Centuries after his death, Nostradamus is one of the most fascinating French figures in history. He was a physician, 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. His personal life was filled with tragedy, and many of his works were directly in response to the real dangers and threats of his time. Drawn to the occult and mysticism, he cast himself as a spiritual man who had the power to predict future events, attracting those who wanted to believe that they could change and shape their own futures for the better.
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!
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 eldest son of Pierre de Nostredame and Blanche de Sainte-Marie.
2. His family was originally Jewish.
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!