In 1485 Robert Nixon, known as “the Cheshire Prophet,” is said to have “seen,” on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth, the death of King Richard III on the battlefield. He is also said to have foretold the English Civil War, and his own death by starvation. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, his prophecies were remembered: the prediction of a bear shaking its chains was thought to describe the Russian armies on the eastern front, and the lion helping the eagle was interpreted as the British Expeditionary Force assisting the French army.
Nixon, however, is perplexing. There is confusion about the origins of the man himself – who was he and when did he live? Even his name is doubtful – he is also called William. The earliest surviving prophecies said to be Nixon’s are found in a manuscript of the late seventeenth century. But is it really possible for stories about him to have circulated orally fro more than two hundred years before they were written down?
An eighteenth century Life of Nixon says he was a ploughboy between 1603 and 1625 in the reign of King James I, that he was squat with a big head and that he spoke incoherently – except in prophecy. Hearing of his reputation as a seer, Thomas Cholmondely of Vale Royal House took him in. King James I then sent for him, but the prophet was afraid to go in case he starved to death. When he did go to court, Nixon was kept in the kitchen at Hampton Court Palace, where the cooks put him in a hole in the ground because he licked the meat. But when the king left suddenly for London, Nixon – forgotten – was left behind and starved to death, just as he had predicted.
A later biography says Nixon was born in 1467, in which case he could have foreseen the Battle of Bosworth. But this seems to be a dubious account, as it also mentions Vale Royal House and Hampton Court, neither of which existed at the time.
Some of Nixon’s predictions are said to have been borrowed from other prophets including the thirteenth-century Thomas of Erceldoune. Other are bogus, like the one “discovered” in 1868 which said:
Till a Brigg be built over Roonken river,
No furrin foe shall enter ivver.
This allegedly foretold the construction of the railway bridge across the Mersey at Runcorn, Cheshire. But it was invented after the event. Unfortunately, time has blunted our chances of ever finding out the true facts about the ploughboy prophet.
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