Marie Anne Lenormand

Marie-Anne Lenormand. “…taken from an engraving at the Bibliotheque Imperiale, in Paris, believed to be the only authentic likeness of her in existence.” From The Court of Napoleon by Frank Boott Goodrich.

One of France’s most famous early cartomancers and professional fortune-tellers though the Revolutionary period, Marie-Anne Adélaïde Lenormand (or Le Normand) (1772-1843) was not just or primarily a cartomancer, but also used palmistry and other techniques for divination. For Tarot, she used the Etteilla deck.

Orphaned in Childhood

Marie-Anne was still a young girl when her mother died, leaving her with her father and sister and brother. Father remarried, but when he died soon after, Marie-Anne and her brother and sister were left in the care of their step mother. When her step mother remarried, the three little Lenormands were now entirely in the care of parents who had no blood relation to them, but who nonetheless arranged for proper schooling, with the result that Marie-Anne was sent off to a succession of schools.

“Man has need of something wonderful. It is better for him to seek it in religion than in Mademoiselle Lenormand.” –Napoleon on Religion and Lenormand.

Little Diviner

Showing psychic ability at the age of seven, and interested in many forms of divination from an early age, at the Benedictine convent, she recklessly but correctly prophesied the termination of the mother superior’s position and predicted who her successor would be. This was one of her first notable successful predictions, and got her into trouble (and not for the last time). It’s not wise to antagonize the rich and powerful and embolden their enemies. It is risky to promise bad fortune, or to be seen to gain influence over the rich and powerful. For this reason (she wrote), Napoleon Bonaparte resented her later influence over his wife, Josephine de Beauharnais.

Went to Paris

In time she was apprenticed to a milliner. At the age of 14, Lenormand persuaded her step-mother to allow her to go to Paris to seek her fortune. Her step-father had her placed at a shop where she learned some book keeping and arithmetic.

“She asserted that Ptolemy, Plato, Galen, and in modern times, Lavater, regarded chiromancy as an exact science, and even treated of it in their writings at length. She resolved to adopt divination and hermetic science as a profession. She adopted, as its regular and avowed bases, somnambulism, magnetism, astrology, chiromancy, and physiognomy. The white of eggs, though, according to Suetonius, of Roman origin; coffee grounds, though not, as she said, without scientific and chemical authority; the divining rod, though a time-honoured tradition, dating from Circe and Medea; and numerous other practises which she considered degrading and superstitious, were severally rejected. She also rejected cartomancy, or the art of reading cards. It is true that she used cards, but this was merely cabalistically, for the sake of the figures upon them, and to aid her in numerical processes. She made her first important prediction at the age of seventeen, at the moment when Louis XVI. convoked the States-General. She foretold the downfall of that monarchy which numbered eight centuries of existence, the dispersion of the clergy, and the suppression of the convents.” —Lenormand took a serious approach to her art. The Court of Napoleon; or Society Under the First Empire with Portraits of its Beauties, Wits, and Heroines. P. 320. Frank Boott Goodrich.

Little Scrivener

Shortly after she was able to set herself up at 5 rue de Tournon1) as a bookseller and secretary which operated as a front for her fortune-telling enterprise. There she prospered as a fortune teller during the French Revolutionary period.

She acquired considerable fame, partly due to a knack for self-promotion and a later writing career, but also because of her reputation, and the famous names which came to her door. Over the years she told the fortunes of many of France’s royal and revolutionary elite. Among her clients were the Princess de Lamballe, the Superintendent of the Queen Marie Antoinette’s’ Household; Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the Comte de Mirabeau; Robespierre, the ill-fated Deputy of the Committee of Public Safety; the diplomat Talleyrand; Prince Metternich, and Czar Alexander of Russia.

Little Prisoner

Her mother and father had been proud royalists, and early in her career young Marie-Anne joined in a plot to get Marie Antoinette out of prison (she says), but was arrested and imprisoned herself. While in prison she was handed a note from another prisoner, a white Creole woman from Martinique, who had heard of Marie-Anne’s remarkable predictions, and wanted some answers herself.

The Woman was a Lady

Madam de Beauharnais, known as Rose, was the wife of a French aristocrat, Alexandre François Marie de Beauharnais, Vicomte de Beauharnais (28 May 1760 – 23 July 1794). He was a General and had been president of the National Constituent Assembly. Accused of failing to adequately defend Mainz, he was picked up by the police in March 1794 during the Reign of Terror and imprisoned.

Rose had been picked up shortly after, both accused of being enemies of the Revolution: two of the many victims of the chaotic and murderous battle of terror being waged by the revolutionary dictatorship. Along with many other political prisoners, she was anxious to have her fortune told. Rose was a little superstitious.

Empress of the French

Marie-Anne replied to say that after terrible misfortune, Rose would recover, marry a soldier, and would follow him on his rise to the top.

Soon fulfilling the dire first prediction, Rose’s first husband, unluckily, was guillotined. Five days later the Terror ended with the trial and execution of Robespierre, and the end of the Committee of Public Safety (according to Lenormand she had previously warned him). Within days, Rose was released along with Marie-Anne, and many other lucky survivors of the cruel Reign of Terror.

The Dead Don’t Complain

Rose soon sought out Marie-Anne at her place at 5 rue de Tournon, and continued to patronize the fortune teller even after Rose (now known as Joséphine, a name her new soldier husband preferred) became the first Empress of the French. As predicted, Rose’s new husband, Napoleon Bonaparte, had made his way to the top.

‘On one occasion M’lle Lenormand was summoned by Fouché to his cabinet. He reproached her for the aid and comfort she had given to the Bourbons by her late predictions. She paid no attention to his complaints, being engaged in shuffling a pack of cards, and muttering from time to time, “The knave [Jack] of clubs!” He then said that he intended to send her to prison, where she would probably remain a long time. “How do you know that?” she returned. “See, here is the knave of clubs again, and he will set me free.” “Oh, ho! the knave of clubs will set you free, will he? And who is the knave of clubs?” “The Duke de Rovigo, your successor in office.”‘–Lenormand takes on the Minister of Police. The Court of Napoleon; or Society Under the First Empire with Portraits of its Beauties, Wits, and Heroines. P. 324. Frank Boott Goodrich.

Long Career

Marie-Anne Lenormand had a long career as a fortune teller through several French revolutions, and was imprisoned several times, something that wasn’t surprising given the mood of the times and her royalist leanings. What may be surprising is that, more than Cagliostro, she was popular at a time in French history when superstition was supposed to be passé, when religion was weakened, and when good citizens were supposed to be dedicated to reason and virtue above all.

Fortune, Fraud or Fantasy?

While biographers are careful to note that many of the best stories about Mlle. Lenormand stem from her own writings, and are unsupported, she was not tainted by accusations of fraud like Cagliostro and many others who plied similar trades. Her profession was not strictly legal and her association with the powerful elements of French politics during a time of civil war put her in a position to be a spy and a manipulator, and to be presumed to be one, as she was, by the Revolutionary Committee and by Napoleon himself, who distrusted her influence over his wife.

“…It was impossible for imagination to conceive a more hideous being. She looked like a monstrous toad, bloated and venomous. She had one walleye, but the other was a piercer. She wore a fur cap upon her head, from beneath which she glared out upon her horrified visitors.

The walls of the room were covered with huge bats, nailed by their wings to the ceiling, stuffed owls, cabalistic signs, skeletons—in short, everything that was likely to impress a weak or superstitious mind. This malignant-looking Hecate had spread out before her several packs of cards, with all kinds of strange figures and ciphers depicted on them. Her first question, uttered in a deep voice, was whether you would have the grand or petit jeu, which was merely a matter of form. She then inquired your age, and what was the colour and the animal you preferred. Then came, in an authoritative voice, the word “Coupez,” repeated at intervals, till the requisite number of cards from the various packs were selected and placed in rows side by side. No further questions were asked, and no attempt was made to discover who or what you were, or to watch upon your countenance the effect of the revelations.

She neither prophesied smooth things to you nor tried to excite your fears, but seemed really to believe in her own power. She informed me that I was un militaire, that I should be twice married and have several children, and foretold many other events which have also come to pass, though I did not at the time believe one word of the sibyl’s prediction.” —Mademoiselle Le Normand, in Celebrities of London and Paris, By Rees Howell Gronow.

A former Minister of Finance in both the Kingdoms of Westphalia and Württemberg (President Von Malchus; the Count Marienrode), observed her manner and practise and thought her careful and methodical. At the conclusion of their meeting, he requested that she put her observations in writing, which, after some weeks had passed, she did. Comparing her sight reading with her formal exposition, he noted the similarity and detail, and concluded that to reproduce the same results, weeks apart, she must have based her predictions solely on the notes and formulae in front of her, implying a strict method and consistency she did not veer from.

While she used the Etteilla Tarot for her work, she did not limit herself to that, and experimented with and used a number of occult arts in her divination, notably palmistry. While it has been suggested that she embellished her successes and cultivated her reputation, she has not been accused of fraud, and appeared both responsible and dedicated to her craft.

Fortune & Family

She retired as a very wealthy woman back to her native city of Alençon. Described in her later years as short, fat, and plain, Lenomand was not known to be interested in marriage, and did not marry. However, when her sister died, she adopted her two children, and made the remaining son her heir after the daughter died.

Dead Reckoning

Despite predicting she would live to over 100, Marie-Anne Lenormand died in 1843 at the age of 71. A deck of Tarot cards (the Lenormand Deck) was named in honour of her after her death, and remains popular today, especially in Germany.

“Man must have hope, he must have something marvellous, he must have a future state; for he feels himself made to live beyond this visible world. Among the people, magic, necromancy, are but the instinct of religion, and one of the most striking proofs of the necessity of worship.

Men are ready to believe everything, when they believe nothing. They have divines, when they cease to have prophets; witchcraft, when they renounce religious ceremonies, and open the caverns of sorcery, when they shut the temples of the Lord” —F. A. Chateaubriand (1768-1848) according to Secret Memoirs of the Empress Josephine. By Mlle M. A. Le Normand. P. 228., Translated By Jacob M. Howard; Esq. Vol. 1. 1848.

References and Reading

  1. The link claims that the infamous magician Cagliostro found refuge there on several occasions during the 1780s, when he was caught up in the Affair of the Queen’s Necklace. See []