June 25, 1843: Madame Lenormand, Personal Psychic to Empress Josephine

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A Brief History

On June 25, 1843, Marie Anne Lenormand, France’s most famous fortune teller and cartomancer (card reader), died.

Digging Deeper

Born in 1772 and educated at a convent school in Alençon, she moved to Paris sometime between 1786 and 1790 and set up a type of office for clairvoyance. Early clients included the heads of the French Revolution (Marat, Robespierre and Saint-Just). She is said to have predicted their violent demise. Her imprisonment by the Committee of Public Safety which had been created by the National Convention and which formed the de facto executive government during the Reign of Terror did not hurt her career and only made her more famous. Despite her increasing popularity, she was also arrested in 1803 and 1809 and accused of treason. Then reaching her peak in the Napoleonic Era, she was active for another 40 years. Well-known clients during this time included Empress Josephine of France who made seeing a soothsayer fashionable and Tsar Alexander I of Russia whom she visited at the Congress of Aix-La-Chapelle in 1818, a meeting of the four allied powers of Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia to decide the question of the withdrawal of occupying forces from France, following the defeat of Napoleon.

Portrait of Marie Anne Lenormand from The Court of Napoleon by Frank Boott Goodrich, described as follows in the book: “The portrait of M’lle Lenormand … is taken from an engraving at the Bibliothèque Impèriale, in Paris, believed to be the only authentic likeness of her in existence.”

In 1820, unhappy with the political changes implemented by the new King Louis XVIII, she and many other Frenchmen emigrated to Brussels, Belgium, however, there she was again arrested and accused of espionage this time. Additional charges included the practice of witchcraft. These were, however, dropped, and she was released.

Following the July Revolution of 1830, which saw the overthrow of the French Bourbon monarch, King Charles X, his replacement with his Orleans cousin Louis-Philippe 1st  and the creation of a constitutional monarchy, Marie Anne Lenormand officially retired to enjoy the considerable fortune she had amassed. From then on, she only read for her close friends.

Marie Anne Lenormand did not only spend her time fortune-telling but also authoring books, one of them dealing with the historical and secret memories of Empress Josephine.

Miniature portrait of the Empress by Jean Baptiste Isabey on an 18k gold snuff box crafted by the Imperial goldsmith Adrien-Jean-Maximilien Vachette. Circa 1810

When she died in 1843 at the age of 71, it was not of natural causes but rather due to medical malpractice. (Observation: Did she not see it coming? Obviously not because in one of her books she predicted that she would live to be more than 100…)

Today Marie Anne Lenormand, known as Madame Lenormand, is primarily remembered for the fortune-telling deck of cards that has been named after her, even though she never used them. The deck, comprised of 36 illustrated cards, is one of the most commonly used cartomancy media in Europe.

In fact, the author of this article, already proficient at reading the traditional Rider-Waite tarot deck, common in the United States, while living in Europe, attended a week-long workshop to learn the art of interpreting the Madame Lenormand cards.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Alberts, Heath D. and Ramona McKee.  Madame Lenormand and Her Cards (The Bit of Study Series).  Ramona McKee, 2013.

Dunn, Patrick.  Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot: Create Meaning & Gain Insight from the Cards.  Llewellyn Publications, 2013.

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About Author

Beth Michaels

Beth Michaels attended a private college in Northeast Ohio from which she earned a Bachelor’s degree in German with a minor in French. From there she moved to Germany where she attended the University of Heidelberg for two years. Additional schooling earned her certifications as a foreign language correspondent and state-certified translator. In her professional career, Beth worked for a leading German manufacturer of ophthalmological medical instruments and devices as a quality representative, regulatory affairs manager and internal auditor.