July 3, 1582

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July 3, 1582

James Crichton of Eliock, the original Admirable Crichton, died in a brawl in Mantua. Soldier, scholar, poet and athlete, he was a graduate of St Andrews University and a tutor of King James VI.

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James Crichton, known as the Admirable Crichton (19 August 1560 – 3 July 1582), was a Scottish polymath noted for his extraordinary accomplishments in languages, the arts, and sciences before he was murdered at the age of 21.

Early life

James Crichton was from Clunie, in Perthshire, although some sources maintain his birthplace was Dumfries. He was the son of Robert Crichton of Eliok, Lord Advocate of Scotland, and Elizabeth Stewart, from whose line James could claim Royal descent.

One of the most gifted individuals of the 16th century, Crichton was educated at St Andrews University between the ages of ten and fourteen, during which time he completed requirements for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

James was taught by the celebrated Scottish scholar, politician and poet George Buchanan (1506–1582).

It was apparent from his earliest days that James was an unusually gifted prodigy, which may have been associated with a gift for perfect recall.

Death in Mantua

What is beyond dispute is that while Crichton was in the Duke’s employ, Vincenzo Gonzaga became hugely jealous of him, probably from a combination of his father’s strong regard for the young prodigy as well as Crichton replacing Vincenzo as the lover of the prince’s former mistress.

On the night of 3 July 1582, after leaving this lady’s dwelling in Mantua, Crichton was attacked in the street by a gang of masked ruffians. He bested all but one with his sword, until the last man removed his mask to reveal the group’s ringleader, Vincenzo Gonzaga himself. Tradition holds that, on seeing Vincenzo, Crichton instantly dropped to one knee and presented his sword, hilt first, to the prince, his master’s son. Vincenzo took the blade and with it stabbed Crichton cruelly through the heart, killing him instantly. James Crichton of Cluny was then in his twenty-second year.

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