Nostradamus, the Man Who Saw Through Time, by Lee McCann , at sacred-texts.com
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Blois, setting of royal splendors and tragic destinies.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE PROPHET in Paris had stimulated afresh the popular interest in his book. Everyone who had not seen it before was reading and talking about it now. Speculation centered particularly on a few of the quatrains that seemed to yield more promise of immediate fruition than the rest. There was one which spoke of a new king, crowned at Rheims when Saturn was in water, who would "slaughter the innocents." It would be in a water sign, Cancer, again in 1561. Was that the end of Henry II, and who were the innocents? Of course if 1561-3 went by and nothing happened, then the prophecy couldn't take place for another seven or eight years. But maybe something would happen, because there was that other verse about the old lion being killed, fighting in a golden cage. The astrologers had said Henry II would die in a duel, and only a king vv as privileged to wear gilded armor. Henry II didn't have long then, did he, they gossiped.
There was the verse, too, about the Bailiff of
[paragraph continues] Orleans. Would that be Jerome Groslot, the present bailiff? Condemned to die, deserving to, but saved from death--what could bring that about?
Then there was that wicked verse about Bossu. Everybody knew who that was--young Louis de Bourbon, the hunchback Prince of Condé. Well, the gossips said, he wouldn't be the first Bourbon to turn traitor and get shot for it. Already he was of the religion, like others of his family.
Bossu was then in Paris. While the fanfare of the prophet's arrival was being noised abroad, he dropped in at Admiral Coligny's quarters fuming with anger.
"You would think that God Himself had come to town," he raged. "The entire court, I hear, are making complete fools of themselves over this charlatan."
Coligny, his brother Francis d’Andelot and some other Protestant gentlemen who were present gave Condé ready agreement. D’Andelot said,
"The old sorcerer ought to be tied to the stake and a very slow fire lighted under him."
They spoke of what they considered the outrage of the quatrain about the Prince de Condé. One of the gentlemen had not heard it, and Condé repeated it:
A shocked silence greeted the words. Coligny's stern face was dark with pity and resentment as he looked at the brilliant young prince already important in Protestant councils. Louis de Bourbon, though hump-shouldered, was a very winning, virile figure. Women felt the charm of his merry blue eyes and clever, sensitive face. He was far from being a monster in appearance or character. The verse, mentioning his deformity in such bitter words, is the most bitingly cruel that Nostradamus ever wrote. Inasmuch as the young man was living and could not fail to see and recognize himself in the lines, it seems nothing short of vicious. Yet one has always to bear in mind that Nostradamus was a mediaeval Catholic, fanatically against the new heresy. He was, besides this, a political prophet who saw in the ambition of such men as Condé and Coligny the blade that would cleave France in twain, and he foresaw that the cleavage would never be completely healed, but would lead to untold tragedy and horror through the years. Condé had become to him the symbol of all that was twisted, hideous, and, from his point of view, false in the politico-religious scene rapidly developing into a death struggle between the Protestant and Catholic creeds. Nor did he see Condé as the gay young courtier whom others in that room saw and loved. He saw the later Condé, elected general by a council of Calvinist nobles. He saw the menace of his military genius, and he was glad that he could see the shot that put an end to him at the battle of Jarnac. Nostradamus could view
psychically with pitiless satisfaction this gallant fighter, his leg broken by a horse's kick, helpless on the ground, deliberately shot through the eye by Henry of Anjou's captain of the guard, just as the verse described it.
Francis d’Andelot thought Nostradamus could do a great deal of harm. Coligny took the opposite view. He said
"'What can he do but feed the hopes of those who are already doing all the harm they can? Francis of Guise already thinks himself the coming Charlemagne, and is out to crush us at the first opportunity. Besides, the more the court indulges in such superstitious, ungodly nonsense as this Maître Nostradamus purveys, the more quickly the intelligent masses will rally to our side."
"Has any of you seen this man?" asked one of the other gentlemen. It seemed none had.
"My dear uncle of Montmorency is shepherding him around," said Coligny disgustedly. "And my kinsman the Cardinal of Châtillon is like to burst with curiosity. I shouldn't be surprised if he paid his respects. Faugh!"
"I wonder if he has brought a vial of the Elixir of Life to Madame Diane," sneered d’Andelot.
"Does she need it?" asked Condé mockingly.
Nostradamus did not include in this first volume his bitter verses on Coligny; they came later. Coligny was at this time in no danger. He was the brave admiral of forty, needed and valued for his services in
spite of his religion. But Nostradamus had seen a vision of Coligny whitened by age, watched for three nights by the murderous thugs of Guise as he sat reading his Bible. He had seen, without a qualm, the old man murdered, his body insulted and mutilated. He believed that it was the ambition of these Protestant leaders rather than the faults of Church or Crown which would precipitate the nation's tragedy.
Naturally during Nostradamus’ visit Protestants were conspicuous at court by their absence, except a few drawn by curiosity to join those who gathered at the Louvre, or called to pay their respects and ask for consultation at the Hôtel de Sens, though Nostradamus had as yet no time except for royal audiences.
Next in order, after his interview with the King, had been his reception by the Queen. Catherine was accustomed to prophets. She had been brought up with them as a family tradition of the Medici, and she usually, since her marriage, patronized those who had a reputation. With Nostradamus she was calmly gracious and, as to the matter in hand, most practical and businesslike. There were certain definite things which she wanted if possible to learn. If Maître Nostradamus knew them and could tell her, Catherine was not at all concerned with whether he got his knowledge from God or Devil.
She received the prophet in company with the dauphin and Mary Stuart, his betrothed, to whom she presented Nostradamus.
"This is our son who will in time assume the royal
burdens of his father. And this is our dearly loved royal daughter of Scotland who will, as my son's wife, adorn the crown with her character and learning."
Nostradamus saw a frail boy of twelve, with a kindly, ineffectual face that showed neither mentally nor physically the making of a king. He felt his heart contract as he looked into the pure, sensitive face of the fair Scottish girl whose fate he foresaw. What awful troubles beauty could bring to nations! Mary smiled at him charmingly and greeted him with a brief salutation in Latin. She was nearly two years older than Francis and her poise and assured bearing were already that of a queen. There was little curiosity in her frank regard, and the prophet was glad to see that she was too young and too happy to be as yet mistrustful of fortune's favors. Francis looked bored with the meeting. Catherine sent them away after the introductions, explaining when they had gone that she had thought the meeting might make it easier for the prophet to frame their forecasts.
Old commentators have indulged in dramatic speculation as to what went on at the sessions between Catherine and the prophet. It was said by some that he "bodied forth the angel Anael" to predict for her, others said that he made the future pass before her eyes in a magic mirror. Such suggestions of midnight spells and mystic incantations are arrant nonsense of course. Catherine was too intelligent to expect anything of that kind.
Just as Henry's interest was in the extension of the
kingdom and in winning victories over other nations, Catherine was concerned with her particular problems which were of a different sort. Catherine's questions pertained to her personal power; there lay her difficulty. Her concern was on how to acquire power, which she had never possessed, what were its instruments which she could use to best advantage, and how could she most securely hold the power once she had obtained it. Undoubtedly she had accepted and thoroughly believed the prophecies of Henry's death, and she knew it might not be far off. As a practical woman she was making her plans to be ready, plotting her moves and policies that would pave the way for her ambition. Already she foresaw the coming struggle. She dreaded the influence which Francis of Guise and his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, would be able to use through their niece, Mary Stuart, when Mary became queen. If on the other hand, she, Catherine, played in with the Protestants to offset this, there was the predicted threat from the house of Bourbon-Navarre which the astrologers said would supplant the line of Valois. She saw herself between the frying-pan and the fire. She wanted a prophet who could show her a way out. She wanted assurance that the power she had waited for and dreamed of for years would be hers.
There had been plenty of prophecies made, and Catherine had written records of them all. Ruggiero she trusted, because he was from her home, and her family had long employed his family. But she wanted
a check-up on his predictions to see where this new man would confirm and where he would differ with Ruggiero's findings.
The Queen, without doubt, had ready for the prophet her entire collection of family birth-charts together with those of the Guise and Navarre families. In Catherine's secret archives, guarded by hidden panels, there probably reposed the most complete collection of court horoscopes to be found in Europe. A large part of Ruggiero's work would have been to keep the more important charts up-to-date in the matter of progressions, eclipses, mutations and significant transits. In this way the Queen could get a coup d’oeil of what might be expected. When the Navarre charts were in difficulties she could plan her course, either an attempt to further crush them, or win their gratitude with a helping hand. She could plot the rising curve of the Guises’ power and estimate how far it might go, at what time it would show weakness, when she might dare to attack it. However handy Ruggiero may or may not have been with poison and such accessories to Catherine's power as history has credited him with, he was a very fine scholar, and his astrological work must have been well organized and adequate. Catherine was herself an expert in this line and could put up a chart and read it with the best of them. Since this was a branch in which she was qualified and proud of her knowledge she would have wanted Nostradamus’ opinion on her charts, as well as in his own chosen field of prophecy.
She would have discussed with him her plan, which she later carried out, of building a private observatory at Blois and requested that he note the intended placing of it, when he went there, and tell her if he thought it good.
How Ruggiero regarded this new-risen star is not known. Like his mistress, he had been well schooled in repression over many years. He may have welcomed some new light on his heavy responsibilities to Catherine. At any rate, one may be sure that this suave, stately Italian scholar greeted his confrère in prophecy with all cordiality and placed the resources of his laboratory at Maître Nostradamus’ disposal.
What Nostradamus told the Queen in their first talks cannot even be surmised, except that it is known that Catherine was interested and impressed, but obviously she did not get all that she wanted to know. Whether the prophet hedged or not cannot be said. But Catherine requested him to go to Blois, where her other children were, in order to see them personally and make a closer prediction than he had so far made of their fates.
There must have been some delightful talks between these two keen minds, when prophecy was temporarily in abeyance. Catherine had an objective, intellectual grasp of many things to which emotionally she could not measure up. She could talk and write interestingly and with an impressively high moral tone, strikingly at variance with the cynical remarks made in other moods and with her actions.
Nostradamus’ travels in Italy would have interested Catherine, where he went, whom he met, what he thought of Italian alchemy and astrology. As a pope's niece she would have been particularly eager to question him about the two fine verses in which he prophesied that the Church would confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was done seven years later by the Council of Trent in 1563.
The Church had for some time been at work on various reforms with which to combat the theology of Luther and Calvin. Many people today do not realize that it was not until the time of the Council of Trent that the rite of the bread and wine became accepted as miraculous reality. These are the quatrains in which Nostradamus prophesied acceptance of this doctrine:
Nostradamus expressed his wish to visit while in the city the great shrines which were the sacred pride of Paris. The Queen approved this pious desire and assured him that the guardian prelates would be happy to show him their treasures.
The prophet's first night in Paris was destined to be a restless one. From early morning he had been in the thick of audiences and introductions, and he was still not rested from his wearing journey. With more such days ahead, his bed at the Hôtel de Sens looked very good, even to a man who required but little sleep. Late in the night he was disturbed by noise at his front door. Looking out from his window he saw one of the royal pages hammering in a youth-must-be-served fashion on the portal.
"What is it, page?" called out the prophet. "You are making a lot of noise about a lost dog. Go down the Orleans road and you will find your dog being led on a leash."
This page, who came of the aristocratic family of Beauveau, had lost one of his pedigreed hounds. Perhaps he wanted to show off to his friends that he wasn't afraid of the old prophet who, he would bet, wouldn't know where his hound was anyhow. But Nostradamus did know, and the excited boy found his dog being brought home on leash by a servant, just where Nostradamus had said, on the Orleans road. Such minor incidents caught popular fancy and spread the prophet's fame, because they could be understood better than his impressively puzzling stanzas.
Naturally the Seneschal Diane, and the King's sister, Marguerite of Valois, were not kept waiting for their turn with the oracle. Nostradamus was presented to these two ladies next in order after the royal audiences.
Diane de Poictiers was then a miracle of fifty-seven years. "The old hag," her enemies called her, attacking her in street verses of scurrilous ribaldry. But this missed its mark, for she was still beautiful, still the enchantress of the King. Some said that her secret was cold baths, some said it was sorcery--whichever it was, her "pretty and pompous dress," which was always of black and white, encased her northern fairness as the printer's art holds the time-defying lines of a love-sonnet. Perhaps the prophet paid her some such compliment. It was her daily meed, but coming from a fresh source it was always pleasant. She may have inquired if he meant to immortalize her in his prophecies, as Goujon did in his sculpture. If so, he might have told her,
"A prophecy dies when it is fulfilled. But true poetry lives forever. I, Your Grace, am a prophet telling of times and seasons. Your beauty belongs to poetry, which is timeless."
Nostradamus makes few mentions of women in his prophecies, and only in their capacity as heads of state. This seems strange in a country so politically affected by women throughout its history. Perhaps the prophet disapproved of this. Or it may have been his respect
for the Salic law of France forbidding women to rule in their own right, except as regent for a child.
Studying the pictured face of Diane, cool and strong like the women of old Germanic Gaul, one does not get the feeling that she would have been much interested in prophecy. She knew her strength. She could hold Henry. But with his passing her destiny would end. She had heard all about the prophecies of the King's duel and death. Did she really want to know if and when this would occur? Probably not.
In the King's sister, Marguerite, the prophet made a genuine and delightful friend. History does not tell a great deal of this princess, but it does say that she was witty and wise and learned. She was charmed with Nostradamus’ conversation and ideas. They talked together of books, personalities and public trends. Nostradamus had foreseen, and indicated in a verse not then published, the marriage, eventually, of Marguerite to Emmanuel-Philibert, Duke of Savoy. He would have taken delight in informing the lively princess of the admirable and apparently happy match in store for her, and also in sketching the illustrious future of the house of Savoy destined long after to rule a united Italy.
"My brother, the King, has wanted Piedmont for years," Marguerite said. "I shall tease him about my conquest of Savoy, where his armies have failed."
Nostradamus did not tell her that the event of her betrothal to the Duke would also be the sad occasion of her brother's death in the midst of a gay tournament
staged to celebrate the marriages of Marguerite and the King's young daughter, Elizabeth.
"Maître Nostradamus," Marguerite told the prophet seriously, "I shall see you again after you leave Paris. This is not the end of the friendship which you inspire in me. But there are too many people trying to talk to you now. It is bad enough with all those of my own sex appealing to your prophetic gifts, but when I must also compete with my brother and all the gentlemen of the court to get a word with you, what chance have I to talk of the things I long to know? I am going to seek you out some day in Salon!"
Nostradamus smiled indulgently at the charming young woman.
"The royal Pearl of Paris would be a glorious jewel for Provence to honor."
"You turn a compliment," the princess said, "as neatly as any courtier, yet you have spent your years far from the court."
"It is because we Provençals live in the sun, and we know that in France the sun and the monarchy are one."
Throughout the Centuries the prophet's favorite and radiant symbol for the French monarchy is Le Sol. In astrology the sun is held to rule kings in general, but the prophet applies the meaning only to the sovereign of his own country.
"I shall pick a time to come to Salon," Marguerite continued, "when all the gentlemen have gone to war, and all the ladies are occupied with children. And I
shall hope, Maître Nostradamus, that all your patients will be cured. And then we shall talk, and talk!"
It was to be some time before the democratic Marguerite made good her promise, but she meant it, and eventually she did find her way to the prophet's door in Provence.
The Queen was impatient to have Nostradamus go to Blois and see the other children.
"We have not yet asked you, Maître Nostradamus," Catherine said to him, "concerning your two verses which appear to refer to our children. But surely you understand how they disturb us. It may be that when you have seen and studied all of the children, you will be able to give us an encouraging report. The health of the dauphin gives cause for anxiety, but he is young, and our physician, Ambroise Paré, thinks that he may outgrow his delicate constitution. The other children are sturdy and promising. But since, as you know, we have already been saddened by the loss of three children, a mother's heart beats in anxious solicitude for the others."
"Indeed, Madame, I comprehend that," Nostradamus gravely assured her.
Blois is about a hundred miles southwest of Paris, which meant another not inconsiderable trip for the prophet. He probably traveled in a ponderous, much begilded royal coach, but the trip required more than two days on the road. Still, it was August, with fair, warm weather, and the country, delightful all the way, was enchanting the nearer he came to the banks of
the Loire. When the plateau of the palace at last loomed before his eyes and he had his first sight of the castle, its fabulous size and the enormous dignity of its towers and broad flat roofs seemed to him, more than any other building in France, to symbolize the might of the monarchy.
The kings of France always loved the banks of the Loire for their country residences, and of all the beautiful castles they built there, Blois is the one which bears the most regal stamp of the magnificence of the Orleans and Valois princes. It was set on a triangle-plateau separated from the town by a stream. Its position was isolated and formerly a strongly defended one. But its military strength was now more apparent than real, and perhaps this, too, was a symbol of the Valois dynasty which had made the latest contributions to its architectural splendor. We would like to know to which room in this vast pile the major-domo directed the steps of the prophet. All that is certain is that it was in the most modern wing, which Francis I had built, and which housed the apartments and guest rooms of the present royal family. The private rooms all faced north to escape the heat. Their balconied, arcaded windows looked out over the country of the Vendômois and the moats of the town. It was in the midst of the carved and frescoed magnificence of one of these rooms that Nostradamus was installed.
As the prophet followed the steward to his apartment, he hardly knew where to look, so bewildered was his vision by the multiplicity and variety of fantastic
beauty. The stone staircase which he mounted wound upward through a hexagonal hollow tower, "an arabesque device invented by giants and executed by dwarfs to give the effect of a dream. The delicate, ingenious marvels of workmanship are like super-wrought, deeply cut Chinese ivories." So Balzac describes the staircase which the prophet is now ascending. As he mounts he can see further and further over the Loire, its living color framed in the pale, elaborate artifice of stone.
The apartments of Catherine and Henry occupied the entire first floor. The monarchs spent, however, little time at Blois, for Henry preferred other châteaux. Not until his death would Blois resume its historic role as the setting for the royal drama. When Nostradamus had rested and had something to eat he asked to see the royal children, whose laughter had already reached him from some unseen play-nook.
Blois was well staffed while the children were in residence. Besides the major-domo and his staff, there was a confessor who looked after the spiritual welfare of the young charges and the household. Each of the children had a personal nurse. Over the nurses were Madame de Curton, the governess of the three little girls, a woman whose superior virtues and abilities were eulogized in the writings of the day; and the Abbé Amyot, the instructor of the three boys, who would one day be the source of a bitter quarrel between Charles IX and Catherine, through the young king's love and loyalty toward his childhood teacher.
The confessor and the two instructors welcomed Nostradamus cordially. They, too, were used to prophets. Their young charges had been horoscoped and studied by owlish men of purported wisdom ever since their birth. To them, Nostradamus, whatever his reputation, was just one more of the same. Each was so devoted to the royal charges and so loved in return, that to imagine fate as ever cruel to these lovely children was more than their simple faith could compass. The prophet quickly established friendly relations by encouraging them to talk about the children. Enthusiastically they told him in what this one excelled, how modest the deportment of that one, and where another needed curbing. The Princess Elizabeth was so fine a Latin scholar, Madame de Curton vowed, that soon she would rival the young Queen of Scotland. Claude, it seemed, was somewhat stubborn, like her father, but with her mother's good sense. As for baby Margot, the whole staff adored her. The Abbé Amyot allowed Madame de Curton to take the floor, and when she asked in what arrangement Maitre Nostradamus would like to see the children, Amyot said promptly,
"Ladies first. Display your charges, Madame."
Elizabeth, the eldest of the daughters of Catherine and Henry, was at this time eleven years old. Nostradamus was charmed with the singular sweetness and strength of her young face, which still glows through the stiff conventionality of her portraits. It was this quality which so captivated Philip II of Spain, three years later, that he married her, although she was
intended for his son. "He cut the ground under his son's feet," writes Brantôme, "and took her for himself, beginning all charity at home."
Catherine, who had expected, after Elizabeth's marriage, to pump her advantageously about the state affairs of Spain, ran up against a sense of honor rare in the Valois family. Elizabeth refused to betray Spanish confidence. She was only twenty-three when she died, and about her passing has always hung the dark aura of suspicion. Philip may not, as was reported, have poisoned his charming young wife out of jealousy of his mad son, Carlos. But the legend that he did has persisted.
She smiled on the prophet and gave him her carefully coached greeting in faultless Latin, which he praised to Madame de Curton's content. Then he talked to Elizabeth a little of her studies and her interest in flowers.
Mademoiselle Claude, who was nine, came next. She would grow up to marry the Duke of Lorraine, and to try, weeping, to shield her newly married little sister, Margot, from the horror of blood on Saint Bartholomew's night. Her life lacked the spectacular elements of the other two daughters, for which she was doubtless grateful. She, too, made her little Latin speech, but was more reserved than the frank Elizabeth.
Baby Margot was only three years old. Nostradamus had met the two older girls in one of the formal
galleries. Now Madame de Curton guided the prophet to the nursery in the Queen's apartments, which occupied the first floor. These rooms had formerly been those of Queen Claude, the wife of Francis I. They were still adorned with her delicate sculpture of double C's, with a device in pure white of swans and lilies signifying her motto Candidior Candidis, the whitest of the white. The entire apartments were gorgeously furnished, and to the heavier pieces were added a profusion of little inlaid and silver tables, ivories, enamels and other objets d’art, which were for the most part of Italian workmanship.
Baby Margot was already a siren and knew it. She stopped playing with her doll when the governess and Nostradamus entered, and came running toward them. She tossed her cloud of blue-black curls, and used devastatingly her roguish brown eyes at the visitor. She chattered with adorable fearlessness to the strange, grave man and promptly claimed another conquest.
"Is she not beautiful! Is she not an angel!" cried Madame de Curton, while the nurse stood by, beaming with the same adoration.
La Reine Margot! The dry pages of history still tingle electrically with memories of her beauty, her grand romantic glamour, her loves, and her tragedies. Yet something of all the future sadness which he perceived, too, came momentarily into the prophet's eyes, causing the governess to exclaim anxiously.
"You will see no misfortune for my little ones, Maître Nostradamus? You will foretell only happiness? Surely they are too good and sweet for anything else. Is not each one a little queen of hearts?"
"Alas, Madame," the prophet told her, "hearts are the most uncertain of all thrones. But you may be very sure that your pupils will grow up to reflect every credit upon your admirable teaching, in the exalted positions which all three shall fill."
Madame de Curton and the nurse exchanged pleased looks. They read into the prophet's words their own interpretation, the fulfilled picture of a wish, so different from the realization.
Later Nostradamus walked in the gardens with the Abbé Amyot, and saw the three boys at their play. Charles, Duke of Orleans, and Henry of Anjou, were but six and five years old, and the little Duke of Alençon was a baby of two years. Nostradamus’ quick perception noted the nurse in charge of the eldest boy, Charles, a deep-bosomed northern type with a face of endless patience and brooding calm. When she looked at the little boy, the prophet saw a passionate depth of devotion such as one seldom sees except in the expression of the actual mother. He mentioned it to the Abbé.
"Yes," the Abbé replied. "It is so, and she is a superb nurse. It is unfortunate that she is a Huguenot, but she handles the child, who is high-strung, so wonderfully that the Queen will not let her go. The little prince, doctor, is going to make a splendid man," the
[paragraph continues] Abbé told him, smiling. "Look at his fine, honest blue eyes, the noble set of his head."
A sick feeling swept over the prophet like a spiritual nausea. He turned away from the Abbé lest it should show in his face.
This manly little child was the monarch he had seen in his visions. "The savage king," he had called him. He was to be the one who would mount the throne when Saturn came into water. He it was who would "slaughter the innocents." Dear God, that loving, happy little boy, become the bloodstained man at the palace window holding an arquebus in his hand trained on Frenchmen! The Abbé was talking on, extolling the qualities of his charge, but Nostradamus did not hear him. A tiger-kitten that licked the hand of the man who fed him could one day tear that man to bloody bits. So it would be with this child. And those who fed the tiger his first meat, they were to blame, too.
Henry of Anjou, with two small dogs leaping about him, came shyly up and stood by his teacher's knee and fixed his big violet eyes on Nostradamus.
"Our young lord of Anjou is a fine prince too." Amyot stroked Henry's wind-ruffled hair affectionately, yet his tone told the prophet that Charles was his favorite.
"Who are you?" the child wanted to know of Nostradamus.
And who are you? The prophet's thoughts echoed in suffering, the child's words. A man stood mistily
between him and the boy. A man with a weary, cynical, painted face and a dagger in his hand. He could smell the perfume of his silken clothes. This was the man that Henry of Anjou would be. Only the little dogs playing at his feet were unchanged. It was unbearable. Abruptly Nostradamus got up from the stone bench where he and the Abbé were resting and walked toward the infant Duke of Alençon, who was learning his first steps. The faltering efforts stopped at his approach, and eyes that were too solemn above a nose too long for a baby fixed themselves intently upon him.
"He is doing well with his steps," the nurse said proudly. "Soon he will walk alone."
And one day to perdition and an early death, was the prophet's bitter reflection. He recalled the words of Machiavelli: "It is probable that the atmosphere is full of intelligences which announce the future out of commiseration for mortals." What of commiseration was there in foresight such as this? Nearer was he to calling his gift cursed than ever in his life. Suddenly he wished to be away from Blois. A mist of blood seemed to wreathe the castle and tint the pallid stone. He would have ordered the coach and returned to Paris but that it was late afternoon. Not until morning could he leave. The Abbé noticed his abstraction and restless movements. Tactfully he suggested that the prophet might need a little rest and reflection before they supped. Nostradamus was glad to agree, he wanted to be alone.
He should have changed that line, he thought. Their ancestors should rejoice for France, to see the dropping of such rotted fruit.
That evening the prophet ate little. He summoned his self-control and talked with brilliance. But he retired to his room early. He said that he was a night-owl and asked if it would be disturbing if he should roam about the castle in the late hours. The others, having heard that such visions as his usually came by night, were a little awed by his request. He was assured that he would be free to ramble, and the guard should be so instructed. Yes, the castle was all open, he could go where he liked.
Deep in the night, while all but the guards were sleeping, the prophet left his room and by the light of a lonely candle traversed the dim length of empty corridors to the moon-haunted chapel of the ancient kings of Blois who had built their temple to God in an age of surer faith. As he went his way down endless stretches of chilly stone, the ghosts of the past and the ghosts of the future peopled the shadowed halls. Out of the blackness gleamed faintly old crowns of
pointed gold above stern faces, or was it a pattern of yellow moonlight? Surely the presence of Louis XII, who had so loved this castle, was near, with that of his friend, the Cardinal d’Amboise. Near, too, was the dagger, not yet forged, which would strike down young Balafré, the Guise. And here walked Catherine, the Queen, and the pale young dauphin with reproachful eyes upon his mother. From farther in the future peered the fat face of the other Medici, Marie, with treacherous d’Epernon. Some seemed to follow the prophet within the chapel, others whose hands were red, halted outside the door.
The prophet entered and knelt before the Christ and Virgin, dim in the uncertain candlelight. His fingers touched the beads of his rosary, his lips moved in prayer. The candle burned lower, guttered into blackness, unnoticed by the man whose ceaselessly moving lips pleaded for pity on the seven children of the King.
In the morning Nostradamus said farewell to Blois and left for Paris. He was beginning to feel the strain of all he was experiencing. On the way back his mind was busy with his coming interview with the Queen. Carefully he composed the answers he would make to her questions. He knew he could satisfy her ambitions. But if she asked his guidance and advice that would be difficult. There was so little to be said that would be acceptable to her or that she would follow. He sighed heavily as he thought how futile was, after all, such a gift as his to change conditions.
Catherine, who had been impatiently awaiting his
return, sent for him at once on hearing that he was back. No one knows what took place at that interview. The Venetian ambassador, Lorenzo, writing in 1560, refers to Nostradamus’ forecast to Catherine as very well known in France, and as predicting that her three eldest sons would all occupy the throne. The ambassador speaks of this as a prophecy which menaced the lives of the princes, since their succession could only come about through death. Many commentators have quoted this accepted story of what Catherine heard from the prophet. It would, if true, however, have been but a small part of the amplitude of information which Catherine would have demanded. All that we really know of what Nostradamus predicted are his brilliantly accurate, published verses. That, and one thing more. He satisfied the Queen and retained her confidence and friendship. Had this not been the case she would not have sought him out again, as she did.
The interview over, Nostradamus returned to the Hôtel de Sens a sick man. His foot was paining him with what appeared to be a somewhat serious attack of his enemy the gout. The food in Paris had been very hard on him. It was heavy, with too much meat, spices and sweets. He missed his green vegetables, garlic and simple, wholesome stews that he had at home, and his wife's good housekeeping. He was sick at heart, too, in the midst of all the adulation he was receiving. Paris was filled with greed, ambition and wickedness. She was like Agrippina, the mother of Nero. And Paris would pay for her sins, and then the
whole of France would be involved and would suffer. He saw it coming with dreadful clarity of vision.
His foot swelled and grew steadily worse. He had to take to his bed, hating it, and remain in it helpless for ten days. The acid condition induced by change of diet and water combined with the long traveling and emotional strain of Blois were too much for him. He could no longer stand what he used to. Everyone was wonderfully kind to him in his illness. The King and Queen sent constant inquiries for his welfare, and each sent a purse heavy with a hundred gold écus. The Princess Margaret came to see him and sent him more of the indigestible food and heating wines of which he could not partake.
Ronsard sent him a tribute of verses, which pleased him greatly, likening him to an antique oracle and rebuking the scoffers. This more than offset the Latin distych of Jodelle, another famous poet of the day, who attacked Nostradamus with this punning rhyme:
Which means, though it has a double interpretation with a play on the name,
His friends countered in this merry, malicious little war with a couplet using almost the same words but changed enough to give an opposite meaning.
The Hôtel de Sens was busy receiving and answering inquiries from the stream of callers that came and went all day. Scholars, physicians, prelates mingled with the courtiers in their puffed and slashed velvet costumes, their jewels and feathers. As soon as Nostradamus felt well enough, he received some of the more important of these visitors in his room.
Of the notables who prayed the exercise of his vision, the great Duke Francis of Guise was not to be denied, nor his crafty brother, the dark Cardinal of Lorraine. Even more than the Bourbons, these two were the most ambitious men in the kingdom. As the uncles of Mary Stuart, they seemed in a fair way to realize the dreams of their house, if and when the King did pass on in a duel, and the dauphin, Mary's betrothed, came to the throne. Duke Francis, the hero of the siege of Metz, was the military idol of France. A very handsome, very haughty man, he claimed descent from Charlemagne, and had pretensions to the throne itself. He had married Anne d’Este, a granddaughter of Louis XII, and daughter of the tolerant, scholarly Renée, Duchess of Ferrara. The Duke brought his wife with him, both eager for a forecast for their son Henry, whom Henry III was one day to murder in the castle of Blois.
"My mother, the Duchess of Ferrara, has rare skill with astrology," the Duchess of Guise told the
prophet. "I have known her tell marvelous things. I wish that she might return to France if only for the mutual pleasure which she and the Queen might have in. such discussion."
When Renée did return several years later, one of the few bright spots in her life was the conversations which she and Catherine had on the subject of the stars in the Queen's new observatory at Blois.
Both the Duc de Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine plied the prophet with questions. Nostradamus predicted a considerable advance in the Guise fortunes. He would scarcely have courted trouble from these fierce, proud, determined men by revealing the ultimate tragedy of their house, but he has set it down in his verses with a full sense of its dramatic significance and its disaster to France.
If he had told them that they would lose to the Bourbons, then very weak, they would probably have scoffed at him. Their star was then too powerful for the concept of defeat to enter into their minds.
The gout wore off slowly, but at last Nostradamus was free of it for the time being, and in spite of all flattery and solicitation, he was anxious to return to Salon. Nor would he be deterred. His room at the Hôtel de Sens looked like a dream of Christmas, so loaded was it with presents of every description. Some of the King's servants packed them for him, while he, himself, packed his valued ink horn and writing materials, his treasured Aristotle and the other simple needs he had brought.
César Nostradamus, writing of these gifts, after his father's death, says of them:
"As to the honors, royal gifts, and presents of jewels which he received from their Majesties, I would rather have their list on the tip of my tongue than to give myself the exquisite pleasure of relating them, fearing lest I should say more than modesty permits."
When all was in readiness for departure, Nostradamus went to the Louvre to say his farewells to royalty.
"Your Majesty," he told the King with genuine feeling, "I never thought that I should envy any man. Yet now I find myself very much envying those who have the gift of ready and golden speech. Lacking this I am but helpless to express my opinion of Your Majesty's grandeur and generosity of nature, and of the kindness which I, your humblest servant, have received from you. The treasures of gifts which your royal goodness has bestowed on me are even surpassed by the treasure of royal memories which I take away with me to brighten all my years."
The King smiled at him with genial regard.
"We have, Maitre Nostradamus, one more, and I think well deserved, token of our favor. You are herewith appointed by us to the rank of Physician-in-Ordinary and Councilor to ourself."
The prophet, deeply moved, bowed low. "Your Majesty, I am overcome with this further honor."
"We have enjoyed your visit," the King said, "and
hope to profit by those matters in which you have advised us. Now, the Queen is waiting to see you."
Catherine, like Marguerite, told the prophet, "We shall see you again, Maître Nostradamus, and meanwhile you may hear from us by letter touching some further service which you can render, or some point on which we can better act through your advice."
The last farewell was finally said, the last handshake given. Over the bridge the way led, past the soot-blackened beauty of Notre Dame and the Ile de la Cité, across to the left bank, and the road to Lyons. Nostradamus looked back at the spires and towers of Paris, scene of his proudest triumph. He lifted his hand in salute to the city.
"Vale Lutetia! Ave Salona!"