Friday, 11 March 2011

Nostradamus and Napoleon

By Peter Lemesurier 

Given the well-known fact that the Nostradamaniacs constantly try to kid you that Nostradamus predicted Napoleon, please bear in mind that his book The Prophecies never in fact mentions him at all. The twenty verses that are usually adduced (I.4, I.32, I.76, I.88, I.98, II.94, II.99, III.35, III.37, IV.26, IV.54, IV.82, V.15, V.60, VII.13, VIII.1, VIII.52, VIII.57, X.23 and X.87) rely totally on somewhat ‘stretched’ interpretations, and refer in most cases to other easily-identifiable figures entirely.
            Here are seven of the best-known of them. They are followed by my own published verse-translations, taken from my Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies (O Books, 2003). For more literal, word-for-word translations, see my Nostradamus, Bibliomancer (Career Press, 2010 – see below). You can explore the originals for yourself either in high resolution on the CD supplied with this latter book or in low resolution online at

I. 76. Original 1555 text
D’un nom farouche tel proferé sera,
Que les troys seurs auront fato le nom:
Puis grand peuple par langue & faict duira
Plus que nul autre aura bruit & renom.

                        By wild beast’s name a man shall be decreed
                        Whose name is fated by those Sisters Three.
                        Then a great host by word and deed he’ll lead:
                        More than all others famed, renowned he’ll be.

Source: The verse is based on a thirteenth-century poem in praise of the French King Philip Augustus entitled The Philippiad by the poet and chronicler Guillaume Le Breton, in which the destiny of Philip’s contemporary, King Richard Coeur de Lion of England, is woven, and his death before the castle of Châlus decided, by the three Fates of ancient Greek mythology – here presented as though it all took place long before his magnificent leadership of the international (though failed) Third Crusade of 1190 and the world-wide renown that it brought him. The name ‘Napoleon’ is not a wild beast’s name, even though part of it could be taken as the word leon (Latin for ‘lion’). [Research by courtesy of Gary Somai, of the Nostradamus Research Group]

II. 99. Original 1555 text
Terroir Romain qu’interpretoit augure,
Par gent Gauloyse seras par trop vexée:
Mais nation Celtique craindra l’heure,
Boreas, classe trop loing l’avoir poussee.

                        The Roman lands by oracle marked out
                        Shall by the French be vexed more than enow:
                        But let those self-same Celts the hour redoubt
                        When the north wind their fleet too far shall blow.

Source: Livy’s History of Rome (I.18), describing the inauguration of the semi-legendary King Numa in around 710 BC: ‘Looking out over the city and the country around, [the augur], having prayed to the gods, took in the whole region from east to west and declared the southern part to be “right” and the northern part “left”: then he . . . placed his right hand on Numa’s head and prayed thus: “Father Jupiter, if it be Heaven’s will that this man, Numa Pompilius, whose head I am holding, should be King of Rome, give us clear signs within the boundaries that I have established.” Then he spelled out the exact signs that he wished to be sent. These having duly been sent, Numa, proclaimed King, came down from the temple.’ Compare V.75. The last two lines may relate to the Mirabilis liber’s familiar counter-invasion scenario.

IV. 26. Original 1555 text (in Provençal)
Lou grand eyssame se levera d’abelhos,
Que non sauran don te siegen venguddos
De nuech l’embousq;, lou gach dessous las treilhos,
Cieutad trahido p cinq lengos non nudos.

                        The mighty swarm of bees shall climb on high,
                        But where they came from nobody can say.
                        A trap at night, ’neath vines the watch shall spy:
                        Five hidden tongues shall give the town away.

Source: Julius Obsequens’s On Omens (65a) for 48 BC: ‘A swarm of bees on the standards portended calamity’; Livy’s History of Rome (XXI, 46) for 218 BC: ‘The Romans, on their part, were by no means so keen to engage [with Hannibal, who subsequently defeated them near the Ticino] . . . [since] a swarm of bees had settled on a tree over the commander’s tent’; evidently assimilated to a manuscript account in Provençal by Nostradamus’s younger brother Jehan (and subsequently quoted by the latter’s nephew César in his Histoire et chronique de Provence) of the Emperor Charlemagne’s victory over the Saracens at the foot of the Mont Gaussier that overlooks the ancient city of Glanum just south of Nostradamus’s birthplace of St-Rémy: ‘Charlemagne turned up, together with all his host that looked like a swarm of bees on the move’. Thus, yet another reference to the Mirabilis liber’s expected liberation of France from its future Arab occupiers. The fact that Napoleon’s emblem was a swarm of bees is impressive, but hardly fits the words.

IV. 54. Original September 1557 text
Du nom qui onques ne fut au Roy gaulois,
Jamais ne fut un fouldre si craintif:
Tremblant l’Italie, l’Espagne, & les Anglois,
De femme estrangiers grandement attentif.

                        Named by a name no French king ever bore,
                        Never was bolt of Jove so feared by all:
                        Italy, England, Spain shall quake the more.
                        For foreign women he shall greatly fall.

Source: The contemporary King François I, the terror of Italy, Spain and England and a passionate womaniser, who in 1530 married the Emperor Charles V’s sister, Eleanor of Spain, and who in 1515 became the first French king ever to bear the name ‘François’.

V. 15. Original September 1557 text
En navigant captif prins grand pontife,
Grans apretz faillir les clercz tumultuez:
Second esleu absent son bien debife,
Son favory bastard à mort tue.

                        The Pope’s made captive whilst abroad a-wander.
                        Arrangements fail: priests, outraged, waste their breath.
                        Absent, the next-elected’s wealth he’ll squander,
                        His bastard favourite be done to death.

Source: The sack of Rome by Imperial forces in May 1527, with Pope Clement VII fleeing the Vatican to become a virtual prisoner in the Castel Sant’ Angelo until December, assimilated to the Mirabilis liber’s prophecy of the flight of the Pope from Rome in the face of its expected Muslim invasion, augmented with a few details taken from the unedifying story of the contemporary papacy:  ‘. . . and then the barque of Peter, attacked by powerful enemies, shall be shaken.  Terrified, Peter shall be forced to flee, in order not to incur the infamy of servitude’ (Prophecy of St Brigid of Sweden). The second Pope mentioned is evidently Clement’s successor, the vastly self-indulgent and nepotistic Paul III, who had reigned from 1534 to 1549. The fact that Napoleon would abduct the Pope of his day is neither here nor there.

VIII. 1. Original text of 1568 edition
PAU, NAY, LORON plus feu qu’à sang sera.
Laude nager, fuir grand aux surrez.
Les agassas entree refusera.
Pampon, Durance les tiendra enserrez.

                        More fire than blood at Oloron, Pau, Nay:
                        Chief swims the Aude and flees to streams around.
                        To those of Pius access ta’en away,
                        Durance’s chief shall hold them locked and bound.

Source: Unknown. If the word for ‘magpies’ is, as I have assumed, a coded reference to the representatives of Pope Pius (‘Pie’ in French), the original incident has to have occurred either between 1458 and 1464 (the reign of Pius II, who in 1460 unsuccessfully summoned a council to try and unite Europe in a grand crusade against the invading Turks) or in 1503 (Pius III). Line 2 is another evident back-reference to the story of the fleeing Roman general Marius, one of Nostradamus’s favourite historical characters: see II.17, VI.1, VI.36.  

Pau, Nay and Oloron are three towns in southwest France (Nostradamus’s old stamping ground) that lie no more than 15 miles apart, and not an anagram for ‘Napaulon Roy’ (Napoleon was never king, nor subject more to fire than to blood). If Nostradamus had really wished to anagrammatise 'Napoleon', he could have done better by combining Naples ('Napoli') and Leon, possibly involving Pau as well. But there is, of course, absolutely no indication that he did so wish, nor any reason for anagrammatising the name.

VIII. 57. Original text of 1568 edition
De souldat simple parviendra en empire,
De robe courte parviendra à la longue
Vaillant aux armes en eglise ou plus pyre,
Vexer les prestres comme l’eau fait l’esponge.

                        From simple soldier he to power shall burst,
                        From tunic short to lordly robe attaining;
                        Valiant in arms: in church, though, at his worst,
                        As does a sponge to water, clerics draining.

Source: The rise to power of Gaspard de Coligny, who was promoted from simple soldier first to Colonel General of the infantry and then, in 1552, to ‘Admiral of France’ on the strength of his military exploits, subsequently becoming a Huguenot and in 1557 the leader of the French Protestant faction.

From the above and the remainder of the verses listed, it is clear that Nostradamus never in fact referred specifically to Napoleon, any more than he did to Hitler, other than in the minds of those who insist on twisting the verses to fit the facts, or even the facts to fit the verses. For would-be commentators from Roberts and Cheetham, via John Hogue to Mario Reading to play speculative games with the Prophecies to make them say what they want them to say is all very well, but it adds nothing to the public understanding of Nostradamus and merely spreads unnecessary alarm and despondency. Indeed, it is frankly irresponsible.

Please refer to: