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'The Cat, the Rat, the Dog and the Hog'

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An actor in the role of Richard III.

On 18 July, 1484, a scurrilous note was pinned to the door of St Paul's Cathedral. It read quite simply:

the Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge
rulyth all Englande under a hogge.
Although it might have seemed innocent enough, the simple two-lined poem lampooned some of the highest born in the land, and during the first few months of King Richard III's troublesome reign rebel propaganda was rife. But Richard did not tolerate this, and in London he had five men executed for treason in one go - to ensure that any rebellious types would think twice before committing such acts. So, whoever had written the doggerel was perhaps risking his life in making the poem public - but who was the author referring to in his slightly cryptic satire?

The Cat

Sir William Catesby, lawyer and Speaker of the House of Commons during the Parliament of 1484. Originally a council member under Edward V, he spied for the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) before the new king came to power. He used his favoured position with Richard, and earned himself a grant of money that saw him more highly paid than many knights. He kept other Members of Parliament under close scrutiny during Richard's reign, and held the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer - a role that could lead to an even higher profile1. He was at Richard's side during the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August, 1485 and when the king lost his life at that battle, Catesby 'the Cat' was soon captured, then executed three days later.

The Rat

Sir Richard Ratcliffe, knighted by the Duke of Gloucester, came from the Lake District and became a close confidante of the Duke when they were comrades-in-arms in Scotland. When Richard III took the throne, he made Ratcliffe the Sheriff of Westmorland and a Knight of the Garter. Ratcliffe also managed to gain most of the land that once belonged to the Earls of Devon. He then went on to marry Agnes Scrope2 the daughter of Henry Scrope, 4th Baron Scrope of Bolton, and thus wed into one of the richest families in the north of England. It did him little good though, as Ratcliffe 'the Rat' lost his life at the Battle of Bosworth Field, defending his king to the last.

The Dog

Francis Lovell, the 1st Viscount Lovell, received the moniker 'the Dog' due to the silver dog on his crest. His history as a close friend of Richard III began at the age of nine, when he made a ward of Edward IV and placed in the household of the Earl of Warwick ('the Kingmaker'), where he and Richard grew up together. When Richard took the throne, Lovell was promoted to the office of Lord Chamberlain, made a Knight of the Garter, and given Wallingford Castle. Lovell also had command of the fleet which was to have stopped Henry Tudor's landing in 1485, but this failed, so he joined his king at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Lovell 'the Dog' survived the battle and then fled to Colchester - he later went into hiding. No-one knows for sure where he went, but over 200 years later in 1708, workmen at Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire broke into a secret underground chamber and discovered the skeleton of a man seated at a table, with his hand resting on some papers. Perhaps Lovell had been unable to open the door to his hiding place and starved to death while attempting to record his fate.

The Hog

This was King Richard III himself, the 'Hog' nickname deriving from the fact he had a white boar on his crest. When Richard seized power, his favourites - Catesby, Ratcliffe and Lovell - were put into positions of great power, and honoured in many ways by the new king. They stood by his side during the Duke of Buckingham's Rebellion of 1483, and also when he rode from Nottingham Castle to Bosworth Field in 1485. The Cat, the Rat, the Dog and the Hog were even referred to by Shakespeare, his play Richard III going as far as to characterise Catesby and Ratcliffe, and the Laurence Olivier film version actually used the satirical poem. But who originally penned it?

The Culprit

When the note went up, Richard spent no time in having the authorities hunt down the man responsible. The trail was fresh, for on 10 October, 1484, Sir William Collingbourne, a Wiltshireman, was accused of plotting a rebellion. With several others he had hoped that they could incite Henry Tudor to land at Poole, in Dorset, and raise an army from there to take the throne from Richard3. Collingbourne had a reputation for writing libellous rhymes and ballads and then pinning them to the door of St Paul's, so his simple Cat, Rat, Dog and Hog poem was not the first time he had made his opinions of the new king and his council clear.

Richard was well aware of many other rebel factions, and was eager to nip any further transgressions against the throne in the bud - and prove to the would-be rebels that he wasn't to be trifled with. Collingbourne was duly charged with 'rhyme in derision of the king and his council' and his punishment for such was to be 'in fearful example of other', as Richard decreed. Thus, he was hanged, then cut down while he was still alive to be castrated and disembowelled - up until this time any other rebels were merely hanged. Contemporary reports show that Collingbourne seemingly kept his wit to the very end, muttering as his last breath escaped him,

Oh Lord Jesus, yet more trouble!

1As evident in 21st Century British politics.2Half-sister of William Catesby.3The plot came to nothing, the conspirators were all bought to 'justice'.

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