Nostradamus

Introduction
There has been a lot in recent years about Nostradamus and the supposed accuracy of his 946 quatrains to predict the future. This web page is for those people who doubt the validity of Nostradamus's prophecies, and want some way to argue it with the True Believers.

The quatrain below is one that helped to make Nostradamus's reputation:

The young lion will defeat the old one,
In the field of battle in single combat,
He will pierce his eyes in a cage of gold,

Two wounds in one, and then a cruel death.

In 1559, Henry II of France died from a freak accident that occurred during a tournament: the lance of a competitor, Gabriel de Montgomery, shattered and a piece of the lance flew through the eyeslit of Henry's helm. It took Henry a week to die a very painful death.

Here is what the True Believers claim:

  1. 'Old lion' is obviously Henry, since the lion is the symbol for royalty.
  2. Henry had a gold helm, so that's obviously the 'cage of gold', and his eyes were definitely pierced.
  3. Dying after a week in pain is certainly a 'cruel death.'

Sounds convincing, doesn't it?

The Other Prophecy
Except for a few details. First, Nostradamus specifically made a prophecy that Henry would have a long and prosperous reign: this was a clear prophecy, specifically for the king, and not some quatrain that could apply to anyone, anywhere. We have to ignore this very specific prophecy of Nostradamus (or ask the pertinent question of, "If this prophecy was wrong, why should we believe that any of his other prophecies are correct?").

The Young and the Old
One gets the impression from the True Believers that Henry was a doddering old man, while Montgomery was a teenager, thereby making it clear that we have the "young" and the "old" lions. Except this isn't even remotely true. Henry was all of 40 years old. "But in those days, that was old!" say the True Believers. "The average lifespan was only 40 years old!" I won't go into the statistical details (they're available in any book on statistics), but that "average lifespan" calculation is based largely on the enormous (and depressing) rate of infant deaths: a lot of "people" died at the age of 0.5. If you lived to your 20th birthday, you had a good chance (if you were male and not subject to the dangers of childbirth) of living until you were 60.

And even if you claimed Henry, at 40, was old, there is the prosaic fact that Montgomery was 30 years old! Old lion? Maybe, but Henry probably wouldn't have considered himself to be old. And there is no way that you could call the 30 year old Montgomery a young lion.

The Lions
The idea that the 'lions' are obviously the king and Montgomery stems from the idea that the lion is the royal animal. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Montgomery was actually a prince (he wasn't, but "The young animal-of-some-other-type will defeat the old lion" doesn't have the same ring to it, so maybe Nostradamus was employing poetic license), we might ask whether or not the French use the lion as the royal animal. According to True Believers, both Montgomery and Henry used lions as their heraldic symbol.

If so, they grabbed the wrong armor. The heraldic symbol of the kings of France had been the fleur-de-lis for centuries by the time of Henry; there were no lions anywhere on the king's heraldry. Montgomery, too, had a heraldic device with a fleur-de-lis.

Pierce His Eyes
What about the pierced eyes? Actually, the lance pierced Henry's eyeslit. Henry actually died from wounds to the forehead and throat. Nasty, yes, but pierced eyes, no.I'll grant that this gives Nostradamus his "two wounds in one".

Cage of Gold
As for the "golden helm": total fantasy. You would never make a helm out of gold for two reasons: first, it would be so heavy that you wouldn't be able to move your head without a tremendous amount of effort (gold is nearly twice as dense as iron). Second, it would be so soft that it would offer little to no protection against a blow.

Henry's helm might have had a bit of gold trim on it. If you look at historical examples of such helms, though, the overwhelming sense of color you get is that these helms are black (to make the gold show better).

So What Did Catherine Think?
There is one unexplained issue: after Henry's death, Nostradamus did become Catherine's astrologer, and (the True Believers demand) why would Catherine do so unless she believed in the accuracy of his prophecies? There's an easy answer that the True Believers won't like: Catherine needed someone to turn to.

Here's a quick history lesson. Catherine de Medici was orphaned at the age of one month, and was raised by the Pope, spending her early life in various abbeys around Italy. At the age of 14, she left Italy forever to go live in a strange country: France. Henry's death left her a stranger in a strange land with three children to care for and no one to turn to. She desperately needed someone to tell her that her sons would grow up to be strong and successful. Nostradamus did tell her this (and was, once again, completely wrong, as all three of her sons died at young ages, ending the Valois line of French kings).

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