By Graham Bradley
During the last eleven years of his life, the 16th century French physician and mystic, Nostradamus  compiled and published 900 verses purporting to be predictions of future events. Nostradamus recorded visions which came to him in the form of moving images in colour and with sound on the surface of a cauldron or bowl of water which he had subjected to secret occult practices. 
Fearing persecution by both Church and State in days when any perceived lapse from orthodoxy could well mean an appearance before the Inquisition, torture and the stake, Nostradamus noted down his experiences in code - a mixture of Old French, provincial dialects, Italian, Greek and Latin. Proper names were rendered in the form of anagrams, and often as anagrams of an archaic form of the names.
Having completed 14 "centuries" - each a book of 100 verses called "Quatrains", from their four line construction, Nostradamus then further muddied the waters by shuffling them out of the chronological order in which he had received his glimpses of the future. Consequently, the work in total is rather like a huge cryptic crossword, to which there are many possible solutions; the clues to which have fascinated many learned interpreters during the past 400 years, and given birth to a sub-class of Nostradamian literature.
Many of the interpretations supposedly identifying individual prophesies with actual events and with real people appear strained and contrived. However, many of the prophesies do appear to have been reflected in actual historical events and have aroused the interest of even the confirmed sceptic. The obvious difficulty in interpreting Nostradamus is with the enigmatic prose style which academics blessed with a knowledge of history and languages have attempted to decipher.
The layman has the choice of accepting the prophesies as having been written with mystic foresight, inspired guesswork, or with the aid of hallucinogens.
Nostradamus and Napoléon
The larger part of the prophesies deal with France and with Frenchmen.  Not the least of French personalities making a series of appearances in the attic room where Nostradamus conducted his forays into the future, was a personage commonly accepted by most commentators to be Napoléon Bonaparte. By shuffling the supposed Napoléonic prophesies into a chronological order, there may be detected by anyone so interested a distinct resemblance to the career of the founder of the First Empire.
Napoléon was a child of the Revolution - an epoch-shaking event to which several of Nostradamus' predictions have been linked:
"From the enslaved people, songs, chants and demands.
...in this verse the citizenry of Paris has taken to the streets, while the Royal Family is held in custody. The headless idiots are the early leaders of the Revolution who used their positions to betray its principles by instigating the Terror, and who themselves trod the path to Madame la Guillotine.
"When the litters are overturned by the storm
...the aristocracy lose their estates and privileges, and those unable to flee into exile lose their heads. The infant republic suffered greatly under the rule of Danton, Robespierre and Marat.  It is noted that in Nostradamus' day, the colour red was not yet associated with the idea of revolution or political agitation: not, in fact, until the Sans Culottes made red the colour of their cause.
The red-as-revolutionary theme is continued in the next quatrain:
...if "Cappe" is taken to be a version of Capet, the name of the French dynasty,  then the Revolutionaries indeed marched against them. The Royal Family was almost exterminated, and the extremist Jacobins defeated the moderate Girondins.
Thus the scene is set for the entry upon the stage of someone,
"Of a name which was never held by a French King
...in Nostradamus' day, the kings of France had been named Hugh, Francis, Charles, Henry, Robert, and the interminable Louis. The Napoléonic Eagle stands upon a heraldic thunderbolt, and it was to the rest of Europe that the terrible thunderbolt turned his attention. Although attention to foreign women may be laid at the door of any Royal personage, especially from a mediæval perspective, the Creole Joséphine, the Polish Marie Walewska, and the Austrian Marie Louise fit nicely into this quatrain. Then,
"An Emperor will be born near Italy
...Nostradamus knew, of course, of the ancient Greek and Roman Empires; and the Holy Roman Empire had been in existence since the year 962. But his use of the words "Empire" and "Emperor", rather than "King" and "Kingdom", is held to be significant. The Napoléonic campaigns and wars were fought, won and lost at the cost of millions of French lives - as well as those of Allied and Client states - a fact which finally permeated through those thick Saxon skulls at Leipzig.
"From a simple soldier he will aspire to Empire.
Rising from Lieutenant to Emperor, Napoléon exchanged along the way the short consular robe for the full panoply of Imperial splendour. An expert military tactician, he was also able to control the power of the Church to the extent that it was re-invented almost as an organ of the State; and the Pope, when not locked up somewhere, carried out the Emperor's bidding.
Thus Napoléon is established as the prophesied ruler of France, and in several other predictions the milestones of his career - "the most extraordinary that has occurred in a thousand years"  - are seen by Nostradamus 200 years in advance.
After the "whiff of grapeshot", the young Bonaparte arrived at Toulon in 1793. The town was occupied by the English, and the inhabitants had declared the Dauphin as Louis XVIII. Repositioning the artillery, Napoléon was instrumental in forcing the English under Admiral Hood to evacuate.
The first two lines of the next quatrain are generally thought to refer to Toulon. The quatrain is significant also for a characteristically Nostradamian device: the last two lines represent the overthrow of the Directory and then a 14 year period of power: a leap forward in time from from 1799 to 1814:
"From the marine tributary city,
Italy - and Egypt
Off then to the Italian campaign of 1795:
"The land of Italy near the mountains will tremble.
...while Napoléon re-draws the map of northern Italy with his ill-equipped troops, France and England are far from friendly. The Treaty of Amiens in 1802 brings a period of peace. The last line dives back into Italy, where Napoléon is spreading the principles of the Revolution, as interpreted by him, among the reconstituted feudal Italian states.
In 1796, Milan fell to the French after the famous, "Soldiers, you are ill-fed and half naked..." speech, which Nostradamus picks up clearly in the two following quatrains:
"Before the assault a speech is made.
...the Great Po is of course the Italian river, and thus represents the country.  Napoléon's feats there did not exactly delight the English Lion apropos its Mediterranean interests, and the stage is set for the Egyptian campaign of 1798:
"The fleet is wrecked near the Adriatic,
...here, we are led to believe, with some geographical licence, is the Battle of the Nile and the siege of Acre. The explosions at the Nile were enormous and horrific to eye witnesses. At the subsequent failed investing of Acre, Napoléon did send an emissary to demand surrender - and was rebuffed.
Paris, Empire and Victory
An outbreak of plague among the French caused a re-thinking of conquest policy. Napoléon changed direction, and in 1799 was back in France for the Coup d'Etat of 18 Brumaire, in which the Directors were caught in his political trap:
"The great swarm of bees will arise
...as First Consul, Napoléon takes up residence in the Tuileries - Nostradamus wrote, "les Treilhos" - the vines; and is surrounded by the trappings of high office.
Nostradamus' liberties with geographical locations, eg. the Adriatic versus the Nile, are taken as read when he picks up a transmission from the Peninsular Wars:
"Very near the great Pyrrenean Mountains,
Meanwhile, the French Army of England is camped in great comfort around Boulogne, waiting the invasion signal:
"Within Boulogne he will cleanse himself of sins.
...the temple of the Sun? Well, if one is prepared to believe that the Roman Temple of Apollo in London, which was destroyed in AD 154, lies somewhere deep under Westminster Abbey, then Napoléon never did get there.  Instead he marched east to chastise Tzar Alexander of Russia and the Emperor Francis of Austria at Ulm and Austerlitz.
...and then Decline
In 1812, the empty victory at Moscow, the disasters of the entire Russian campaign, and the limping back of the remnant of la Grande Armée into friendly territory is reflected in two quatrains:
"A host will approach from the Slav countries.
Part I is almost over. The Napoléonic Eagle is pursued by the European allied birds of prey, and the ailing Joséphine lives just long enough to see them enter Paris:
"The captive Prince conquered in Italy
...again some allowance is required for Nostradamus' geographical dyslexia. The foreigners (Bourbonnais) fled again, and the Imperial Eagle era entered its next and final phase, pausing for a vivid quatrain from Waterloo:
"He who was ready to fight will desert.
...most commentators associate the deserter with Grouchy, for his failure to march to the sound of the guns. However, Jim Greer of the Australian Napoléonic Society notes that this reference could be more appropriately linked to General de Bourmont, who defected to the Prussian lines at 7am on the morning of Waterloo, with his staff and the French Order of Battle. For his pains, de Bourmont was disbelieved and perpetually reviled.
The final three lines of the quatrain show Wellington triumphant, the last stand of Cambronne and the Old Guard, and the survivors dying in a France once again under the white cockade of Bourbon rule.
"The great Empire will soon be exchanged for a small place,
...again the use of the word "Empire." The Napoléonic Dominions were reduced to 47 square miles of windswept rock in the isolation of the South Atlantic where, a prisoner, Napoléon begins the creation of his own legend, until, either by the hand of Montholon or by natural causes, the sceptre is laid down.
Thus - Napoléon Prophesied?
Here at the sharp end of the 20th Century we may be amused, bemused, or intrigued by the jottings of a prophetic mystic who lived four hundred years ago.
The writings are certainly a Napoléonic curiosity, but their credibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Few books on Nostradamus encompass all 900 predictions. A complete set of translations by Erika Cheetham was published by Neville Spearman in the UK in 1973, quoting earlier works by Barzan, Fontbrune, Garencieres, Jaubert, Laver, le Pelletier, McCann, Rigaud, Siceloff and Torne.
References consulted include Alan Palmer, Vincent Cronin, Felix Markham, Carola Oman, and Mr Jim Greer.
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