the tutor and poor people of the house, and their successors, are to receive in perpetuity from the rents and funds of the house certain weekly pensions or allowances for their food, drink, and other necessaries, as follows. That is, the tutor shall have every week for his allowance, 16d. And each of the other 12 poor people shall receive weekly as their portion 14d. They are to be satisfied with those amounts, and are not to beg in that location or elsewhere – those who are incorrigible in doing so will suffer the penalty determined and written below.

We wish and ordain that no leper or lunatic, nor anyone else who is constantly plagued by an incurable illness, be admitted into the almshouse. Should it happen in the future that any person who is admitted to the house goes mad or crazy, or becomes infected with leprosy or any other such incurable illness, then we wish and ordain that each such person be expelled from the house, to avoid him infecting his fellows. He is to go to some other place where he can be admitted; where, it is our wish, he be given the same 14d. for his livelihood and necessaries that he would have in the almshouse and that he be counted as one of the house and of the number of the 13 poor people, throughout his lifetime.

We ordain also that in the event that any of the poor people, after their admittance to the house, happens to prosper or have his situation improved through an inheritance or some other means by an income to the value of £3.6s.8d annually, that person is to be expelled from the house and the number of the 13 poor people, and another is to be received and admitted in his place. If anyone of the house, after his admission, prospers likewise through an inheritance or other incidental income to an annual value of less than £3.6s.8d, then we wish and ordain that an even half of that sum every year (without fraud or deceit) be deposited and kept in the communal chest for the profit of the community; and the other half shall be received by the person so fortunate, along with his own allowance from the house – with which it is our wish that he be satisfied. In the event that he does not comply but acts contrary to this ordinance, then we wish that he be permanently expelled from the house, and someone else be chosen to take his place.

Furthermore we wish and ordain that all statutes and ordinances that are made for the improvement of the house and the welfare of the poor people, after our deaths, by the conservators with the agreement of the overseer, be upheld and observed by the tutor and poor people; so long as those statutes and ordinances are reasonable and not in conflict with the statutes and ordinances that we have made. In the event that any uncertainty or disagreement arises through misunderstanding of the statutes, then we wish that the statutes that are misunderstood be clarified, revised and reformed by the mayor or keeper of the city of London then in office.

We also wish and ordain that none of the poor people of the house who are of lesser status than the tutor should sleep overnight outside the house, in the city or its suburbs, without a good reason to be discussed with and ruled upon by the tutor. We also wish that none of the poor folk be habitually drunk, gluttonous, or quarrelsome with his fellows, haunting taverns, indulging in lechery, or wandering the streets of the city or suburbs by day or by night without a good reason, to be discussed with and a wise decision made by the tutor or conservators of the house. Whoever among the poor people is well known or commonly believed to be guilty of such faults or other similar vices is to be pointed out by the tutor or one of the fellows and punished , on the first two occasions, by withholding part or all of his allowance (according to the judgement of the tutor); which withheld allowance is to go [back] into the communal chest of the house. If any of the poor people who has been thus twice warned, reprimanded, and punished for such vices and faults as indicated above, or others similar, is found by ourselves while we live or by the tutor and conservators of the almshouse after our death, to be at fault a third time, then we wish and ordain that every such misbehaving person be considered incorrigible and insufferable, and be utterly expelled from the house and from any benefits or advantages he would have therein, by us, while we live, and by the tutor and conservators after our deaths. And another suitable person is to be chosen to take his place. Moreover, if any of the poor people is, in our presence while we live or that of the conservators of the house after our deaths, openly accused of despoiling or wasting excessively the possessions of the house, or of being a lecher or a fewterer or worse, and by our or their judgement is found guilty of the same, then we wish and ordain that upon the first conviction of each such person he be utterly expelled from the house. In the event that such a person wishes to protest or appeal [the decision], after our deaths this is to be done to the overseer of the house only, not to anyone else.

We wish and ordain that any faults or offences of the tutor of the house then in office be subject to correction and punishment by ourselves, while we live, and whichever of us lives longest, and after our deaths by the conservators and overseer of the house, in the following manner. That is, one option is to withhold the tutor's allowance to an extent commensurate with the gravity of his offence, to be assessed by the judgement of ourselves or he of us who lives longest, and after our deaths by the determination of the conservators and overseer mentioned. Another is to deprive the tutor of his post, his pension, and his place in this almshouse, should he be guilty of an offence that warrants it.

Furthermore, we wish and ordain that this foundation document, and each and every chapter and statute of its ordinances, be read out and explanined in the presence of the tutor and poor people of the house at least once every quarter of the year. And that the tutor and the poor people have available to them in their house a copy of the statutes, in order that they can read the chapters of the ordinances when they wish and so better keep them in mind.

Finally, we urge and earnestly entreat the tutor and poor people, present and future, to live together in harmony with each other, serving God, and praying devoutly for the souls mentioned, as this document intends. They are to be upright in behaviour and live together in this poor house in such a manner that, at the close of their lives, they may attain the kingdom of heaven, which God by his own words has promised to poor people. We reserve to ourselves, under the force of this document, full power over all matters relating to the almshouse for as long as any of us shall live; that is, to change the ordinances, should there be any need to reform, clarify, or suspend them, to make new statutes, or to revoke those that we have now made, in the event that we consider this advisable, the present document notwithstanding, for as long as we are alive. In witness to which, we have put our seals on this document, drawn up at London on December 21, 1424, in the third year of [the reign of] King Henry VI.


No other medieval townsperson has attained in the English-speaking world the legendary proportions of Dick Whittington. The legend is based upon the accumulation of wealth and status, of which he was considered an exemplar within a few years of his death, and upon the subsequent application of that wealth to benefit society. In the former case, Whittington's level of accomplishment made him one of an elite, but not so exceptional as to warrant remembrance where others have been forgotten by the general public. It is in the latter that Whittington's name was made, for his philanthropy and in particular his almshouse. Society's thirst for heroes and role models made Whittington a natural choice for praise by later generations, though he was not the only Londoner of his era so singled out, for alderman William Sevenoke (mayor 1418/19) was, by the Elizabethan period, being lauded as a foundling who rose from poverty to position and finally philanthropy, though there appears no more historical foundation for his alleged humble beginnings than is the case with Whittington.

If the story of his generosity was kept alive through later centuries, when works of charity were considered de rigueur for wealthy merchants, it was in part due to the continued presence of the almshouses as a reminder of Whittington's example. Those almshouses, which have become confused in name with the college founded at his bequest at the same time, have been relocated more than once, but still thrive now at a rural Sussex location, where 60 homes for elderly residents are supported; Whittington's endowment also provides hundreds of other pensioners with an income supplement, and additional funding for other charities. In 1996, over £2 million was put into charitable works. His name has continued to resonate in popular culture throughout the twentieth century, thanks in part to pantomimes; and in 2000 a plan was put forward to create The Dick Whittington Family Leisure Park in the county of his birth, with exhibits on both his history and his legend.

Let us be immediately clear that cats have no known part of the historical facts behind the legend. Nor did Richard Whittington rise to riches from rags, although the landed Gloucestershire family into which he was born, probably in the late 1340s or early 1350s (his father, Sir William Whittinghton, having died in 1358), had some financial difficulties. As the youngest of three sons in such circumstances, Richard chose or was obliged to pursue a career in commerce, for he had no prospect of inheriting landed estates – although his older brother Robert, despite also having little family land in the county, managed to carve out a successful career in military and royal service there and served several terms as its sheriff. Richard presumably underwent an apprenticeship to a mercer, although by the time he is first seen in London, in 1379, he was already established in business. In the years that followed, his clientele included nobles and courtiers closest to the young Richard II as well as the future Henry IV, perhaps particularly the duke of Gloucester; by 1389 he could add the king himself to the list of clients. Richard had a taste for finery and during the period 1392-94 (from which records survive) 27% of the total expenditures of his Great Wardrobe department went to Whittington for mercery. At Richard's deposition, Whittington was still owed a large sum, which Henry IV conceded should be repaid through an exemption from customs on wool exports.

Despite Whittington's attachment to Richard II, as evidenced in the almshouse ordinances, the new king continued to purchase from Whittington, on a more frugal scale. But we see a gradual decline in his sales to the royal court, and perhaps in his own interest in the mercery trade – for he seems to have given up taking on apprentices early in the fifteenth century. The death of his wife in the early fifteenth century may have contributed to his demotivation; his attachment to Alice is reflected in that, when she was mortally ill in 1410, he obtained special licence from the king to bring a renowned doctor over from the continent to treat her.

Having built up a small fortune, he put it to use as a royal financier, a practice he had begun in Richard II's reign, although not significantly until 1397. We cannot tell whether this was directly profitable financially (usury being illegal), but if nothing else it brought indirect rewards in terms of royal favour and influence. Just a few months after Whittington's first large loan, the king appointed him mayor of London when the incumbent died in office, and shortly after we find the city government making a huge loan to the king, part of which may have been used to pay debts owed Whittington for mercery supplied to the king's favourites. The loan was in fact a gift, intended to encourage the king to restore the city liberties, which he had suspended.

Despite the king's interference in London affairs and general unpopularity in the city, Whittington's close connection to him appears to have had no adverse effects on his own importance in the city. He had been serving, on and off, as a member of the city's common council from 1384 until his appointment as an alderman in 1393. His royal appointment as mayor in 1397 was probably not distasteful to the citizens, who would have appreciated the benefit of a mayor having influence with the king; that fact, together with his firm administration of law and order at a troubled time, led to the citizens electing him to continue in office for the 1397/98 term. His mayoralty saw an ordinance restricting the market for woollen cloth, brought into the city by outsiders, to a particular building near the Guildhall and to particular days and times; in part to ensure that cloth sales were conducted in public, and in part to ensure the collection of the king's customs thereon could be more effectively administered. Whittington was again elected mayor in 1406, during which term of office he successfully campaigned against fish weirs illegally placed in the Thames. His third and final term was in 1419/20, when he took action to reassert and strengthen regulations controlling the brewing industry, a matter with which he continued to show concern in the years that followed. He also encouraged town clerk John Carpenter in an initiative to compile the customs and by-laws of the city into a reference work, which has left historians the single most important record of medieval London in the Liber Albus. Whittington served as a master of the Mercers' Company in 1395/96, 1401/02, and 1408/09; although less active in the company in later years, his continued association is shown in the bequest towards the company's alms fund and the trust he showed by giving the company an important role in the administration of his almshouse.

Nor did Whittington's association with Richard II, whom he viewed as his patron and possibly even as a friend, put him out of favour with the new king, even though he had continued to loan money to Richard in his final years on the throne, when other Londoners had all but abandoned the king. He secured his position by providing Henry with cash on a larger scale and more regularly than he had his predecessor. Repayments were made usually by assigning to him revenues from subsidies on wool exports levied at London and several other ports, or occasionally through customs exemptions on his own wool exports; this was typical practice by the king (although Richard II, perhaps as a special mark of favour, had repaid Whittington in cash). He was even, during the first year of Henry's reign, one of three Londoners appointed to the king's council. Nor did Henry or his son have any qualms about using a man of Whittington's experience and capabilities to undertake various administrative/judicial commisions, as was done with many leading townsmen.

Whittington was thus drawn both into the wool trade and into the customs collection service. He became a moderately heavy exporter of wool, perhaps sometimes as part of a consortium of mercers. Between 1401-03 and 1407-10 he served as collector of the customs and subsidies on wool at London. And for several years during Henry IV's reign he held the post of mayor of the Calais staple. This diversification of activities and business was typical of medieval merchants.

Not typical was the fact that Whittington did not invest much of his wealth in real estate. His landed interests outside of London were mostly temporary, of a trustee nature and perhaps the source of some modest income. He did acquire a small manor in his home county of Gloucestershire. His marriage to Alice, daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn, who lacked male heirs, brought the prospect of a landed inheritance in Somerset and Wiltshire. That the Fitzwaryn family estates focused on Whittington in Shropshire hints at the possibility of at least acquaintance with Richard's family and even that the marriage alliance could have arisen out of not only socio-economic advantage but also childhood romance. However, Alice predeceased (ca.1409) her father, and there is some indication that the couple had already sold their interest to Alice's sister and her husband. On the other hand, Whittington did possess a few properties, including shops, in several London parishes, besides his large holding in St. Michael Paternoster Royal, where he had his own residence (purchased in 1402, the last of his personal real estate acquisitions) and where the almshouse and college were later established. But even his London holdings were not exceptional, considering the wealth he could have invested therein. Whittington was also atypical in that he appears to have been less litigious than most of the contemporaries of his class; he appears as principal in very few lawsuits. Possibly his reputation and influence made it too risky for anyone to try to defraud or slander him, or withhold a debt, gambling to win any legal battle that ensued.

Having chosen to put the money he had made from commerce to use as a financier, Whittington needed liquidity and so preferred to have his wealth ready to hand, or invested (as was the custom) in precious items – plate and jewellery – rather than tied up in real estate. The number and size of his bequests indicate that, in modern terms, he would have been a multi-millionaire. His will mentions no family to whom he wished to leave some of his fortune. He left no (or no surviving) children; after his wife died, he never remarried. Although respected for his moral rectitude during the latter part of his life, he may not have been very approachable; he seems not to have made any close friends after Richard II's fall. His Gloucestershire manor, but nothing else, passed to his only surviving brother, apparently as a nuncupative bequest on his death-bed; perhaps they were not close. Nor does his will suggest a close attachment to any of his personal servants or any of his executors, in whom he was careful not to place unreserved trust, with the possible exception of John Carpenter, with whom he had had at least a close working relationship. He was wealthy, but empty.

The deposition of his royal patron, preceded by the disgrace and deaths of other of his clients at court (first the earl of Oxford and later the duke of Gloucester), and followed within a few years by the death of his wife, at a time when he was no longer young, seems to have marked a turning-point in his life. As one of his biographers has noted,

"the fire had gone out of his life, the thrust of a man on the make had given way to the calm of a made man.... He buys very little property after 1402; he becomes correct and formal; he is rigid in his treatment of the brewers, correct in his attitude to usurers, formal and cold in his will. He appears to have been an upright and judicious man, not one who was quickly or intemperately roused."
[Caroline Barron, "Richard Whittington: the man behind the myth", Studies in London History presented to Philip Edmund Jones, ed. A.E.J. Hollaender and William Kellaway, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1969, p.254. (Dr. Barron's study is the principal source for the biographical information summarized here.)]

By the 1420s, all that was left to him in life was to prepare himself for death. Although the amount of money bequeathed in Whittington's will is exceptional, the types of pious and charitable bequests are conventional and exemplify the range of opportunities open to a wealthy townsman turning his mind to the afterlife:

  • to provide for his funeral;
  • to arrange for prayers to be said for him and for those to whom he owed debts of gratitude, by both men of God and by laymen;
  • to contribute to the fabric of society (churches and roads);
  • to provide relief to the least fortunate members of society: the poor, the sick, lepers, and prisoners.
That the destination of some of his bequests were to institutions outside London in part reflects his dealings with the royal court – for instance, he probably lodged at the monastic house near Windsor when he had business with the king – or commercial travel destinations.

Whittington's preparations for death were a case of prudent planning. Although old, he was remaining active in his civic duties. He probably died shortly before March 8, 1423, when the probate of his will took place in the London husting. If he suffered a lingering final illness, as an illustration of him on his death-bed hints, it was not devastating enough to keep him from attending a session of the aldermen's court in February.

In fact the will is a litany of works intended to benefit Whittington's soul in preparation for the Last Judgement. Was it then insincere from a charitable perspective? We may throw a little light on this by looking at charitable works he performed during his life. The preamble to the almshouse ordinances states that Whittington, during his lifetime, gave generously to help the needy and the poor. While this is not well-documented, we do know of a few instances of his public-spirited efforts:

  • In 1401/02 he donated a small sum towards the building of a new nave at Westminster Abbey, probably because it was a project of his late patron, Richard II.
  • In 1409 he purchased land next to the his parish church and then acquired licence to give it in mortmain to the rector, to allow the church to be rebuilt and a cemetery added. The task of rebuilding was completed by his executors. Since his wife had died not long before, it may be that his underlying intention was to make the church a more fitting site for his and his wife's tombs.
  • In 1411 he contributed most of the funds for building and outfitting a library at the London Greyfriars.
  • He was said to have funded a refuge for unmarried mothers at St. Thomas' Hospital, Southwark.

His major good works were posthumous. A good deal of leaway was left to his executors in how to apply the funds realized from the sale of his property, and certainly they acted as they thought best, not always within the strictest wishes of the testator. Where they chose to spend Whittington's money was on the rebuilding of Newgate prison, the construction of a gate to St. Bartholomew's hospital, the creation of a library at the Guildhall, paving of the Guildhall (then undergoing massive rebuilding) with marble, the foundation of a college of priests associated with St. Michael Paternoster, and the almshouse. Since there is no evidence that Whittington himself possessed any books or was intellectually inclined, it is possible that John Carpenter, inspired by the precedent of the Greyfriars library and Whittington's prominence in local government, settled on this as a worthy cause, to which Carpenter later bequeathed much of his own extensive personal library. As for the Newgate project, the executors intimated that it had been Whittington's wish to remedy the unwholesome conditions that prisoners suffered in the existing gaol.

Although the will does not specifically mention founding an almshouse, Whittingon's executors ascribed the idea to him. The text of the ordinances for Whittington's Charity is immediately preceded by an illustration showing an emaciated Whittington propped up in his canopied bed, naked except for his nightcap (to protect from lice) as was the medieval sleeping habit, and apparently giving instructions to his executors – Carpenter, Coventry and Grove – who, along with a priest (possibly, but not necessarily, White), stand immediately beside his bed; while, in the background, a physician holds up to the light a flask of Whittington's urine – the chief method in this period of diagnosing illnesses. At the foot of the bed stand thirteen men, evidently representing the twelve initial residents of the almshouse, headed by their tutor. This element indicates that the illustration was not intended to document authentically the scene; the primary intent was to indicate, as the preamble to the ordinances states, that Whittington gave deathbed instructions as to the almshouse; we cannot rule out that this was not to justify a post-mortem decision by the executors, but there is no reason to think that Whittington may not have been the originator. Unless copied from an earlier source, the illustration would have been made around the time of Carpenter's death, two decades after Whittington's; the distinctive appearance of Grove suggests some attempt to portray the principals accurately. It is as close to documentary as most medieval illustrations of historical events come.

The ordinances for the almshouse probably owe much to John Carpenter's organizational abilities, perhaps fleshing out wishes expressed by Whittington before he died. They were finalized in December 1424, by which point the buildings were probably ready for occupation. The earliest surviving version is in the foundation charter of 1432. The text above is based on the earliest English translation, made in the 1440s. Additions to the ordinances had been made in 1425, to make provision for the endowment of £40 annually, establish an infirmary for sick residents, and designate an adjacent plot of land for the residents to use for recreational purposes.

Immediately after setting up the community of poor residents, the executors proceeded to ensure its viability through an endowment. They had already sold Whittington's own residence and set up the college and almshouse on properties adjacent. But, instead of selling his other properties as he had directed, they used them, along with other properties which they acquired with some of the money realized from the sale of Whittington's valuables, to provide an annual income (rents) to support the college and almshouse. This work was completed, by Carpenter, in 1431, and he then proceeded to transfer the ownership of the endowment property to the Mercers' Company, conditional on the company applying them to its trusteeship of the college and almshouse. Carpenter's meticulous work in arranging the endowment, placing the almshouse under the supervision of secular authorities, and ensuring official authorization of all that was done, assured the survival of the almshouse.

We cannot escape the fact that the college of priests was fundamentally self-interested. Although it provided employment for clergymen, its main aim was to ensure the continuing prayers for the souls of Whittington and others for whom he felt a particular affection or gratitude. Nor was the almshouse free of the same self-interestedness, since part of the rationale for supporting the poor residents was that they would offer prayers daily for Whittington's soul. In fact, the regime prescribed for the residents restricted their mobility and placed heavy demands on their time. In return for accommodation, food and clothing, they became servants to the founders' spiritual needs.

On the other hand, we should not discount the genuinely charitable dimension of such a foundation. In line with medieval political thought, Whittington must have felt it incumbent on him, because of his wealth, social status, and political influence, to justify his fortune by protecting and aiding those less fortunate. An example is in his attempts to keep the price of ale down, even to the point of insisting on what was unrealistic. We should bear in mind that he came from a gentry family and probably felt that social superiority even when making his life among urban merchants, many of whom aspired to rise to the ranks of the gentry. His affinity with king and courtiers may have stemmed in part from a shared aesthetic sensibility, he married into the gentry rather than the class with which he rubbed shoulders (although his knightly father-in-law also engaged in mercery), and the house he chose as his residence from 1402 had previously been owned by a knight. Whittington in some regards strove, at least in the latter part of his life, to be that good ruler Latini had described in an earlier century: just but tough-minded, committed to the welfare of the community, known and respected for acts of virtue and nobility, uncorrupted by bribes or love of money, manifestly devout. Whittington's financial success, influence at court, integrity, and civic-mindedness gained him the respect of most of his fellow Londoners during his lifetime. His posthumous philanthropy ensured that he remained highly regarded throughout the centuries that followed.



There are a number of villages of this name spread across England, including one in Gloucestershire, in which county Richard's immediate family was based. However, the actual spelling in the testament, Whidyngton means that we cannot entirely rule out Widdington in Essex as the source of the family roots.

"St. Michael Paternoster Royal"
It was in this parish, which once stretched to the river's edge (hence Royal, deriving from the Latin riolus, applied to the street La Riole on the west side of the church), that Whittington had his personal residence, on a large block of property immediately north or northeast of the church.

"Placebo and Dirige"
The former was the evensong on the day beginning the funeral services, and the latter the matins and lauds sung the morning after; a mass often followed, only after which was the body interred.

"every poor man..."
This likely referred to every pauper who attended the funeral.

I.e. the clerics associated with the church.

"St. Mary without Bishopsgate"
Founded in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century by citizen Walter Brown and his wife, on land donated by an alderman, and staffed by Augustinians and lay helpers. It was known at that time as the New Hospital, and became a substantial institution, with 180 beds by the time of the Dissolution.

"St. Mary of Bethlem"
Later infamous as the mental hospital known as Bedlam, it was founded in 1247 in the northeastern suburb (again, outside Bishopgate) through a gift of land from London merchant and alderman Simon Fitz Mary to the monks of St. Mary of Bethlehem, to build a priory. By 1330 the monks had established a hospital for the sick poor there and obtained royal licence to collect alms to support it. The city seems to have taken it over in the 1340s, but in 1375 the king took it into his hand, on the grounds of it being an alien priory. We hear of mentally disturbed persons being cared for there as early as 1377, and in 1403 when the king appointed a commission to investigate the hospital, its inmates comprised 6 lunatics and 3 other sick persons.

"St. Giles"
The hospital of St. Giles in the Fields was founded, beside the road entering London via Holborn, by Queen Matilda; as possibly the earliest leper hospital, it represents an awakening in English society of the importance of social benefaction.

"Elsing Spital"
Also known as St. Mary within Cripplegate, it was founded by mercer William Elsing in 1329, to look after 100 poor men and women, but specialized in caring for the blind and for disabled priests.

Possibly Burnham Green in Hertfordshire, since Ware and Cheshunt are in that county. However, there is also a Burnham just north of Windsor.

"marriage of virgins"
I.e. as dowries to enable young women to make good marriages.

"Newgate" "Ludgate" "Fleet" "Marshalsea" "King's Bench"
Newgate was the largest of several prisons; set up in one of the city gates on the western side of the fortifications surrounding London, it was administered by the city. Ludgate was a later foundation, again city-administered, intended for freemen and designated, during Whittington's 1419 mayoralty for housing debtors and those convicted of other civil offences, rather than criminals. The Fleet had also originally been a gaol for citizens, but by this time was also being used for offenders convicted by the king's courts. Marshalsea and the King's Bench were likewise for those convicted, or awaiting trial, by the royal courts, and were both in Southwark.

"John Coventre"
Like Whittington, a mercer and a member of the city administration, sheriff 1416-17, alderman from 1420, and mayor a few year's after Whittington's death. Whittington was involved in exporting wool in the latter part of his life, and Coventry may have been one of his associates in such ventures. Both men and their wives were members of the Holy Trinity Gild at Coventry, a reflection of London mercers' interest in a city that was an important market for the wool of central England. As a prominent member of both the Mercers' Company, having served as its master in 1417, and of the city administration, John Coventry was well-placed to advocate the support of both groups for Whittington's plans. He died in 1429.

"John White"
In 1409 he had been rector of the church of St. Michael Paternoster, and had a relationship with Whittington in the capacity of his parish priest. Perhaps thanks to Whittington's influence, he became master of St. Bartholomew's hospital in 1417, resigning on 18 February 1423 (possibly suggesting the time of Whittington's death) to take up residence in Whittington's house, where he died in January of the following year. It was not uncommon for testators to select a cleric as one of their executors, and White's probably close personal relationship with Whittington made him a logical choice.

"John Carpenter"
Town clerk of London from 1417 to 1438, having been promoted through the city bureaucracy; as town clerk, he would have had a good knowledge of the law, if not some formal legal training. Other evidence indicates him a man of capability, intellect, and initiative, with his own charitable bent; he might be considered England's most famous town clerk, the only one to my knowledge to have a book dedicated to his biography, a statue made of him, and a road named after him. He was evidently the person in whom Whittington had most confidence of the ability to fulfill and expand on his final wishes. That trust was repaid by considerable effort in interpreting and realizing the terms of the will in the years that followed; Carpenter, who was the longest-lived of the executors, is believed to have played the principal role here and supervised the administration of the almshouses until his death, when the Mercers' Company took over responsibility.

"William Grove"
A scrivener, perhaps chosen precisely because of his professional skills, and an elderly man judging from the long beard in the illustration of Whittington's death-bed.

"William Babyngton"
One of the king's justices, who went on to become a Chief Justice. In the event, thanks in part to Carpenter's assiduous attention to his duties, Babyngton had little need to involve himself in the administration of the testament.

"severe hardship and cruel misfortune"
This to distinguish worthy recipients of charity from those unworthy, whose poverty was the result of their own folly, negligence, or vices.

Obtained November 18, 1424. In 1432, the executors (notably Carpenter, the only survivor by this date) made sure of all their efforts by obtaining from the king letters patent inspecting and ratifying the earlier licences, the ordinances (with subsequent amendments), endowment documents, and the executors' grants of the college and almshouse to their residents; on the same day as the letters patent were issued, an Act of Parliament confirmed what the executors had put in place.

Obtained November 24, 1424.

"overseers" "conservators"
Imray explains the decision to make, as the ultimate authority over the almshouse (and therefore responsible for its continuance and adherence to purpose), the Mercers' Company and the city government as due in part to lack of confidence in this period in the Church's ability to care for the poor, and in part a natural tendency to trust in like-minded colleagues, as well as the fact that both gilds and urban authorities by now had some history of involvement of in poor relief and were beginning to acquire the ability to act as trustees of endowments for such purposes.

"poor men of such liveries"
In 1394, when Whittington must already have been one of the more influential members of the Mercers' Company, it obtained permission from the king to hold land in mortmain to fund the support of impoverished members. Imray believed that this prior provision for this class of impoverished person, not inconceivably the initiative of Whittington himself, is what persuaded Whittington (or his executors) to exclude them from fellowship in the almshouse.

The service at the end of the day (about 9 p.m.).

"De profundis"
Psalm 129, recited principally at funerals or during prayers for the dead.

"versicles and orisons"
The back-and-forth recitation and response of priest and congregation in chanting brief sections of a prayer.

Perhaps the same chest in which Whittington had secured his valuables.

The original is voultrier, which I suspect may derive from the Latin veutrarius meaning fewterer (a keeper of dogs, possibly greyhounds, or a kennel owner). The term is apparently being used here in some metaphorical sense, undoubtedly unflattering and possibly refers to pimping.

"other medieval townsperson"
With the arguable exception of Thomas Becket, whose urban origins are, however, not part of his claim to fame. If any other medieval townsman is remembered today outside of historians' circles it is perhaps Whittington's friend and colleague John Carpenter, and largely for the same reason of an endowment.

A town designated by the king as having a regional commercial monopoly, in terms of being the required centre through which goods had to be exported or imported. Several towns in England had the status at one time or other, and for the king's French territories, Calais held that role.

"duke of Gloucester"
Noting that there is no evidence beyond the mention in the almshouse ordinances of any connection between Whittington and Duke Thomas, Dr. Barron suggests that Whittington may have known of Richard II's plans to murder him and later felt a prick of conscience over the matter. However, as Whittington clearly identified the duke as a patron, the simpler answer is that he was a client during the 1390s when he was powerful at court. The two hypotheses are not incompatible.

"worthy cause"
The Guildhall library later served as inspiration or model for another John Carpenter, Bishop of Worcester (1444-76), whose mother was a Londoner, with which city his early career was associated. He was a close friend of the like-named common clerk, and it is not unlikely they were related. In 1464 Bishop Carpenter installed in an upper level of one of Bristol's parish churches a library, probably of mainly theological works, and made provisions for public consultation for a few hours each weekday, for a kind of reference librarian to be in attendance, and for an inventory of the collection to be maintained as new acquisitions were added. In the case of both the Bristol and London libraries, it seems likely that local clergy, rather than the literate general public, was the core target audience [Nicholas Orme "The Guild of Kalendars, Bristol", Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, vol.96 (1978), 42-43].

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Created: March 14, 2003. Last update: November 2, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2003-2014