Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
THE SUCCESS OF THE BOOK was immediate and enormous--adjectives which seem to keynote the life of Nostradamus. People were fascinated by the cryptic novelty of the verses which became the sensation of the moment. Everybody was reading, puzzling, spotting, quoting and arguing over them. Some of the verses were daringly easy of identification. Some seemed to point to certain public personalities but were debatable. These were shuffled among quatrains that no one could pretend to understand, or even guess at the persons referred to. Since the baffling prophecies were decidedly in the majority, the detractors of Nostradamus, who said that here was no prophecy but only incomprehensible gibberish, had, it must be confessed, much on their side.
When one remembers that it has taken "seven men with seven mops" working diligently all these intervening years to decipher the meanings, some of which are still controversial, and others yet not understood, it is no wonder that the derisionists of that day refused
to be shouted down by the chorus of enthusiasts. Everyone who had known the prophet personally chanted his praises. From Provence to Paris people talked of him, relating the successes, legends and accusations that had grown up about his history. More than ever the narrow lanes and crooked streets of Salon were choked with the crowd pouring in to consult the new authority on destiny. Patients needing the doctor of medicine were now jostled by patronage seeking the doctor of destiny.
Paris was in those days a long way from Provence. Nostradamus’ fame had hitherto been local. With the publication of the book, reports of his astonishing history reached the capital. It is not surprising that Catherine de’ Medici desired at once to meet Nostradamus. Her interest in occultism was well known. What is surprising is that the King, who had no such interest, was the one who summoned the doctor to Paris. His curiosity was on this occasion at least the equal of the Queen's.
It is probable that before he extended an invitation to Nostradamus to visit Paris, he sent a cautious inquiry to his Provençal governor, seeking reliable information about this strange subject of his. A king had to be careful not to excite ridicule and criticism in such a matter.
The King could have asked no one who was better fitted to extol the prestige and abilities of Nostradamus than was Claude de Savoie, Count de Tende et de Villars, Governor of Provence. He had known Nostradamus
all his life as friend, physician and seer. He knew his background and family history. He and the prophet had both been young together. Both had fought their first great battles at the same time. When Nostradamus had left Montpellier to wrestle with the plague, the Count de Tende had been holding at bay the Spanish army under the Constable de Bourbon. He had defended Marseilles and defeated the Spaniards with a valor which had established him as one of the first soldiers in France. As Governor of Provence he had endorsed the life pension with which the city of Aix had rewarded the doctor's second battle with the plague. He knew how Nostradamus’ prophetic gift had come down to him through inheritance. He had seen many illustrations of its uncanny power and authority. These were all things which he could write to the King, adding that the greatest princes and prelates in the south of France called Maître Nostradamus friend.
All this he set down in his letter to the King. Then, before he closed it with the customary salutations, he sat back in his chair and nibbled his quill thoughtfully. This writing was a chore for a soldier. He would be glad to get it done. But there was one thing more that he wanted the King to know. Again his quill took up its scratching rhythm as he wrote a concluding paragraph.
"Maître Nostradamus has also honored me with a prophecy concerning the future of my line. Inasmuch as my ancestors served those of Your Majesty, and
since it has been my privilege to wield my sword for Your Majesty's late father, and holding it always in readiness to strike for his most puissant son, the Very Christian King of France, it is a comfort to my declining age to learn from the inspired vision of this true prophet that in the future of times to come the sword arm of Villars shall still not fail in its valor to defend the crown of France on behalf of Your Majesty's descendants."
He added the final compliments, his signature and the date with a satisfied flourish. That did it. Now perhaps the King would ask Nostradamus what this prophecy was, and his friend would tell the King the tale of the future about the line of Villars which in a rare mood he had unfolded to him one evening when they had supped together in Aix, and had sat late by the Governor's fireside afterward, talking of many old experiences.
A Frenchman, perhaps more than men of other nationalities, is concerned over the continuance of his line and the maintenance of the prestige established by his ancestors. The Count de Tende et Villars had spoken of this to Nostradamus. The prophet had gladdened his heart by saying that there would come another Claude de Savoie in time, who would even surpass all former military achievements of his house, that he would rescue France from desperate peril, and fight his battles on a far-flung field. The Governor had begged the prophet to tell him something of this coming soldier, his namesake. It meant so much to him
that his own name would be carried on to greener laurels. He felt such an old fogy in these days of new artillery, and odd gadgets on guns, all so different from the weapons he had used to defend Marseilles. That, too, had been a great fight; it had preserved France from Charles V, and made him, Claude de Savoie, famous. But that had been thirty years ago, and the world forgot so quickly.
The prophet had smiled at him quizzically. "You have," he told him, "already read without knowing it something of the battles of the coming Claude de Savoie."
"Where?" asked the Count.
"In my new book," the prophet told him. "There are several verses about him, and I have still more to foretell, perhaps in another volume."
"Tell me, old friend, I implore you." The Governor sat forward excitedly. "When is this to be? How long before it happens?"
"That I shall not tell you," answered Nostradamus, "but it is sometime off. You and I won't be here."
"I hope Saint Peter will let me see the fight, By God, I'd snatch Lord Gabriel's trumpet and sound a blast for victory!"
Nostradamus looked shocked. He did not relish the profanity of camps.
"Which are the verses, man? I must know them," the Count cried. "Don't stand me off with your puzzles. I won't tell anyone. I can keep my counsel, as you know. I understand how everyone would be at you if
they found that you had broken your precedent and explained a little from that book, though I can't see why you are so unwilling. But my word as a soldier, I will not tell of the verses to anyone. Do you mention my name?"
"Yes," the seer assured him, "both names, Tende and Villars. And since I wish the men of that day to say 'like ancestor, like descendant,' I mention also Provence, so that it shall not be forgotten from what place and what fighting stock this soldier comes."
"He will be born here in Provence, I suppose?" the Count said.
"He will come from Narbonne. Your namesake will be a Gascon."
"Pah!" the Count exclaimed disgustedly. "A Gascon is a braggart who fights with words. Why can't he be born right here?" He looked at the prophet in naïve hopefulness as if it were possibly not too late to do something about it.
"I have called him 'the heroic Villars, the man who is more like Mars than Narbonne.' He will be a boaster, but he will make good his boasts when he saves his country," Nostradamus assured him.
"More like Mars than Narbonne," quoted the Count with relish. "I like that conceit, ’tis clever. Martius Narbo was the old Roman name for the city of Narbonne. Yes, it is a pretty play on words, and means, I take it, that this young Claude de Savoie will be a better fighter than a boaster. I begin to think well
of him. By Saint Denis, I do!" The Count smiled broadly.
In his many verses on the War of the Spanish Succession, Nostradamus has described its hero, Marshal Villars, and told a great deal about his long struggle. It is not on the record how much he related to the Count de Tende et Villars concerning his illustrious namesake, but the verses which he left for posterity are given in Part II of this book.
In due time the Count de Tende received the royal invitation summoning Maitre Michel Nostradamus to Paris as the King's guest. The Count was requested personally to make all arrangements for the trip and to expedite it in every way as His Majesty was impatient to meet the prophet. Here was a breath-taking compliment. Kings had always used prophets, but not since the days of ancient oracles had they paid them any particular honor. Paris was then filled with seers of one kind and another. Some of them were good, and a few were famous. But such a public invitation as this from royalty was an unheard-of thing. It was the crowning honor of a sensational life.
Salon buzzed with the excitement of the news. Quickly Avignon heard about it, and soon Marseilles. All Provence, except the enemies of Nostradamus, was thrilled and proud. Wherever Nostradamus was known, wherever he had patients from as far back as the first plague, the conversation was all of a piece in marketplace, cottage, château and council hall. The King had bidden their great man to Paris!
Preparations for the journey got under way at once. Maître de Chavigny, the Sieur de Condoulet, the town fathers and a host of friends and patients poured in to offer their congratulations, give practical advice about the long trip, and tell what they knew or had heard about the customs and personages at the court of the Valois. The housewifely instincts of Madame de Nostradamus came immediately into action to look after the details of her husband's travel needs. There was brushing, steaming and airing of the doctor's best robe of Lyons velvet. Two costumes were the limit, even for the affluent in these days, and they were expected to last, if not unto the third and fourth generations, at least unto the second. There was baking and roasting to be done, a flaky loaf and a tender young fowl for the hamper in which would also go the leathern bottle of vintage wine, which a grateful patient had contributed. Perhaps the children, being French, may not have surged around shouting, "My Papa is going to Paris!" but they and the whole household would have felt the excitement.
Only the doctor was unaffected and moved about in his usual serene and casual fashion. He prepared and labeled tinctures and essences which some of the sick might require in his absence. He packed his inkhorn, his quills and writing-tablets. He might want to do a little writing in the evenings at inns along the route, since his travel would be all done by day. He would probably be too tired when night came for much effort, however, so for company he chose his well-worn
copy of Aristotle to take with him, and the latest volume of poems by Ronsard, the celebrated and fashionable poet who had just received the Toulouse award and the silver statue of Minerva. Perhaps Ronsard would be at the court, and he might have the privilege of meeting him.
Nostradamus was now fifty-three years old, and no longer in good health. He had used his splendid energies throughout his life without stint or thought to himself. Premature age was taking its toll, and he was suffering from that so common ailment of the time, gout. The long trip to Paris was a great undertaking for him, even under the best conditions which the Count de Tende could arrange. There is no account of his mode of travel. But it was probably, as he had always travelled, on the back of a sturdy mule. He may have made part of the trip by coach, but coaches were still a rarity, and their build was so cumbersome and their springs so joltingly hard that they offered, outside of their impressive appearance, little relief.
Nostradamus left Salon on the 14th of July, 1555. This date, looking forward in time, and told by another calendar, would one day be pregnant with meaning to France as Bastille Day, an event of the future which the prophet sadly chronicled. Looking backward in time, it was the date when Frenchmen, fighting valiantly for their God, had seen Jerusalem fall to the Crusaders, rescued from the infidel. Nostradamus had not forgotten that page of history, now made melancholy by loss of the Crusaders' gains
which his writings mention as Christendom's disgrace.
All of his friends had gathered with his family to see him off on his trip. A waving, smiling crowd from in and out of town had assembled to wish him Godspeed. The Count de Tende had ridden over from Aix to supervise the details of departure. He found a moment to whisper in the prophet's ear, while giving him his schedule of travel.
"Tell His Majesty about young Claude de Savoie, if opportunity permits. I think the King would be well satisfied to know of him."
Nostradamus smiled indulgently. "Yes," he said, "and Claude, the elder, too. A thousand thanks for all your kindness."
Since he was on the King's errand, the prophet no doubt made top speed for the times. But the roads, though more numerous, were often no better than in the days of Clovis. They were full of deep ruts, which became small ponds when it rained, and great stretches of mud. Travel at best was appallingly slow, though never having known a swifter mode, it doubtless did not seem so to Nostradamus. Besides, he was an experienced traveller and liked the road. It was his first trip of any length in a good many years and he was prepared to enjoy it. He savored the character and charm of each locality that he passed, drawing in the perfume of its herbs and flowers as a connoisseur savors a vintage bouquet.
Travelling northward through the valley of the Rhone he watched Provence roll past him, slowly receding.
[paragraph continues] Its panorama never failed to enchant him, its gardens, its cypress and olive, its thyme and lavender, rosemary and rue. Besides their beauty, these held for him, as physician, the deep meaning of the soil, the healing power of earth's plants for earth's children. Across the countryside at intervals his ears caught the joyous shrilling of a flute or the tinkle of a tambourine, and occasionally there was a flash of Moorish color, or the glimpse of a festival procession.
In two weeks he had passed Lyons, and left behind him the langue d’oc, "that beautiful Provençal language, more than three-quarters Latin, formerly spoken by queens, which shepherds alone now understand." Once across the Rhone, he had entered the land of the langue d'oïl, or modern French, which had been the official language of France for some twenty years. He was now moving through the beautiful landscapes of Lorraine, drawing closer to the country of the Maid of Orleans, and the fields and blossoms bright with summer celebrated by Ronsard's verses. The prophet's memory, "almost divine," did not need to consult the volume of Ronsard's poems. Softly to himself he quoted:
And about him he saw lordly châteaux topping the hills, their arrogant towers lifting in conscious elegance above the half-screening woodlands. Cottages in the deep heart of bowering trees, foot bridges over streams dancing across valleys of emerald velvet, offered their northern loveliness in substitute for the high color of Provence.
While he was traversing the long road, Nostradamus had ample time to ponder the personages and conditions he would meet in Paris. He had heard a great deal about the King and Queen. He reviewed it now as a guide for his successful approach to royalty. How different, he thought, had been the lives of these two, and yet there was a pattern of similarity, too, especially, in their early youth. Both had experienced a loveless, prisoned, dangerous childhood when each had been a helpless, political pawn in the hands of savagely warring powers.
From his seventh to his eleventh year, Henry had spent shut up in a gloomy Spanish monastery, hostage, with his older brother, for their father, King Francis. When he had finally returned to France, it had been necessary for him to relearn his own language, forbidden him in his imprisonment. A shy, alien boy, he had come home to a Spanish stepmother and a country which, though his own, seemed a stranger. He had not been the dauphin then, only the second son. He had been lonely and ill adapted to the gay court. The prisoning walls had not been wholly left behind, something of their barriers was now within himself. Then
when he was only fourteen, they had married him to the pale little Italian girl from Florence, with whom he had found nothing in common, not even a child for ten years. In all the carefree glitter of his father's court, there had been only one who had taken an interest in the diffident boy growing up within his shell. Only one who had understood him and concerned herself with his boyish life. This was the gloriously beautiful Seneschal of Normandy, now Duchess of Valentinois also, Diane of Poictiers. The adolescent heart of the boy, still yearning for the mother he could not remember, had attached itself with passionate fidelity to this woman twenty years his senior. Now, all France knew and accepted its two queens, Catherine the crowned, whose diadem but scarcely gilded the indifference of her husband, and Diane the uncrowned, whose power dispensed the patronage and spent the revenues of France with arrogant assurance.
The King at this time was enjoying the first period of peace that he had experienced in some years. Six months before, he had signed a five-year truce with his enemy, Charles V. That monarch had then betaken himself to a monastery to consider his soul's salvation, after first dividing up his empire. Austria he had bestowed upon his brother. Spain, the Netherlands and possessions in Italy he had given to his son Philip. No one expected the truce between Spain and France would last. Philip II was as bitter a foe of France as his father had been, while Henry's warlike nature and inherited glory-dreams bided only an opportunity
to strike at Spain. Nostradamus well knew the kind of questions that the King would ask him about all this, and he realized how little his answers would affect the course of events. For had he not seen those events transpiring in his visions?
His thoughts turned to the Queen. An intelligent, agreeable woman, by all reports. Deeply interested in occultism, too, but desiring, like all ambitious people, to profit by it rather than to live according to its laws. It was going to require more adroitness to meet and parry her questions, and at the same time satisfy her than would the inquiries of the King. He felt a vast pity for this woman, even though he knew what tragedy she would one day bring to the country. The French had never been enthusiastic over "the banker's daughter," and they remained indifferent to her. Not the least of the reasons for this was that "the three pearls," which Clement VII had optimistically mentioned as her dowry, Genoa, Naples and Milan, had so far proved uncollectible. The money she had brought from Italy had been negligible. Her wealth, and it was large, had come to her from her French mother, Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne. It was through her mother, too, that she was cousin to both her rivals, the older siren, Diane de Poictiers, and the young beauty, Mary Stuart, the enchantress of her son the dauphin. Not until Catherine could rid herself of the power of these two women would she have her turn.
Nostradamus, who knew her history fully, understood how Catherine's whole life had been spent in
trying to hold her own--just that. And it would always be so. From the time of her birth her ears had been assaulted by the sound of trampling. First, it was the Horseman of Death, taking both her father and mother within the month of her coming into the world. Ariosto, touched by her fate, had written then of her babyhood, "A single branch grows green again with a little foliage. Fearful and hopeful, I do not know if winter will spare it or tear it from me."
The heavy tread of armies, trampling the lives and fortunes of the family great Lorenzo built, had menaced all her childhood. "Put her in a brothel so the Pope cannot marry her to a noble." "Bind her to the ramparts and see how straight the Prince of Orange aims his bullets." These were the outcries of soldiers and demagogues at the siege of Rome, when she, a child, was hidden in a convent.
At fourteen had come marriage and the transplanting to the colder soil and grayer sunlight of Paris. Then a new kind of trampling had begun. This time it was her pride and her heart that were beaten into the dust. The men and women of Europe's haughtiest court scarcely permitted her to forget that they counted their noble lineage by centuries, while she, the Medici, counted hers by years. Nor did they disguise their careless pity for her lack of beauty. Catherine had been ill equipped to compete in this new field, but she had tried. However, she soon found out that fine clothes, the grave grace of her beautiful leg flung boldly over the saddle-bow, defying convention, and
the supplicating gesture of ivory and exquisite hands, were not enough. Not in that court where every woman was hand-picked for beauty.
Catherine, like Henry, had turned to age for sympathy and companionship. She had attached herself to King Francis and won his genuine affection. "She prayed the King," wrote Brantôme, "to allow her to be always at his side." Francis liked her love of sports, the wit and maturity of her mind. Always a connoisseur of women, he was the only one of his court to appreciate that his daughter-in-law was a girl of unusual interest. Then Francis, her one friend, had died. Never did life give to Catherine de’ Medici the opportunity to love or be loved. Always there was defeat and frustration for her affections. Even maternity was so long denied to her, and then so continuously thrust upon her, that love for her children was never a part of her life. Ruggiero, her astrologer, whispered to her of future power through her long years of repression, sustaining her with this dark bread, while what should have been her heart turned slowly and terribly into stone.
Such were the royal pair whom Doctor Nostradamus was so soon to greet.
A month and a day had gone by from the time he left Salon until he sighted the walls and spires of Paris, ancient Lutetia. It was the feast day of Notre Dame when he arrived, late in the afternoon. There was no one to meet him, since the time of his arrival could not be known. Travel-worn and very tired, he looked
about for an inn to rest his weary bones. The sign of the first hostelry that he came upon bore the name of the Inn of Saint Michel. Here were two omens, the day and the inn, which had spelled his own name, Michel de Nostradame, in silent, pleasing welcome to the city. Already he felt the friendship of Paris, how could his visit be other than successful? After he had eaten, he dispatched a messenger to the King, announcing his arrival, and holding himself at His Majesty's disposal.
Next morning he had scarcely breakfasted before he was attended by the Constable of France, Duke Anne de Montmorency, who brought the King's greetings and word of his eagerness to see the prophet. He was also there to escort the prophet to proper accommodations.
"His Majesty has provided suitable quarters for your visit, Maître Nostradamus, in the hôtel of the Cardinal de Bourbon. You will be comfortable there and under a pious roof in keeping with what is, we hear, the divine source of your inspiration."
In lodging Nostradamus in the residence of the Cardinal de Bourbon, Archbishop of Sens, the King had rather cleverly served notice on scoffers that the man of prophecy was under the approval and protection of both royalty and the Church. It was a tacit warning to sceptics to hold their opinions in leash. On the way to the Hôtel de Sens, prophet and soldier chatted enjoyably. The constable was then about sixty-five years old. He was the last of the old guard who
had fought with Francis I at Pavia, who had been the friend and companion-in-arms of such men as the Chevalier Bayard, the Count de Tende, and, before his downfall, of his predecessor in office, the Constable de Bourbon. He was at this time, next to the King, the most influential figure in France. Head of the Catholic party, high in favor with the Seneschal Diane, and commander of the army of France, he wielded enormous power.
He inquired affectionately after the Count de Tende, recalling their old comradeship when together they had fought the Provencal invasions of Charles V.
"Touching this matter of prophecy," he said, "I don't know much about that field. A soldier usually makes his own destiny, and carves it out the hard way. There have been times when I could have used your vision to know what the enemy was up to, but never have I been in doubt as to how I should speak and act."
The constable was noted for his blunt, forceful words and autocratic opinion, even in the presence of the King.
"I am an old man now," the constable continued, "the prophecy of my life has about reached its last fulfillment, when other and younger hands will carry on my work. And I can make my own prophecy about that. As long as there is a Montmorency to bear the name, he will be at the forefront to defend his king as I have been. Knowing that, I am content."
There was a grand sincerity to the soldier's words that touched the seer. He was suddenly very glad that
he had not included in his book a quatrain mentioning the house of Montmorency. For Nostradamus knew how much less fortunate in his famous descendant the constable would be, than his friend the Count de Tende. A future Duke de Montmorency, whom history would call "the great," would meet his end on the block, for conspiracy against the King, Louis XIII, a tragedy some seventy-five years away. The verse describing it is one of the most celebrated of the prophet's forecasts, and a favorite with commentators because it is so specific. It appeared in the later, completed volume of his prophecies.
There was an interval in which the use of the title of dauphin was allowed to lapse, and Louis XIII was the first to revive it after the time of Nostradamus. Louis did make a triumphal personal entry with his troops into Nancy, not then a part of France, in 1633. Two years later he marched into Flanders to aid the Elector of Trèves, who had been imprisoned by the Spaniards. It was just before this, in 1632, that Henry
[paragraph continues] Montmorency was taken in rebellion and conspiracy, as were a number of important nobles during the reign of Louis. It was the old fight to retain feudal powers against Richelieu's work for national unity. Montmorency was imprisoned in a newly completed building at Toulouse, and privately beheaded in the courtyard instead of one of the customary public places of execution. The soldier who beheaded him was named Clerepeyne, a name which strangely enough comes from two Latin words, clara poena, meaning well-known punishment. Nostradamus has been criticized for his double-talk, but here it was not he, but history which did the double-talking. The ironic, amazing coincidence of the executioner's name and its actual derivative meaning was merely noted with the exactitude of Nostradamus’ prevision, and set down with an accuracy which history has attested. Fortunately the constable was unaware of this distant disaster to his house, as he piloted the prophet toward his new quarters.
The fine old Gothic-Renaissance Hôtel de Sens, .at the corner of the Rue de Figuier and the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, the town house of the Archbishop of Sens where the constable established Nostradamus in comfort, was built about the year the prophet was born, and at the time of his visit was one of only about fifty such palaces in Paris. Because of the scarcity of such establishments, and the overcrowding and cramped quarters which even wealthy nobles coming to court from out of town had to endure, it was
the occasional custom for the owner of a town house, when not in residence, to place it at the disposal of the King. One infers from this, that the archbishop was not himself in Paris at this time, and that the hospitality of his mansion was under the stewardship of the King's household.
Nostradamus was quite used to being stared at. It never bothered him. The mixture of deference and intense curiosity with which the staff at the Hôtel de Sens regarded him, the half-awed, half-mocking eyes of the street crowd which had gathered outside when the Constable de Montmorency returned to conduct him to the King, concerned him not at all. On the way to the Louvre the constable remarked that the attendance at court was unusually large.
"News of your arrival has brought them all out," he told Nostradamus. "I fear they will make your visit to us a very strenuous one. All hope to consult you," he smiled cynically. "The ladies hope that you will foretell vases of gold to hold their roses of love. The men hope to savor in prophetic anticipation the rewards of ambition. Some of them, I think, will savor it no other way," he finished grimly.
Outside the Louvre more citizens had gathered, watching for the prophet's arrival, curious to see what he looked like. Another crowd confronted him when he entered the square courtyard which the palace enclosed. A colorful throng, all jockeying for position to get a front-line view, turned their battery of eyes toward the black-clad figure beside the constable. Nostradamus,
smiling in pleasant salutation to the crowd, picked out with his lightning perception its carnival variety. King's gentlemen, cardinals and lovely ladies were in the forefront with the best points of vantage. Back of them pages, lackeys, servants, priests and a nondescript assortment of persons who had made business at the palace an excuse to get in, all elbowed each other and craned their necks to the utmost. Even the narrow windows that looked down on the court were filled with faces.
The constable acknowledged the salute of the gaudily dressed Swiss guards as they entered the building and directed the prophet to the stately new staircase which bears Henry's name. Upstairs there were more people, eager to catch the constable's eye. Montmorency gave a brief nod here and there but he did not slacken his long-legged stride which Nostradamus had, with his ailing foot, some ado to keep pace with. Through unfamiliar doors and corridors they swept to halt at last outside a closed door, which a gentleman in waiting swung open to them. Inside the room a man seated beside a table was reading in a small volume. He looked up as the door opened. The Constable de Montmorency announced:
"Maître Michel Nostradamus."
The prophet was in the presence of the King.
"Ha! At last!" Henry exclaimed, rising with a smile of welcome. "We are pleased that you are safely here. It has seemed a long time." He extended his hand for the kiss of homage and graciously asked
[paragraph continues] Montmorency to place a chair beside the table, near him, for the prophet.
Nostradamus murmured his thanks for the privilege, to which the King answered that his guest having come so far, he would scarcely ask him to tire his body more when there was so much to ask of his mind. The constable did not linger. He quietly withdrew, leaving seer and sovereign to their talk.
Nostradamus gave a glance of swift appraisal, and understood the man who was King. The monarch studied the prophet intently, slowly, carefully adding up in his mind the sum of his observations to give him a conclusion. Each recognized in the other authority and the quality known as presence. Nostradamus saw a tall, blond, splendidly built man of thirty-seven whose bold blue eyes and handsome features were amiable but somewhat inexpressive. Threads of gold and jewel-fires made points of brilliance in the silk-on-silk of his sumptuous dress. Below his clipped beard, an overturn of fine lace half concealed his high, built-up collar. A heavy, elaborately wrought gold chain made a double loop about his neck with a beautiful medallion of gold and jewels, pendant.
The King observed a short, ruddy-cheeked man severely robed, whose extraordinary eyes somehow held him, interested him, gave him the feeling of confidence that he had wanted to feel.
What these two may have said to each other in this confidential interview is not in the record. But we may imagine that the talk ran something like this:
The King gestured toward the book which he had laid down on the table, and which Nostradamus recognized as a volume of his prophecies. "We are interested in this matter of prediction," the King said, when the amenities had been further disposed of, "yet much that is foretold never comes to pass, so that there has seemed to us to be little of guidance in it. The Queen leans more on prophecy than do we. But it is not the Queen who makes decisions; she has not our responsibility to decide for France."
"Your Majesty's valor and wisdom--" began the prophet, but the King broke in.
"No pretty speeches, Maître Nostradamus. Our court is well versed in those. Men say that you have foresight divinely inspired and therefore true. What we desire from you is truth."
"Sire," the prophet answered, "I would not demean this honor with less."
"You have written some things," the King continued, "in this book that seem to touch our family and certain persons of the court. But we shall not speak of that yet. Our personal fate is subject to God's will. It is of France that I would have you prophesy. What of our claims, what of our enemy's ambitions, how shall the glory of France be best advanced?"
"The lilies," the prophet told him, "will bloom for a great while and fill a larger garden. But I will not hide from Your Majesty that there will be troubled times and much bloodshed. But from each time of peril France will emerge greater, more powerful."
"A brave prophecy!" said the King. "The blood will no doubt be shed by Spain. Well, we expect that, though God be our witness that we have striven for peace."
"Not for long shall Spain hold her power," the prophet told him. "Her time is drawing to a close, though she will trouble France until she has passed her zenith, but her power will be surpassed by the English."
"England!" said the King in vast surprise. "An heretical people, whose rulers do not scruple to intrigue with those of the religion in France to foment sedition. The worst troubles in the history of France have been with England. I wish we might get Calais out of their hands!"
"Ah, that you will," Nostradamus told him, "and shortly. Calais, I promise you, shall return permanently to France."
Henry's eyes sparkled. "That is a forecast which tickles my ears. Now we are getting somewhere. Spain put down, and Calais back. Give us but Italy, those portions which rightly belong to France, and we shall be well content."
The prophet was silent, as the King looked at him expectantly.
"Well, Maitre Nostradamus, shall we gather in Milan, Naples and Sicily next year?"
"No, Sire. Success will not crown the war in Italy." The King's face clouded. "What! You contradict
yourself. If Spain is to weaken, nothing can stop France."
"Spanish power will not vanish in Your Majesty's lifetime, but in the lifetime of one of your sons. The Italian venture will prove costly and unprofitable."
"We shall change that forecast," said Henry aggressively, "and sooner, perhaps, than we shall take Calais. The Italian lands must come to the crown of France, and we shall lead Frenchmen to take them." The King's bold blue eyes challenged the prophet's reflective gray ones. As the prophet sat silent, the King said imperiously, "Such a matter touches the honor of the crown, and it is one which only the crown can decide."
"The future expansion of France," said Nostradamus, "will be toward the Rhine, toward which Your Majesty has already made a strong beginning." The great fortress of Metz had fallen to the French under Francis of Guise but a few years before.
"You think we shall get still more of that territory?" asked the King.
"I do, and that too is not far off. Those who now speak the French tongue under foreign sovereignty will be returned to their motherland."
"There is already enthusiasm for that policy," Henry remarked. "It is intolerable that men having this bond of our language should be subject to another rule. We have taken the matter greatly to heart. We rejoice to hear what you have to say of it."
It was during the reign of Henry II that the idea
was born that people speaking a common language should be united under one flag. France used the argument to justify her conquests toward the Rhine and Belgium. It was the same argument with which Adolf Hitler opened his campaign to seize Europe.
"How long shall England hold her power?" the King desired to know.
"More than three centuries," the prophet told him.
"Body of God!" cried the King, "and what will France be doing? Will there be no French kings to wrest the strength from England? Dare not to tell me of another Agincourt."
"There will be no Agincourt," the prophet assured him gravely. "France, too, shall be an empire of far-flung grandeur. Yet there will be one time when a great soldier will arise out of England and overflow the continent. France then will be in great danger. But there will be another Claude of Savoie to rescue France."
"The Governor of Provence so wrote me." The King rose and walked about the room, pleasurably excited. "I shall enjoy telling the Queen that. Her Majesty admires the teachings of her countryman, Machiavelli. She thinks I treat my nobles too well and will pay for it in their conspiracies for power. But I will not believe it of them. Men who not only give their lifehood to France, but unasked melt the white and the red from their tables, and take the last coin from their pouches for my needs! I prefer to rule such subjects through friendship, not severity."
"A feeling which does great honor to Your Majesty's character," said the prophet warmly. "And God will preserve his anointed kings of France who have Your Majesty's strength and goodness."
"I suppose there is no future danger to the continuance of the Capetian monarch," the King said questioningly. "Can you tell me how many more kings of France there will be?"
"There are twelve more to come of the line of the fleur de lis. The last of them shall be greater than Charlemagne. His glory shall light the firmament, and be long remembered of man."
"Only twelve!" cried the King. "And after twelve?" The King leaned forward in his chair.
"The whole world shall then greatly change, and for a long time there will not be peace between God and man."
The King was silent for a time, thoughtful. Then his mind reverted to the royal obsession.
"Tell me, Maître Nostradamus, touching this thing that men call fate, how far do you think it can be changed? You say that we shall not regain Italy. Well now, if I accepted that and made no effort, then we ourselves should be furnishing the cloth to make the cloak for your prophecy. But suppose we are unwilling to be so accommodating."
"The outcome would be the same in either case," the prophet said firmly. "Only in the former circumstance, Frenchmen's lives would be saved. As to your question about fate, it is my humble belief that prophetic
visions, when true, are not subject to change. I hold that they can only be perceived by the prophet because they have already transpired within the mind of Almighty God. Touching, however, the times, events and climates of which there is no prescience, these may perhaps be changed according to the will of man. God has given volition to man, and a measure of freedom in using it. Only when man misuses it does God deprive him of it and send disaster upon him."
"And have you seen our defeat in Italy?" persisted the King.
"With sorrow, Sire, I have."
"You may be right," the King admitted. "But I still shall not accept it." The prominent royal jaw set stubbornly. "To do so would make me a coward, traitorous to the just claims of my ancestors."
The King rose, this time in token that the interview was at an end. The prophet's gaze dwelt admiringly for a moment on the beautiful tapestries which covered the walls with their pictured story of the labors of Hercules.
"Were Hercules not a tapestry," he said to Henry, "but a living hero, what could he not learn with profit from a monarch whose tasks are greater and more glorious than were his."
The King smiled. "Hercules, at least, finished his work. I often despair of that. We have many more questions to ask you, Maitre Nostradamus, and we look forward to more conversations. Just now, though
[paragraph continues] I count myself a man of courage, I quail at the thought of how I shall be chidden if I keep you longer. The Queen, the Duchess of Valentinois, and Madame, my sister are all impatience to meet you. The Constable of Montmorency will continue to have you in his care. He will see that you have refreshment, and will then conduct you to other interviews. For the present, adieu."
204:* Translation from Ronsard by Morris Bishop.