Tests Offer 'Final Proof' Napoleon Poisoned

Roundup: Talking About History

Carsten Knox, Ottawa Citizen, 23 Nov. 2004

The theory that Napoleon was murdered in a conspiracy orchestrated by his British captors in collusion with French monarchists just refuses to die.

Ben Weider, the Montreal- based millionaire, fitness guru and longtime Napoleonic historian, says he has the final proof of Napoleon's"assassination."

New tests carried out by European toxicologists, including Pascal Kintz, president of the French society of analytical toxicology, reveal that arsenic found in Napoleon's hair got there through the bloodstream, not external contamination.

"This is the absolute, final proof that the high level of arsenic in Napoleon's hair was due to somebody feeding him arsenic," says Mr. Weider.

This is the most recent in a long line of historical revisions brought about by forensic technology. Academics and historians have been testing alternatives to the long-accepted truth that Napoleon died of stomach cancer.

This most recent evidence corroborates the findings of a 1995 FBI investigation. Roger Martz, the FBI toxicology unit chief, wrote a letter to Mr. Weider in which he stated the amount of arsenic present in the submitted hairs was consistent with arsenic poisoning.

Some historians have suggested the arsenic in Napoleon's hair may have been in the medication or water he was drinking.

Not so, says Mr. Weider."If he had been taking something every day, the arsenic would be above normal, but level. The tests that we made show high levels, then low levels, meaning someone was giving him a shot of arsenic," says Mr. Weider."We've got this covered."

The new information contradicts the findings of the French journal Science et Vie. In 2002, it hired three leading forensic scientists to test 19 of Napoleon's hairs, some of which were taken well before his exile and alleged poisoning. Arsenic levels were found to be well above normal in all samples, suggesting the poison wasn't deliberately administered toward the end of his life as part of an assassination plot. The arsenic was probably transferred through Napoleon's favourite hair product, suggested the journal.

Mr. Weider questions the objectivity of Science et Vie. He says the editor had wanted exclusivity on Mr. Weider's Napoleon investigations, but when Mr. Weider had spoken to a rival French science magazine, the editor wrote the article to be vindictive. He adds,"Those scientists were from the police, and were never called before the French court to explain their work. They were amateurs."

Historians are coming around to Mr. Weider's perspective on Napoleon's death. Before his death, British historian David Chandler was considered the foremost authority on Napoleon. He claimed to be"99.9-per-cent certain" that Napoleon was assassinated.

Mr. Weider says Jean Tulard, a professor at the Sorbonne, also a Napoleon expert, has discarded the stomach cancer theory, though"he will not admit that poisoning is the reason."

Previous contentious explanations of Napoleon's demise also include the"medical blunder theory," written up in a British medical history journal by University of Ottawa professor Thomas Hindmarsh and Philip Corso, a professor at Yale University. It said doctors likely gave Napoleon a mercury-rich laxative that caused gastric bleeding and led to his death. It also said the arsenic in his hair was probably added as a post-mortem preservative.

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