Nostradamus: the Frenchman who predicted the future

Find out how Michel Nostradamus's real life tragedies and experiences led to him becoming one of the world's most famous astrologer, psychic, and foreseer.
You are currently viewing Nostradamus: the Frenchman who predicted the future
Nostradamus - painted by his son Cesar de Notre-Dame - courtesy of Wikipedia
(As an Amazon affiliate living in France, I may earn commissions on purchases. All information provided is for entertainment purposes only.)

Ah Nostradamus, the original soothsayer and master of cryptic predictions. Centuries after his death, he remains one of the most fascinating French figures in history.

He was the mad scientist of his time, concocting an elixir of potions and half-baked prophecies that still has everyone scratching their heads. Today he is most famous as an astrologer, writer, and of course, a legendary foreseer whose predictions continue to attract followers.

A great deal has been said about him and his prophecies and predictions have been debated for centuries. But Nostradamus actually trained as a doctor, before it all started to go off course.

His personal life was filled with tragedy, and his writings were directly in response to the real dangers and threats. Drawn to the occult and mysticism, he cast himself as a spiritual man who had the power to predict future events.

This brought him to the attention of those who wanted to believe that they could change and shape their own futures. One of those people would be the cursed Black Queen, Catherine de Medici, who dabbled in mysticism herself.

Even today, his translated works remain bestsellers, with his name still spoken not just in France, but around the world. So let’s find out how Nostradamus became so renowned and get the facts about this famous astrologer and psychic, shall we? Allons-y!

Quick facts
Real name:Michel de Nostredame
Birth:14 or 21 December 1503, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France
Death:2 July 1566 at age 62, in Salon-de-Provence, France
Parents and siblings:Jaume de Nostredame and Reynière, one of 9 children
Marriage and children:Henriette d’Encausse (possible name), 2 children
Anne Ponsarde, 6 children
Famous for:being an astrologer, apothecary, physician, writer, and seer for French Queen Catherine de Medici

1. He was born in St. Remy de Provence in France

Nostradamus was born on December 14, 1503 in the idyllic small village of St. Remy de Provence in the south of France. Michel de Nostredame was the one of 9 children of a local notary named Jaume de Nostredame and his wife Reynière.

The town where he was born is about 55 miles (90km) to the north of Marseille in France, and is considered one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. 

Busy square in St Remy

2. His family was originally Jewish and changed their name to Nostredame.

Nostradamus was born into a Jewish family that had converted due to religious tensions. His grandfather, Guy de Gassonet, converted to Catholicism and Christianity around 1455 and took the name Pierre de Nostredame, decades before Nostradamus was born.

At the time, St. Remy was part of the County of Provence, with France threatening to annexe it. Annexation would have led to the eviction of Jewish families from their homes, which is why his grandfather converted. He took the the surname “Nostredame” meaning Our Lady.

3. He studied to become a medical doctor.

Michel Nostradamus was studying to become a doctor in nearby Avignon and Montpellier. It was a good career choice that was quite critical as the plague was rampant in his time.

However, he was kicked out of medical school from the University of Montpellier because the university learned that he had worked as an apothecary. This was considered to be unbecoming of a doctor and one banned by university regulations. It is not clear if he returned to another school to gain his medical degree.

4. He lost his 1st family to the plague.

Nostradamus married his 1st wife Henriette d’Encausse in the 1530s and had two small children with her. All three would would die of the plague in 1534, leaving him grief-stricken and at loose ends.

He would spend much time traveling across France and Italy, working and earning a living as a healer and apothecary, as he tried to recover from this devastating blow.

5. He would remarry and have 6 more children.

After the loss of his family, Nostradamus would remarry in 1547. In the house which still exists today, he married a widow named Anne Ponsarde, with whom he had 3 daughters and 3 sons.

They settled in the nearby village of Salon-de-Provence about 22 miles (36km) from St. Remy de Provence where he was born.

It would be his eldest son César who would become a historian, a biographer of his father, painter and poet. The painting above was done by César of his father Michel Nostredame.

6. He latinized his last name to Nostradamus.

Nostradamus began to move away from medicine and toward the occult and astrology. He began writing an almanac in 1550, offering prophecies, horoscopes and psychic advice.

It is at this point that in print, he began Latinising his name from Michel de Nostredame to Nostradamus.

7. He became famous, attracting the attention of French nobility.

The Almanacs proved to be so popular that he began publishing them annually, continuing every year until he died. As an astrologer, his prophecies began attracting the attention of rich nobility who began asking for personalized horoscopes and birth charts.

His books and writings would bring him to the attention of French Queen Catherine de Medici, who became one of Nostradamus’s greatest admirers.

Catherine de Medici's study with secret compartments behind the paneling at Chateau de Blois
Catherine de Medici’s study with secret compartments behind the paneling at Chateau de Blois

8. He became counselor to the French Queen Catherine de Medici.

With his writing hinting at unnamed threats to the royal family, she summoned Nostradamus to Paris to explain them and to draw up horoscopes for her children. As regent, she would make him Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her son, the young King Charles IX of France.

9. He wrote a cookbook called the Elixirs of Nostradamus

Written in 1552-1555, Nostradamus displayed his apothecary skills in a book called Traité des fardemens et confitures. It covered a wide variety of topics like making a powder for cleaning teeth to making candied orange peel.

The book would be translated into English under the title “The Elixirs of Nostradamus: Nostradamus’ Original Recipes for Elixirs, Scented Water, Beauty Potions and Sweetmeats”.

10. His book the Prophecies was a bestseller.

In 1555, he wrote his most famous works Les Prophéties (The Prophecies) in 1555. Given the fears of the era and his study of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and the occult, it would become a bestseller and would be republished several times.

It contained over 350 quatrains with nearly thousands of different prophecies. A quatrains is 2 lines of rhyming verse, with the quatrains grouped in hundreds. Each set of 100 quatrains was called a century, leading to many different prophecies that are still pored over by believers.

Nostradamus considered that the past would repeat itself, so many of his prophecies relied on historical and literary precedent, reimagined for the future.

11. He wrote in code for fear of being tried for heresy.

Much of Nostradamus’s work is open to interpretation and questions as he wrote in a mixed code of Middle French, Latin, Greek, and Provençale languages.

Anti-semitism and his Jewish background meant that he was vulnerable to accusations of heresy, occultism and sorcery. To avoid this, his writings had to be vague enough to escape sanction. (It didn’t hurt that this also helped his book sales.)

12. He died at the age of 62.

Nostradamus suffered severely from gout making movement difficult. The night before he died, he allegedly told his secretary Jean de Chavigny that he would not find him alive the next morning. He died on July 2, 1566 at the age of 62 in his home in Salon-de-Provence.

13. His fame grew after his death as his predictions seemed to come true.

But Nostradamus’s fame really grew after his death. His rather vague predictions came to befall the Catholic French Queen Catherine de Medici.

The 3 sons of Catherine de Medici who each became King of France
The 3 sons of Catherine de Medici who each became King of France

France would fall into a civil and religious war, as Catholics in Paris and Protestant Huguenots in the south of France fight each other.

Each of Catherine’s 3 sons would die before leaving any heirs, leaving only her daughter Marguerite for the French throne. Marguerite was married to a Protestant, Henri IV who would go on to become King of France setting off a quasi-civil war.

Over 3 million French people are believed to have died in the subsequent fighting, making it one of the deadliest religious wars in the history of France and Europe. Having predicted much turmoil in his prophecies, Nostradamus’s reputation as a foreseer was sealed.

Catherine de Medici emerging from the Louvre Palace after the massacre of St. Bartholomew
Queen Catherine de Medici emerging from the Louvre Palace after the St. Bartholomew’s massacre. Courtesy of Wikipedia

14. He is buried in Salon-de-Provence

Nostradamus was initially buried in a local Franciscan chapel in Salon-de-Provence, but that tomb was raided during the 1789 French Revolution. Two centuries after his death, his words still had power.

His remains were looted and scattered, and until the mayor of Salon-de-Provence managed to collect as much as possible and rebury him in the Collégiale Saint-Laurent in Salon-de-Provence, where he remains today.

15. A small fountain is dedicated to him in St. Rémy de Provence.

In addition to monuments in Salon-de-Provence, a small fountain with his bust remains dedicated to him in the town where he was born, St. Rémy de Provence.

Fountain dedicated to Nostradamus in Saint Rémy de Provence
Fountain dedicated to Nostradamus in Saint Rémy de Provence

16. His legacy of prophecies continues to attract believers.

Nostradamus wrote so many prophecies that his believers consider that he had predicted several events centuries after his death from the Great Fire of London in 1666, the 1789 French revolution, and the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

During WWII, the German Reich used many of Nostradamus’s predictions as propoganda, with the Allies counterattacking with alternative prophecies showing the Third Reich’s downfall. 

His predictions also supposedly allude 1945 Hiroshima, the events of September 11th, and many many more. He remains, to this day, famous as a prophet and as the “Man who foresaw the future”.


If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other famous writers from France. A bientôt!

Leave a Reply