So after the daring do of the magnificent men in their flying death trap, M’Intosh and Parer. I thought it was time to go a little further back in time to another great unsung Gentleman hero.
The Admirable Crichton we are talking about is not the very funny comedy of class and manners written about by J M Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, but a real man. James Crichton was a Scottish Gentleman that was born 500 years ago in 1560. If he was alive today there would be a swathe of books about him and probably a movie or two and my bet is that James McAvoy would play the lead.
James Crichton was born in Scotland, we believe in Perthshire. He was the Son of the Lord Advocate of Scotland and could trace his royal lineage through his Mother’s family. From a young age, it was obvious that young James was special. He was educated at St Andrews university, where by his fourteenth year he had completed both his bachelors and his masters degrees. He was a gifted prodigy, with almost certainly an Eidetic Memory.
His list of achievements and abilities, are astounding even by todays grandiose standards. He was fluent, both spoken and written in some 12 languages; he was an skilled horseman; a master fencer; a great debater and orator; he was an accomplished singer and musician and as if to insult to injury, he was noted for his good looks. He was some would say the almost the Perfect Gentleman.
He left Scotland and travelled to France to continue his education at the College of Navarre, it is here that many doubted his skills and abilities and did not accept his credentials, it was here that his great challenge took place that earned him the nickname. He challenged the professors of the great city to a contest, he would answer any question on science or the liberal arts in any of the languages he spoke, during the time before the contest was to take place, Crichton did not one ounce of preparation but set about enjoying the sights and sounds of the great city. When the day came some 50 Professors and other academics and learned men came to test him, along with a crowd of it is said 3,000 spectators. From 9am till 6pm these men tested and questioned Crichton in all manners of ways and languages and not once did he falter. He had earned his moniker ‘The Admirable Crichton’, as well as a purse of gold. The very next day, after this Herculean mental effort he went off and spent the day jousting and winning there too.
After this event, he joined the French Army for a couple of years, where he served with distinction. He travelled then to Italy, where he went round the cities of Rome, Genoa, Venice and Padua, where he tested academics, fought duels and generally continued to make a name for himself. He ever bested a professional gladiator in a violent fencing match.
He then entered the service of the Duke of Mantua, where upon arriving bested three known duelist and in front of the Duke bested another leading duelist. The Duke being impressed with Crichton both as a swordsman and intellectual decided to make Crichton his son’s tutor.
Vincenzo Gonzaga, was a headstrong, jealous and aggressive youth and did not take kindly to his father’s affections for the Admirable young Scot. He did not also like the fact that Crichton had began to have a liaison with Vincenzo’s ex-mistresses.
One night after leaving the young lady’s abode, Crichton was set upon by 6 masked thugs. As you can expect of such a gifted swordsman, he bested all but one. The last in an act of desperate self preservation removed his mask and revealed himself to be, Vincenzo. Being the gentleman that he was, James Crichton dropped to his knees in horror and presented his sword to the young man, hilt first. Vincenzo with cruelness and ego, took the blade and thrust in through the heart of the noble and Admirable Crichton, killing him instantly. James Crichton was just 22 years old.
It is said that ‘the light that burns brightly burns half as long’ and the young Scot had indeed burned exceptionally brightly. He was an extraordinary gentleman then, as I am sure he would be know. Was he the epitome of the British Gentleman? That is for you to decide. For me he is an example of genius and nobility and one to cherish as a true Unsung Gentleman Hero….