Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Sir Richard Whittington’s Advancement

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


Sir Richard Whittington’s Advancement

By Anonymous

  • “There is something so fabulous,” says the editor of Old Ballads, following Grafton and Stow, “or at least, that has such a romantic appearance, in the history of Whittington, that I shall not choose to relate it, but refer my credulous readers to common tradition, or to the penny histories. Certain it is there was such a man; a citizen of London, by trade a mercer, and one who has left public edifices and charitable works enow behind him to transmit his name to posterity.”

  • HERE must I tell the praise

    Of worthy Whittington,

    Known to be in his dayes

    Thrice Maior of London.

    But of poor parentage

    Borne was he, as we heare,

    And in his tender age

    Bred up in Lancashire.

    Poorely to London than

    Came up this simple lad,

    Where with a marchant-man

    Soone he a dwelling had;

    And in a kitchen plast,

    A scullion for to be,

    Whereas long time he past

    In labour drudgingly.

    His daily service was

    Turning spitts at the fire;

    And to scour pots of brasse,

    For a poore scullions hire.

    Meat and drinke all his pay,

    Of coyne he had no store;

    Therefore to run away,

    In secret thought he bore.

    So from this marchant-man,

    Whittington secretly

    Towards his country ran,

    To purchase liberty.

    But as he went along,

    In a fair summer’s morne,

    Londons bells sweetly rung,

    “Whittington, back return!”

    Evermore sounding so,

    “Turn againe, Whittington;

    For thou in time shall grow

    Lord-Maior of London.”

    Whereupon back againe

    Whittington came with speed,

    A prentise to remaine,

    As the Lord had decreed.

    “Still blessed be the bells”;

    (This was his daily song)

    “They my good fortune tells,

    Most sweetly have they rung.

    If God so favour me,

    I will not proove unkind;

    London my love shall see,

    And my great bounties find.”

    But see his happy chance!

    This scullion had a cat,

    Which did his state advance,

    And by it wealth he gat.

    His maister ventred forth,

    To a land far unknowne,

    With marchandize of worth,

    As is in stories showne.

    Whittington had no more

    But this poor cat as than,

    Which to the ship he bore,

    Like a brave marchant-man.

    “Vent’ring the same,” quoth he,

    “I may get store of golde,

    And Maior of London be,

    As the bells have me told.”

    Whittington’s marchandise,

    Carried was to a land

    Troubled with rats and mice,

    As they did understand.

    The king of that country there,

    As he at dinner sat,

    Daily remain’d in fear

    Of many a mouse and rat.

    Meat that in trenchers lay,

    No way they could keepe safe;

    But by rats borne away,

    Fearing no wand or staff.

    Whereupon, soone they brought

    Whittingtons nimble cat;

    Which by the king was bought;

    Heapes of gold giv’n for that.

    Home againe came these men

    With their ships loaden so,

    Whittingtons wealth began

    By this cat thus to grow.

    Scullions life he forsooke

    To be a murchant good,

    And soon began to looke

    How well his credit stood.

    After that he was chose

    Shriefe of the citty heere,

    And then full quickly rose

    Higher, as did appeare.

    For to this cities praise,

    Sir Richard Whittington

    Came to be in his dayes

    Thrise Maior of London.

    More his fame to advance,

    Thousands he lent his king,

    To maintaine warres in France,

    Glory from thence to bring.

    And after, at a feast

    Which he the king did make,

    He burnt the bonds all in jeast,

    And would no money take.

    Ten thousand pound he gave

    To his prince willingly,

    And would not one penny have;

    This in kind curtesie.

    God did thus make him great,

    So would he daily see

    Poor people fed with meat,

    To shew his charity.

    Prisoners poore cherish’d were,

    Widdowes sweet comfort found;

    Good deeds both far and neere,

    Of him do still resound.

    Whittington Colledge is

    One of his charities;

    Records reporteth this

    To lasting memories.

    Newgate he builded faire,

    For prisoners to live in;

    Christs-Church he did repaire,

    Christian love for to win.

    Many more such like deedes

    Were done by Whittington;

    Which joy and comfort breedes,

    To such as looke thereon.

    Lancashire, thou hast bred

    This flower of charity:

    Though he be gon and dead

    Yet lives he lastingly.

    Those bells that call’d him so,

    “Turne again, Whittington,”

    Call you back many moe

    To live so in London.