The Predictions of Nostradamus

Nostradamus is best known today for “Les Prophéties”, or “The Prophecies” in which he collected 942 verses set out in quatrain (poems consisting of four lines) style. These are said to predict future world events and have provided Nostradamus with a legacy which has persisted since the book’s initial 1555 publication.

Over the centuries since his death Nostradamus has acquired both supporters and critics, with his supporters acclaiming him as one of the foremost seers of the Renaissance period and his detractors pointing to misinterpretations, mistakes and poor knowledge of the French spoken at the time as the origins of these “prophecies”. But who was this man whose work and predictions continue to divide opinions to the present day?

Early life and education

Nostradamus was born Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus being the Latinised form of his surname) on either 14th or 21st December 1503 in the small town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in France. Despite being of Jewish heritage, his family had converted to Catholicism to avoid persecution.

Both Nostradamus’ grandfathers were scholars, one a physician and the other a classical linguist, and he was to receive much tutelage from them before he departed for Avignon at the age of fourteen to commence his formal studies. Avignon, having been a former home of the popes, was a great ecclesiastical centre and Nostradamus often found himself arguing with the priests who tutored him over matters of the Catholic faith. Following this, Nostradamus enrolled at the University of Montpellier where he studied medicine and astrology. Following graduation in 1522 and embarking on a career as a doctor, he adopted the Latin form of his name.


Much of Nostradamus’ early medical career was spent touring France, which was being seriously afflicted by bubonic plague, reducing countless towns and villages to utter ruin. Doctors at the time did not know what the cause or the cure for this disease was and often resorted to bleeding their patients to see if the plague would flow out along with the blood.

Nostradamus could see that this method was ineffective. He set about offering an alternate remedy. First, he prescribed fresh air and water for each plague victim. Next, he advised a low-fat diet and clean bedding to be used as often as possible.

Another of his treatments was an herbal remedy in which the main ingredient was rosehips. Upon closer examination, this concoction was found to be rich in vitamin C. As a result of Nostradamus’ care whole towns began to recover.

Almost immediately though, his theories on infection control began to arouse suspicion as they were contrary to accepted medical practices of the time. Undeterred, Nostradamus continued to work.

He wrote and translated medical books, created gourmet recipes and was awarded his doctorate from his alma mater in 1529. Further scorn was heaped upon him when the plague returned and, while Nostradamus was caring for and healing others, his wife and two young children died. Questions were asked as to why he could not save those he loved, his wife’s family demanded the return of her dowry and his university patron also disowned him. These eventually forced Nostradamus to leave his home, which was then in Agen.

A visionary is born

Following this, Nostradamus dedicated several years to travelling through southern Europe. By 1544, heavy rains had precipitated yet another outbreak of the plague. Nostradamus employed his skills in saving one town from this new wave.

Eventually, he settled in the town of Salon and established a medical practice. He also remarried and had more children. Around this time, he began meditating at night during which he fell into a trance. Once in this state of mind, visions would come to him. From 1550 to 1565, Nostradamus would record and publish these visions in almanacs.

After the last of these was presented to the public, he decided to collect all of his visions up until then into one comprehensive work which he titled Centuries and which he intended to pass on to future generations. With ten volumes planned, he released the first seven in 1555 and gave instructions for the remaining three to be published only after he had died.

His writings proved to be very popular with the public and his name soon came to the attention of King Henry II and his wife Catherine de’ Medici. When Nostradamus arrived in Paris in 1556, he explained to the king that one of the verses referred to him.

It spoke of a young lion overcoming an older one and piercing his eyes through a golden cage. Nostradamus joined with the king’s astrologer in warning him against participating in any jousting tournaments while he was forty-one years of age. Nostradamus was to spend the next few years in the royal court and saw his prediction come true when, in 1559, the king was injured in a jousting tournament at the age of forty-one. His opponent’s lance pierced his golden visor (the “golden cage” causing blindness and brain damage from which he was to die after ten days.

Nostradamus’ time at the royal court transformed him into a figure inspiring both awe and fear. He made many royal prophecies, mostly concerning death and tragedy. For example, he was to meet with Queen Regent Catherine again when she visited Salon, where Nostradamus was then living, during her royal tour of 1564.

This time, he predicted that all her sons would become kings, which they duly did before each died tragically young. Two years after this meeting, Nostradamus himself died at his home in Salon.

Legacy and prophesies

Although critics point out that many of Nostradamus’ prophesies can be interpreted in numerous ways, certain of his quatrains do seem to predict in

eerie detail the Great Fire of London in 1666, the French Revolution of 1789, the rise to power of both Adolf Hitler and Charles De Gaulle, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the terrorist atrocities of 9/11. Whatever the truth, the debate on Nostradamus will go on.

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