Robert Nixon, a rural visionary who, by reputation, was held to be mentally retarded, was born around 1467 on a farm in the county of Cheshire, England. He began his working life as a plowboy, being too stupid, by all appearances, to do anything else. He was mostly a silent youth, though sometimes given to strange, incomprehensible babblings that were taken to be a sign of his limited mentality.
One day, however, while he was plowing a field, he paused in his work, looked around him in a strange way, and exclaimed: “Now Dick! Now Harry! Oh, ill done, Dick! Oh, well done, Harry! Harry has gained the day!” This outcry, more cogent than most, though still incomprehensible, puzzled Roberts fellow workers, but the next day everything was made clear: at the very moment of Roberts strange seizure King Richard III had been killed at Bosworth Field, and the victor of that decisive battle, Henry Tudor, was now proclaimed Henry VII of England.
When Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII after the defeat and death of Richard III at Bosworth Fields the event was “seen” from afar by a clairvoyant plowboy.
Before long, news of the bucolic seer reached the new king, who was much intrigued and wanted to meet him. An envoy was sent from London to escort Nixon back to the palace. Even before the envoy left the court, Robert knew he was coming and was thrown into a fit of great distress, running about the town of Over and crying out that Henry had sent for him, and he would be clammed — starved to death!
In the meantime Henry had decided on a method of testing the young prophet, and when Nixon was shown into his presence the king appeared to be greatly troubled. He had lost a valuable diamond, he explained. Could Nixon help him locate it? Nixon calmly replied, in the words of a proverb, that those who hide can find. Henry had, of course, hidden the diamond and was so impressed by the plowboy s answer that he ordered a record to be made of everything the lad said. What he said, duly interpreted, forecast the English civil wars, the death and abdication of kings, and war with France. He also forecast that the town of Nantwich, in Cheshire, would be swept away by a flood, though this has not yet happened.
But the prophecy that most concerned Nixon was the most improbable of all: that he would starve to death in the royal palace. To allay these fears, Henry ordered that Nixon should be given all the food he wanted, whenever he wanted it, an order that did not endear the strange young man to the royal kitchen (whose staff, in any case, envied his privileges).
One day, however, the king left London, leaving Robert in the care of one of his officers. To protect his charge from the malice of the palace domestics, the officer thoughtfully locked him safely in the king’s own closet. The officer was then also called away from London on urgent business and forgot to leave the key or instructions for Roberts release. By the time he returned, Robert had starved to death.
SOURCE: (Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, pp.277-80)