As William Colyngbourne’s rhyme, “The Cat, the Rat and Lovel our Dog / Doe rule all England under a Hog,” suggests, Catesby and Ratcliffe are historically identified as two of Richard’s primary evil-henchmen. Both figures historically had very successful political careers despite Shakespeare’s depictions.
Catesby (1450-1485), who came from Northamptonshire, studied law and became a legal advisor, steward, or councilor to various nobles, including Hastings, Buckingham, Edward IV, and Richard III. In fact, Catesby eventually took over some of Hastings offices after his death, sparking the rumor, like in Sir Thomas More’s chronicle of Richard III, that Catesby had somehow conspired against Hastings. It was under Richard that he received many grants and was even knighted. In his life time he became chancellor of the Exchequer, chancellor of the Earldom of March, a squire of the body, and a Speaker of the Commons during the Parliament of 1484. His lands were worth about £300 a year, which made him both very rich and very unpopular. He was executed after the Battle of Bosworth on August 25th, 1485 along with other supporters of the House of York.
Catesby and his wife.
Sir Richard Ratcliffe (d. 1485) was also from a minor noble family in Lancashire of Yorkist allegiance and rose to distinction after he fought at Tewkesbury, becoming Constable of Barnard Castle and a member of Richard’s council at Middleham and receiving many grants and official posts from the king. He also accompanied Richard on his Scottish campaign in 1482. It was Ratcliffe who stopped at Pontefract Castle in 1483 on his way south with an army to murder Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and Sir Richard Grey, the brother and son respectively of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Ratcliffe was made a Knight of the Garter, a knight of the body, and the sheriff of Westmorland and acquired properties worth £650 a year . Like the Cat, he was also executed at Bosworth, after which his lands were seized by Henry VII. He was married to Agnes, the daughter of Lord Scrope, but there is virtually no information about his personal life because his will was never discovered.
“The Dog,” was Viscount Francis Lovell (c.1456-c.1487), who was the son of a Yorkshire nobleman who had recently switched his formerly-Lancastrian allegiance and left his son to the Neville’s after his death. His relationship with Richard III began early in his youth while they lived together in Warwick's household at Middleham Castle. In 1480, he was knighted by the duke of Gloucester during his Scottish campaign. Much of Lovell’s fortunes had come from the lands of executed Woodville supporters, and he took Hastings’ place as Lord Chamberlain in 1483. His landholdings were ultimately a point of tension for Lovell, who was granted much land in the Thames Valley surrounding London despite his northern routes. Unlike Catesby and Ratcliffe, Lovell escaped Bosworth Field to Yorkshire until 1486, when he tried to capture Henry VII on a visit. He was attainted by Henry Tudor, but fled this time to Burgundy to join Richard’s sister Margaret, Duchess of York, who was also one of the new king’s prime enemies. He participated in the Lambert Simnel plot to overthrow Henry VII in 1487, when he was most likely killed at the battle of Stoke during the Yorkist defeat.
Richard III Society, “Finding out about people in the 15th century: ‘The Cat and the Rat’.” 2007. [2-15-2010]. <http://www.r3.org/basics/basic3.html#catrat>.
Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001.