Good Fortune: How Empress Bonaparte Popularized the Tarot Card Trend and Made Her Cartomancer a Household Name

Chronicle / Alamy
Chronicle / Alamy

On April 21, 1794, during the Reign of Terror, Madame de Beauharnais was taken to Carmes Prison in Paris. Her arrest followed that of her husband, Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, a month prior. They were both charged as enemies of the French Revolution.

Madame de Beauharnais, who would become known to history as Joséphine, knew it was incredibly unlikely she would ever walk out of Carmes—over the course of the Terror, which lasted a little over a year, more than 16,000 people were officially executed. Naturally, she was beside herself. At 30, she was the mother of two and had been trapped in a miserable, 15-year arranged marriage. To face the guillotine alongside her husband must have felt like a particularly grave injustice.

Around the same time, a 22-year-old Parisian cartomancer named Marie-Anne Lenormand was jailed at La Force. Her alleged crime? Conspiring to break Queen Marie Antoinette out of prison. It’s unclear whether this is truth or myth; though some sources name Lenormand's alleged conspirator, Princesse de Lamballe—the Queen’s dearest confidante—as one of her early clients, making collusion possible, others also note that the psychic was arrested for illegal fortune-telling multiple times during her career. This may have been one of those less sensational incidents. Either way, while in custody, Lenormand was reportedly "unfrightened," quite certain that her life was safe and her sentence short.

Joséphine had her fortune read once as a child, and now facing almost certain death, she was desperate to have that earlier prediction of an advantageous marriage and prosperous life confirmed. She heard about Lenormand from other prisoners and managed to send her a letter—and was not disappointed with the response.

Lenormand informed an anxious Joséphine that her husband was not going to make it out of the prison with his head; however, Joséphine would not only survive, but was destined for far greater glory through her second marriage.

In July of that year, Alexandre de Beauharnais was executed. Joséphine was freed days later. She never forgot Mademoiselle Lenormand, and when Joséphine married an officer named Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796, she took him to meet the clairvoyant.

Portrait of Marie-Anne Lenormand.
Portrait of Marie-Anne Lenormand.

ILLUSTRATION BY JULES CHAMPAGNE / THE COURT OF NAPOLEON

Legend has it that in 1779, as a 7-year-old charge at a Benedictine convent in Normandy, Marie-Anne Lenormand informed the Superior that she would soon be removed from her post. She even named the woman’s successor. The nuns were not amused by this impertinent little girl, but soon after, to their astonishment, her prediction came to pass.

Lenormand left the convent around age 14 and found work as a seamstress in Paris. By 17 she was telling fortunes professionally, and by 19 she opened her own shop on the rue de Tournon, which she registered as a bookstore to avoid charges of impropriety. The cover wasn’t entirely fraudulent—Lenormand was an eager reader and diligently studied mathematics and astronomy as part of her practice. Later, she would write and publish at least 15 bestselling books, mostly memoirs and detailed accounts of her various political and personal prophecies.

According to multiple accounts, three men arrived there one evening in 1792 to have their fortunes told. They'd heard of the "sybil" and were prepared to prove her a con. Lenormand looked at their palms, read their cards, and proclaimed they were all destined for violent deaths. They scoffed.

One of those men was Maximilien Robespierre, the architect of the Reign of Terror. His execution by guillotine in July 1794 is what ultimately freed Joséphine de Beauharnais from prison shortly before her own scheduled execution. The other two were prominent revolutionaries Jean-Paul Marat and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, both of whom also met grisly ends.

Portrait of Empress Josephine.

Portrait of Empress Josephine.

ILLUSTRATION BY JULES CHAMPAGNE / THE COURT OF NAPOLEON

These tales, and others like them, spread quickly through French society circles during and after the Revolution. It was a time of chaos and uncertainty—someone with the power to predict the future could give people from all walks of life a lot of comfort, even those who would never have sought out such services before. Wealthy women, aristocrats, laypeople, and even clergy rushed to Lenormand's Paris salon, where she'd hung a custom wooden sign over the door: Mademoiselle Le Normand, Bookseller. They were willing to wait many hours and pay top dollar for a glimpse of their fate. Curious onlookers reported that there were carriages parked in front of her door every day of the week. At times the crowd outside grew so large that the local police would come to break it up.

Napoleon, however, didn't like or trust her. Lenormand had too much influence over his new wife, for one thing. On top of that, the brazen mystic had gone from predicting his astonishing rise to foreseeing his exile. He didn't necessarily believe in her otherworldly abilities, but the intimate access she had to so many influential people also made him uncomfortable—she certainly had the means to be a spy.

But the Empress protected her friend. Joséphine trusted Mlle Lenormand implicitly, whether told she would marry, divorce (as she and Bonaparte would in 1810), or anything between. The two had a bond, and the Empress became so reliant on her cartomancer that she was unable to make the simplest decisions without consulting the cards first. Lenormand would later recall that Joséphine often said to her: "[I] confess that it is a small folly to believe you. And yet it would be an even greater one to doubt what you say."

When the Empress died suddenly in 1814, Lenormand was devastated—somehow she had missed this one major prediction. In honor of Joséphine's passing, she published a heartfelt ode titled "Anniversary of the Death of Empress Joséphine" in 1815. Of her friend, Lenormand said, "Oh Joséphine! Your praise has been in my heart for a long time. It is a true and deeply felt admiration which brings me, not at the foot of your statue (for you don’t have one yet), but at your tomb, where I dare to bring to your ashes the homage that another hand should maybe be presenting to you."

This was followed by a more detailed biography in two huge volumes: Historical and Secret Memoirs of the Empress Joséphine, first published by Lenormand in 1818. Joséphine’s daughter, Hortense, Queen consort of Holland, called the tomes "absurd."

Two Lenormand tarot cards, showing a wise woman and the Fates.
Two Lenormand deck cards, showing a wise woman and the Fates.
Chronicle / Alamy

Mademoiselle Lenormand went on writing and casting fortunes until she left the earthly plane for the astral one in June 1843, which, at age 71, fell rather short of the 108 years she had envisioned for herself. Still, she managed an impressive lifespan (and even more impressive life) for her time.

Within a few years, multiple Lenormand fortune-telling decks were produced in an attempt to capitalize on her fame. Unlike tarot cards, which rely more on personal interpretation of images and are read in relation to the cards around them (in tarot, for instance, a card like the Moon may refer to nighttime, dreams, the unconscious, or even the actual moon), Lenormand decks have concrete symbols like "key," "dog," or "house." Many decks also include traditional playing card suits on them: hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. Each card has a straightforward meaning that doesn't change, whereas in tarot, a card can be read differently depending on the question asked and in some cases even the specific deck.

The Lenormand cards and others like them grew in mainstream popularity as the 19th century progressed and the Spiritualist movement exploded. Through her relationships with some of the most powerful political figures of her time, Mlle Lenormand broke through taboos (and laws) against fortune-telling and made the pastime fashionable.

Her grave at Paris's famed Père Lachaise Cemetery is still tended with flowers and tributes to this day. But if not for a serendipitous prison correspondence with the future Empress of France, it's likely Marie-Anne Lenormand's name would have long ago passed into oblivion.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Notre-Dame Cathedral’s New Spire Will Be an Exact Replica of the Old One

This wasn't actually the original spire.
This wasn't actually the original spire.
Michael McCarthy, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Just days after a fire ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019, France’s then-prime minister Édouard Philippe announced plans for an international competition to design a new, more modern spire “suited to the techniques and challenges of our time.”

Though not everyone supported the initiative, architects from all over the world made quick work of sharing their innovative ideas. Some imagined spires made from unconventional materials—Brazilian architect Alexandre Fantozzi favored stained glass, for example, and France’s Mathieu Lehanneur designed a flame-shaped spire covered in gold leaf—while others envisioned using the space for something completely different. Sweden’s Ulf Mejergren Architects suggested a rooftop swimming pool, and Studio NAB proposed a greenhouse.

But those architects will have to bring their inventive designs to life elsewhere. As artnet News reports, the French Senate recently passed legislation mandating that the cathedral be restored to its “last known visual state.” President Emmanuel Macron released a statement endorsing the decision and explaining that city officials would look to add a “contemporary gesture” in the “redevelopment of the surroundings of the cathedral” instead.

Though the 800-ton, 305-foot-tall spire was certainly one of Notre-Dame’s most striking features, it wasn’t actually part of the original building. The first spire, constructed between 1220 and 1230, began to deteriorate after several centuries, and it was removed in the late 1700s. The cathedral went spire-less until 1859, when builders completed work on architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s new design—which, according to Popular Mechanics, wasn’t an exact replica of the original.

17th-century etching of paris notre-dame cathedral
A 17th-century etching of Notre-Dame with its original spire.
I. Silvestre, Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

This event could have set the precedent for updating the spire this time, but it’s possible that government officials were motivated by more than a simple commitment to architectural consistency. Last year, Macron had promised that the restoration would be completed by 2024, when Paris is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics. It’s an ambitious goal, and a worldwide competition to come up with a new design could have delayed the process more than reconstructing the spire as it once was.

[h/t artnet News]