The Lai of the Starved Fool

2 Robert Nixon Portraits from pamphlets (circa 1750).

2 Portraits of Robert Nixon from pamphlets (circa 1700s).

When I was a kid I got a book of mysteries; you know like the Mary Celeste, the Bermuda Triangle and the enigma of Kasper Hauser.

Much like this blog, come to think of it….. Oh damn! And here’s me thinking I was a true original!

I was enthralled. It became my favourite book at bog time. Me and my brother spent most of our childhood fighting to get on the bog. It was the only place in our house where you could read in peace. And I mean real books too… not just the underwear section of mum’s catalogue.

It used to annoy our mum so much… “Are you still on that bloody toilet?” she’d shout up. “If you’re not careful, you’ll get piles!” (Or haemorrhoids if you are American.)

Those mystery stories stayed with me for my whole life, and over the years I managed to track them all down….

Except for one: ‘The Lai of the Starved Fool’.

It was about a simpleton (there’s no nice way of saying that is there) who spouted prophecies in rhyming couplets called lais; a bit like Nostradamus’ quatrains. Come to think of it, he was in the book an’ all!

As I remember, the story went something like this…

When the king heard about the prophecies, he was so impressed, he invited the fool to live in the palace. Much to his surprise, the poor lad started fretting, saying he would ‘starve in a place of plenty’.

Well, the king assured him that would never happen. And by the third invite he was hauled up to London, whether he wanted to go or not. To allay his fears, and no doubt prove his new prophet wrong, the king let him live in the palace kitchens.

Now, to my way of thinking, this sort of defeats the object. If you could prove his predictions wrong that easy, he wouldn’t be much of a prophet, would he? But then, you know what kings are like.

The King’s Prophet turned out to be a bit of a nuisance, always sticking his dirty fingers in pies, pinching grub, and generally getting under everyone’s feet. The cook took to locking him in an old store room in the buttery. Until one day he forgot all about him, and good as his word, he starved to death in a place of plenty.

More by chance than intelligent design, I came across a scan of a 1745 pamphlet about Robert Nixon: the Cheshire Prophet… who amazingly foresaw all current political events pertinent to the 1740s; even though he lived 150 years before; in the reign of King James 1st … who brought him to court; where he perished exactly as predicted.


Front of 1745 pamphlet Robt. Nixon : The Cheshire Prophet

Front of 1745 pamphlet : The Cheshire Prophet

Except things are never that simple, are they?

Reading other accounts, it seems Robert Nixon is a bit of an enigma.

Firstly, no one knows where he was actually born, and secondly no one is sure if he was born in the 1600 or 1467. If he was born in 1467 the king who summoned him to court was Richard III.

In addition, some of Robert’s prophecies actually predict things that happened long before he was allegedly born.

With the best will in the world knowing what happened yesterday is hardly prophecy. I don’t know next week’s lotto numbers but I can tell you last week’s!

Hmmmm… thanks a bunch!

Further the prophecies relating to Georgian England look like they were faked as a propaganda exercise. Although I suppose they thought it was patriotic.

After all these years of hungering for a solution, it looks like the only starved fool was me.

And in case you are wondering…

Yes, I do still read on the bog.

And no, I haven’t got piles!

But thank you for asking.

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