It was late one summer afternoon in 1483, and 16-year-old Robert Nixon stood in the middle of his master's field staring speechless at the sky.
When the overseer noticed that the boy had not moved in more than an hour, he hurried over to him and thrashed him with a strap.
But the boy did not move.
Other peasants soon gathered around Robert. They felt sorry for the boy because he was dull-witted and slow. His unusually large head and protruding eyes only added to their belief that the lad was mentally retarded.
As he continued to stare trancelike at the sky, several workers implored him to snap out of it and reveal what he was looking at so the overseer would stop beating him.
Finally, Robert lowered his gaze and in a strange voice muttered, "I have seen things that I cannot tell you, and which man never saw before."
Robert never revealed what he saw that day in the clouds, but word spread that he was some kind of prophet. This Cheshire youth whom many ridiculed as the village idiot eventually startled kings and nobles throughout England with his amazing ability to predict the future.
One day, a group of villagers listened while Robert - in a mysterious, educated voice - predicted the rise of Oliver Cromwell, the English Civil War, the beheading of Charles I, the restoration of the monarchy, the reign of William of Orange and the French Revolution.
He later prophesized the abdication of James II in 1688: "When a raven shall build its nest in a stone lion's mouth on top of a church in Cheshire, a King of England shall be driven out of his kingdom to return nevermore. As a token of the truth of this, a wall of Mr. Cholmondeley's shall fall!"
Lord Cholmondeley, Robert's wealthy master, laughed when he heard about the prediction. But the next day the structurally sound wall inexplicably crumbled to the ground.
According to Thomas Slemen, author of Mysterious and Bizarre People, the remainder of Robert's eerie predictions came true as well. "A raven did build its nest in the mouth of a stone lion gargoyle atop of a Cheshire church in 1688 - a mere day before King James II was deposed," Mr. Slemen wrote. "The dethroned monarch later died in exile at Saint-Germain in France."
On Aug. 22, 1485, Robert - now known as the Cheshire Prophet - was plowing a field when he picked up an overseer's strap and began brandishing it like a sword. "There Richard!" he shouted. "There! Now! Up, Henry. Up with all arms! Over the ditch, Henry! Over the ditch and the battle is won!"
With a crowd of farmhands looking on, Robert suddenly raised his whip high in the air and declared, "The battle is over! Henry has won!"
Two days later, news reached Cheshire that King Richard III had died on Aug. 22 at Bosworth while fighting the Earl of Richmond - now King Henry VII of England.
A few days later Robert begged several local farmers to hide him in their homes from the king's men. "They are coming for me," he explained. "They want to take me to the royal palace, and if I go there I'll die of thirst and starvation."
A few days later King Henry brought the "idiot-genius who could foresee the future" to his castle and assigned a scribe to record his every prediction. A pair of cooks, however, frustrated over Robert's unwillingness to entertain them with prophecies, locked him in a heavy oaken chest as punishment.
The cooks apparently forgot about the boy until the king asked for him two weeks later. Rushing to the thick chest, they found that Robert Nixon had died of thirst and starvation - exactly as the Cheshire Prophet had predicted his life would end.
Author and syndicated columnist Randall Floyd can be reached at Rfloyd2@aol.com.
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