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Posted on Jul 29, 2005 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Lecture: Assassination of Napoleon, by Dr. Ben Weider

Jim H. Moreno

Ask yourself this question. How can somebody die without manifesting the symptoms of his illness?

Over 30 years ago, my colleague, Sten Forshufvud, of Sweden had tests made on Napoleon’s authenticated hair that was shaved on May 6, 1821, the day after his death. Hair grows about one inch every two months. Since the hair was cut at the scalp and was three inches long, this represented six months of Napoleon’s life.

By testing the hairs by section, we were able to know almost to the day when he was given high doses of arsenic. The results of the tests on the hair showed extreme highs and lows of the levels of arsenic. The lowest point was 2.8 parts per million. Napoleon ingested more arsenic at specific times and less at others.


Keep in mind that the normal arsenic levels in the hair at the time was about 0.08 ppm. Now note the broken line at the bottom of the chart. This line shows the normal levels of arsenic that the test would have shown if Napoleon was not fed arsenic.

However, you will note that the hair was tested in eight sections. Note the highs and lows. Examples of this test show levels as follows: 51.2; 45.2; 24.5; 18.8; 2.8; 7.1; 20.4; 24.1. These results, according to the FBI and the Harwell Nuclear Research Laboratory are consistent with arsenic poisoning.

The accompanying chart shows the results of one such test, in which the hair was tested in eight sections. Note the very high levels of arsenic compared to the normal content of the time, that was established at approximately 0.08 ppm. You will note that the highest content was 51.2 ppm, which is an extraordinarily large amount and proves without a doubt that Napoleon was being fed arsenic at this particular time.

The levels of arsenic in Napoleon’s hair, which was tested at the Harwell Nuclear Research Laboratory of London, confirm the facts as described by the eight eyewitnesses. To confirm the tests produced by the Harwell Nuclear research Laboratory, I sent two strands of Napoleon’s hair to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

You can read their reply (see letters links at end), which positively confirms that the levels of arsenic in Napoleon’s hair is "consistent with arsenic poisoning".

Over the years, people have attributed the arsenic in Napoleon’s hair as coming from the wallpaper at Longwood House, the water he drank, medication he took, or from hair cream he used. They also claimed he was an arsenic eater.

If these suppositions were indeed factual, then the arsenic levels in the hair would have been constant, as he would have taken in more or less the same amount of arsenic on a regular basis. The eratic extreme highs and lows show without a doubt that these theories are not based on fact in any manner whatsoever, and should be dismissed.

This letter from the FBI clearly proves that Napoleon was poisoned. The key sentence is: "The amount of arsenic present in the submitted hairs is consistent with arsenic poisoning."

The International Napoleonic society through its European Representative, Col. John Hughes-Wilson, presented this research report on the poisoning of Napoleon to the world famous Scotland Yard police. He asked that based on this research would Scotland Yard undertake to investigate the case. Their reply published here is self explanatory.

On left, Baron Gaspard Gourgaud. Aide de camp to the exiled Emperor. Napoleon forbade him to duel with his enemy de Montholon. Center, Count Henri Gratien Bertrand. Grand Marshal of the Palace. He went in exile as into battles, with total devotion Napoleon. Right, Count Charles Tristan de Montholon. Bourbonist major-general and Napoleon’s maréchal de camp. The ending of the St. Helena story was known to him long before it happened.

In 1974, when I met Sten Forshufvud, we decided to work together to prove once and for all that Napoleon was indeed poisoned. For this purpose we constructed two time charts. On the first chart, we listed the symptoms as reported by the eyewitnesses on specific dates leading up to his death.

The eight eyewitnesses reported independently from each other, in books and diaries, the various symptoms that Napoleon suffered from. We used these symptoms as the basis of this chart, which covered a period of several months prior to his death.

These eyewitnesses were all companions of the exile and they are the Marquis Las Cases, Baron Gourgaud, Dr. Barry O’Meara, Dr. Francesco Antommarchi, Grand Marshall Bertrand, Louis Marchand, the Emperor’s loyal valet of ten years; and two English doctors called Henry and Stokoe. These eight people had regular access to Napoleon and observed him on a daily basis, and they all kept independent diaries of their lives on St. Helena.

On the second time chart, we recorded the arsenic levels obtained from the testing on the sectional analysis of Napoleon’s hair at Harwell Nuclear Research Laboratory. We used a sample of Napoleon’s hair that was shaved at the scalp on May 6, 1821, the day after he died.

The two charts matched. On the days when Napoleon was reported to be suffering from symptoms identical to those of arsenical intoxication, the Harwell reports showed high levels of arsenic in the hair. Both Harwell and the FBI confirm these findings as symptoms of arsenical intoxication.

These tests confirm, through modern scientific methods, that the symptoms recorded by the eyewitnesses over 178 years ago were indeed symptoms of arsenical intoxication. No suppositions here; JUST FACTS.

Since it has been established that hair grows at approximately one inch every two months, if it is shaved at the scalp and the date is known, then tests for arsenic in the hair can determine almost to the day when arsenic was ingested.

It is important to realize that in 1821, as in the 1990s, it is rare that during an autopsy the doctor would suspect arsenic poisoning unless he was told in advance.
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