The Cheshire Prophet
Robert Nixon - truth or legend?

For centuries the prophecies of Robert Nixon have stirred the imagination of Cheshire folk. Supposedly born in 1467, on a small farm held by his father under the Abbey of Vale Royal, Nixon has become to Cheshire what Mother Shipton is to Yorkshire.

He was known as the “Cheshire Ploughboy Prophet”, said from his earliest years to be remarkable only for his stupidity, indeed so much so that it was with great difficulty that he was taught to drive a team of oxen, or to look after his father’s cattle.

Yet he apparently became so famous that he was commanded to foretell the future for a king !
The story goes that whilst working in the fields, Nixon made many predictions, notably concerning the Abbey of Vale Royal which stood near to the River Weaver a few miles from the old town of Over.

Vale Royal, founded by King Edward I in 1277, was in its heyday the largest Cistercian abbey in England.

Nixon told one abbot who annoyed him: ‘When you the harrow come on high, Soon a raven’s nest will be’. This prophecy is supposed to have come true at the Reformation when the last abbot, whose name was Harrow, was called before Sir Thomas Holcroft and put to death for refusing to acknowledge that King Henry VIII was the supreme head of the Church. Henry had given the monastery and all its lands to Sir Thomas whose crest was a raven !

Sir Thomas Holcroft demolished the abbey and built in its place the great house of Vale Royal which has recently been converted into apartments and also serves as the clubhouse for the newly-created Vale Royal Golf Club. Can there be a more historic 19th hole anywhere in the world?

Nixon is also said to have foretold the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth Field, fought between the armies of Richard III and Henry VII. Whilst ploughing in Whitegate, the simpleton stopped his team and with his whip, pointed from one hand to the other, crying ‘Now Richard ! Now Harry !’ several times over, until at last he said, ‘Now Harry, get over that ditch and you gain the day’. The plough-holder related what had passed and the truth of the prediction was verified by special messenger sent to announce the proclamation of Henry, King of England, at Bosworth Field.

Legend has it that Nixon was duly sent for by the king, but upon receiving the royal command, he ran like a madman around the town of Over, declaring that at court he would be starved to death.

On his arrival and by way of a test, the king hid a valuable diamond ring and asked the ploughboy to help him find it, whereupon Nixon said: ‘He who hideth can find’. From then on, the king ordered that whatever Nixon said should be written down. The upshot of the tale was that Nixon, exactly as he had predicted, became locked in a closet and died of starvation.

Other accounts of Nixon state that he was born during the reign of James I (1603-25) and that he was for some time in the service of Thomas Cholmondeley, master of Vale Royal after 1625.

“When an eagle shall sit on top of the house, then an heir shall be born to the Cholmondeley family” was another of Nixon’s revelations. And so it came to pass that when an heir was most needed a large eagle perched on the edge of a great bay window and refused to be driven away until a son was born.

Whether fact or fiction, Nixon’s name and his prophecies live on to this very day, to enrich the folklore of Cheshire and Vale Royal.