The latest tests performed by Doctor Pascal Kintz, President of The International Association of Forensic Toxicologists, and the ChemTox laboratory prove that this case is now solved once and for all
On June 2, 2005, in Illkirch-Graffenstaden, seven kilometers south of Strasbourg, a struggle ended that began nearly forty years earlier: to prove to even the most hardened skeptics that the Emperor Napoleon I, whom the English had exiled to the island of Saint Helena, was a victim of what scientists term “chronic arsenic intoxication” or to put it more plainly, poisoning.
On that date, on the premises of the brand new ChemTox laboratory, before a large audience that included several important figures in the French government (General Council Member, President of the Region) and justice system, Doctor Pascal Kintz produced conclusive evidence that the only possible explanation for the arsenic present in Napoleon’s hair was that it was intended to kill him, since it was the most toxic form—mineral arsenic—commonly known as “rat poison.”
While I have no intention of going over all the details of this near epic, since I have finally, with the assistance of the best scientists available, succeeded in proving that the poisoning of the Emperor does not belong to the world of “romantic fiction” as Napoleonic historian Jean Tulard still maintained recently, I believe it is useful to provide a short overview of the events that led to this conclusion .
AS THE NEW THEORY EMERGES,
In 1955, Sten Forshufvud, a Swedish stomatologist, who also possessed a solid grounding in toxicology that he had acquired in a Faculty of Science in France, came upon the Memoirs of one of Napoleon’s companions in exile on Saint Helena: his valet, Marchand. Some of the symptoms described in the work led Forshufvud to entertain the possibility of arsenic poisoning.
In 1960, to support the first, still tentative, version of his hypothesis, he succeeded in obtaining one of the Emperor’s hairs from the former assistant curator of the museum of Malmaison and famous Napoleonic historian, Commandant Henry Lachouque.
I should specify that the donor had provided a written guarantee of the authenticity of this hair, which was part of the Marchand estate. The relic was sent for analysis to the Director of the University of Edinburgh ’s Forensic Medicine Department, Professor Hamilton-Smith.
The tests, which were carried out using the neutron bombardment method, revealed a strong arsenic content. In order to refine his conclusions, however, Hamilton-Smith needed further samples of Napoleon’s hair.
Encouraged by this promising outcome, Sten Forshufvud attempted to obtain further samples from Commandant Lachouque, to whom he sent the results obtained by Professor Hamilton-Smith. Lachouque, incidentally, had written to Forshufvud congratulating him on his initiative and encouraging him to continue.
But, strangely, as soon as the analysis carried out by Professor Hamilton-Smith revealed the presence of toxins in Napoleon’s hair, all doors, including those of Commandant Lachouque, were closed.
To continue his investigations, Sten Forshufvud was obliged to turn to other countries for help. He subsequently received samples from Switzerland, Australia and New Jersey, accompanied by certificates of authenticity—not from the current owners, but from those of the period in question (Las Cases, Marchand, etc.).
Once subjected to other tests, the new samples “fulfilled the promise” of the “pioneer” hair, as professor Hamilton-Smith confirmed to Sten Forshufvud in a letter written in his own hand, dated in Glasgow , March 26, 1962 .These discoveries provided Sten Forshufvud with the subject-matter for a book in French that, simply and directly, posed the question: “Was Napoleon poisoned?”
The book was savagely ridiculed by French Napoleonic historians, who dismissed it as a “bad novel.”
EVEN ON SAINT HELENA , NAPOLEON REPRESENTED
I myself had been interested in this—I hesitate to call it a theory—possibility, as it was so obvious that a man like Napoleon, who had transformed Europe and infused it with that taste for human rights that the traditional sovereigns found so abhorrent, would always represent a danger as long as he remained popular in French hearts.
In my professional (sport and health-related) activities, I had already had the presentiment that Napoleon’s death was not due to hereditary cancer of the stomach (the theory so dear to Napoleonic historians that had never been called into question).
On this particular point, I believe it is vital once again to quote the opinion of a leading figure in the medical world, the highly skilled professor of oncology and member of the Institut de France, Doctor Lucien Israël. It is taken from a letter that he addressed to me on September 6, 2000:
“I have read your work with interest, and I share your conclusions.”
“The Emperor’s disorder began in 1816 and lasted five years. Stomach cancer (which, by the way, is not hereditary) that developed over such a long period of time could only have killed by metastasis to the lungs and most particularly, to the liver. No such pathologies were noted at the autopsy. Another cause could have been catastrophic hemorrhaging. None occurred. Those are the main arguments, but there are others, such as the fact that the regional and mediastinal ganglia show suppuration, which is not explained by a diagnosis of gastric cancer.”
“I therefore believe that your theory [of poisoning] is the correct one.”
In Paris in 1972, I met Sten Forshuvud, who thanks to his prior research, had a “considerable lead” over me at that point.
We decided to unite our forces to promote the theory, which, as proven by the attacks launched in France against Sten Forshuvud, were not likely to be accepted easily. However, we could never have imagined the extent of the resistance and bad faith we were to face from our adversaries in the years to come.
The so-called “légende noire” so dear to certain Napoleonic historians, is often evoked to justify the claim that it was not necessary to get rid of the Emperor, since he had become so odious to the French people.
This “dark legend” certainly exists, but only among French royalists, who had been returned to power at the point of foreign bayonets. It also existed, of course, in all the European monarchies, which, after defying and attacking Napoleon without respite for eleven years – and after being almost constantly defeated – finally succeeded in striking him down. (I should add that this bogus history still provides the basis for many works, including those used in schools, where the name of Napoleon is often coupled with the abusive term “dictator.”)
We would do better to recall those people of Paris who, after the defeat at Waterloo, came en masse to acclaim Napoleon as he was leaving the Elysée Palace to persuade him to remain at the head of the country, to resume command of the army and to drive out the enemy that had returned to impose on them the hated Bourbons that France wanted nothing more to do with. All the (honest, naturally) Memoirs of the period testify to this.
He remained forever popular with the army – which, I should emphasize, was not made up of mercenaries in the pay of Napoleon, but of citizens.
Just as popular among the peasants.
Even though they suffered from conscription – they made up close to nine-tenths of the French population at that time – they never forgot that it was because of the Emperor, and him alone , that they were able to keep the land acquired during the Revolution.
As long as he remained alive, such a man was a threat. Even on Saint Helena .
Even on that wretched rock, 122 square kilometers, 1,800 kilometers from the coast of Africa and 3,500 kilometers from Brazil !
Otherwise, why would the English have maintained a very expensive garrison with some 6,000 soldiers and ordered several vessels of the Royal Navy to cruise relentlessly around the island, just to keep a man who, according to Napoleonic historian Jean Tulard, no longer posed any threat?
From a purely political standpoint, then, there was a certain logic to removing him.
But I had not reached that point yet.
CONFIRMATION BY THE FBI
In 1995, I had the good fortune of being able to give to Roger Martz, head of the FBI’s Chemistry/Toxicology unit, two hairs that had belonged to the author of the famous Memorial of Saint Helena, Count Las Cases.
When subjected to the “ Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy ” process, the results (see below) exactly substantiated those obtained by professor Hamilton-Smith in Glasgow :
They were accompanied by a comment by the Head of the Chemistry/Toxicology Unit, Roger Martz:
“ Washington D.C.
August 28, 1995
The FBI laboratory analyzed two of Napoleon’s hairs, which you submitted for arsenic tests. You will find below the results of the analysis that was carried out by Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy.
“The quantity of arsenic present in the hair is consistent with arsenic poisoning…”
Since the results of these tests confirmed those of the preceding ones, I decided to present them, in May 2000, to French toxicology specialists and Napoleonic historians in Paris .
The resistance in “official” Napoleonic circles had not changed: the results were greeted with sarcastic remarks and rejection from the French specialists, certain of whom claimed that the samples analyzed by the FBI were too small to provide any convincing results.
As for the French Napoleonic historians, they refused to consider any tests not performed in France .
I decided to take up the challenge.
THE FIRST ANALYSES PERFORMED BY DOCTOR KINTZ
On September 15, 2000, I entrusted to Doctor Pascal Kintz, a universally recognized authority in the field of toxicological hair analysis, who was at that time the President of the French Analytical Toxicology Association, and is today the President of the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists, five locks of Napoleon’s hair that had belonged to Lady Holland, to the Abbé Vignali, to the servant Noverraz (this lock came from the Napoleon Museum in Arenenberg, an old Swiss residence of Queen Hortense in Thurgovie, Lake Constance), to the valet Marchand and to Count Las Cases, author of Memorial of Saint Helena
It was the first time that a single laboratory had had so many biological samples, which assured more “comfortable” testing conditions than those of the FBI.
In 2001, Doctor Kintz made known the results of his analyses(*) : the five locks had an arsenic content that was dramatically (between 7 and 38 times) higher than the standard level recognized by forensic toxicology experts.
One would naturally have assumed that the case was now closed, and that the presence of arsenic in the Emperor's hair would be acknowledged and accepted.
Nothing of the kind.
THE SURPRISING “REVELATIONS” IN THE MAGAZINE
Issue 1022 of the popular monthly science magazine Science & Vie (November 2002) published a sensational article featuring the results of tests performed at its request by the Laboratory of the Paris Prefecture of Police. The results were heralded by the peremptory claim:
“Exclusive – Napoleon was not assassinated.
IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: The method used for the analysis financed by Science & Vie is not recognized by any French or international court.
What then does this “irrefutable” evidence consist of?
The arsenic detected is not in, but on, the Napoleon’s hair, and thus its presence is due only to arsenic-based preservatives, which were in fact very widely used for this purpose.
Could the poisoning theory be mere imagination?
Did this mean that Professor Hamilton-Smith, the FBI, and Doctor Kintz in their prior analyses, could all have been successively mistaken?
PLEASE NOTE: None of the historians who wanted to “demolish” our theory ventured to inquire about the authenticity of the lock of hair that Science & Vie gave to the Laboratory of the Paris Prefecture of Police. Perhaps it was important not to cast doubt on the hair when it was known in advance what the “analysis” was going to show.
Strangely, only the locks that I made available to scientists earned the doubtful privilege of being subjected to systematic suspicion by French Napoleonic historians .
NEW TESTS BY DOCTOR PASCAL KINTZ COMPLETELY
In the fall of 2003, Doctor Kintz, with professor Robert Wennig of the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , decided to adopt a new approach to the problem by subjecting Napoleon’s hair to a different method of analysis.
While the method that he had relied on previously (atomic absorption spectrophotometry) provided data about “the entire environment” of the hair, another machine, the Nano-SIMS (Nano-Secondary Ion Mass Spectrography) this time allowed him to explore the central core of the hair, the medulla, a kind of spinal cord irrigated by the blood that “feeds” the hair.
What was the result of this investigation?
This can be seen in the images below: there is indeed arsenic on the shaft of the hair – the presence of which is probably explained by handling – but more particularly, the medulla is completely impregnated with the poison, and its presence deep inside the hair implies, as Doctor Kintz states: that it can only have got there via the blood stream.”
This is an unequivocal refutation of the “irrefutable conclusions” in favour of external contamination advanced by the magazine Science & Vie, which were supposed to send the “poisonists back to school,” as the author of the article rather arrogantly put it.
It will be recalled that the Napoleonic historians have successively attributed the presence of arsenic in Napoleon’s hair to a method of preservation (we have just seen what to make of that), to wallpaper paste, and to smoke from the stove. This of course does not include any of the more or less far-fetched hypotheses put forth recently, such as grief or boredom. The latest in this long line of speculation is the picturesque “discovery” by Swiss researchers, who came to the conclusion that the Emperor really had succumbed to stomach cancer, by measuring several of his pairs of trousers, which had steadily reduced in size!
I should point out in passing that I have never heard any Napoleonic historian (or anyone similar) call into question either the authenticity or the source of the famous trousers, or, moreover, claim to be astonished by the strangeness of such conclusions.
Doctor Kintz dismissed this astonishing assumption in one sentence – it scarcely merited more – when he stated, “You don’t decide that someone is suffering from cancer by measuring the size of his trousers.”
Doctor Kintz was determined to get to the bottom of things and bring this business of the imperial hair to a close.
Below are the results of his latest work, completed at the ChemTox laboratory, that was presented to the press and others mentioned earlier, in Illkirch, on June 2, 2005.
I awaited these results eagerly, because I knew that they could put a final stop – the pleonasm is deliberate – to this long controversy.
A HITHERTO UNUSED METHOD CONFIRMS
This “hitherto unused method” is ICP-MS, or “Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry.”
The biological material: hair from two locks that I had given to Doctor Kintz: one known as “Noverraz” (already analyzed in the preceding experiments), and the other “Bertrand,” the name of the Grand Marshal of the Palace, and one of Napoleon’s companions in exile.
Without going into overly complex scientific details, nor into the entire process involved in this third series of tests, we can summarize by saying that mass spectrometry is to chemical molecules what DNA is to human beings: strictly “personal.”
The tests were carried out on the two locks of hair, “Noverraz” and “Bertrand,” and on samples from sixty-five people with extremely varied lifestyles, diets and habits.
The results produced by the machine are absolutely specific, thus ruling out any errors in interpretation.
First of all, to be able simultaneously to measure the quantities of about thirty metals and metalloids, the most important of which, for the purposes of the present case, are listed in the following table:
This table confirms the high levels of arsenic already detected in preceding analyses, but also shows—which is new—the presence of other chemical elements, such as:
- Mercury, derived from calomel, a purgative that was very widely employed at that time, when it was believed that, in treating a patient, it was wise to rid him of everything “bad” inside him. This explains why the following elements were also found:
- Antimony, indicating the use of a vomitory agent, “tartar emetic”;
- Silver, which is a residue of collargol syrup, a local antiseptic;
- Lead, characteristic of litharge, or lead oxide, used at the time to mellow wine and port.
In addition, these results are revealing about Napoleon’s therapeutic practices – his use of these various medications is confirmed by the Memoirs of his companions in exile – these elements reinforce the authenticity of the locks “ because,” Doctor Kintz explains, “ it is impossible to imagine locks simultaneously containing arsenic, mercury, silver, antimony and lead.”
“RAT POISON” USED TO MURDER NAPOLEON
More significantly, because it brings us to the true revelation/revolution contained in these analyses, the method employed made it possible to determine the precise chemical nature of the arsenic present at the core of Napoleon’s hair.
It is extremely important to know that arsenic exists in two forms:
- An organic form, of very low toxicity, that is found in people who consume a lot of seafood. This at one moment gave rise to the idea that the Emperor might have adopted such a diet after being deported to Saint Helena . None of his companions, however, mentions this. Moreover, this type of arsenic is mostly eliminated naturally by the organism, and thus does not remain in the hair (or nails).
- A very toxic mineral form, (or As III and V), more commonly known as “rat poison.”
It is this arsenic that is found in great quantities in Napoleon’s hair, as the table below shows.
QUESTION: Where does this arsenic come from?
The explanations, of varying degrees of honesty or justification, can be summarized under five causes:
- Arsenic as a preservative: It was demonstrated above that this assumption was invalid. And if such had been the case, during the stage when the two locks were being decontaminated (or washed) in acetone, the arsenic present on the surface of the hair would have been found – in quantity – in the decontamination liquid.
At the end of the decontamination process, what were the amounts recorded?
- 0.55 ng per milligram for the hair from the “Bertrand” lock.
The concentrations detected in Napoleon’s hair were in the order of several tens of nanograms.
Conclusion (already expressed earlier): there is no external contamination.
- The smoke from the stove is also often advanced as a cause. This hypothesis, so dear to French Napoleonic historians, among others, was advanced in 1998 by two American researchers, Hindmarsh and Corso, who had noted poisoning due to emanations from stoves in several populations in Bengal. However, when tested for the presence of burned coal dust contaminated with arsenic, the results show a small quantity of arsenic III and V and a large quantity of MMA, especially DMA, in the respective proportions of 10 to 20 % and 60 to 80 %.
I.e. exactly the reverse of what was found to be the case in Napoleon’s hair.
- The theory of emanations from wallpaper is also often advanced. The wallpaper at Longwood was green in colour, because the pigment contained copper sulfate mixed with sodium arsenite. Exposed to the constant dampness at Longwood, it formed a mould, which transformed the copper arsenite pigment into a very toxic arsenic vapor (arsine), and into “DMA” and “TMA” (Like “MMA,” these are metabolites, or degradation products of arsenic, transformed by the organism. Their presence is related to the type of arsenic ingested). However, the Emperor’s hair contains neither one nor the other of these products, except in infinitesimal, and therefore negligible amounts.
In addition, it is important to point out that the sample of the Emperor’s hair that Doctor Kintz analyzed had been cut before his death. This was the “Las Cases” lock cut by Santini on October 16, 1816 . The wallpaper was put up in 1819!
The wallpaper is thus conclusively –scientifically – ruled out!
- The water at Longwood: analysis revealed no significant arsenic content.
Necessary parenthesis dictated by common sense : it is hard to imagine how all these toxic agents could have been harmful only to Napoleon’s health.
- Fowler’s solution: constituted by a solution of a potassium arsenite, titrated at approximately 1%, arsenious oxide is used as a nutritional stimulant. This preparation is mentioned by none of the memorialists present at Saint Helena .
A CASE OF CRIMINAL POISONING
It has been successively demonstrated:
- First of all, that the arsenic was not on but in Napoleon’s hair (“endogenous” arsenic delivered into the core of the hair via the blood stream)
- Next, that this arsenic was of the most toxic mineral type known as “rat poison.”
The scientific analyses were carried out by Doctor Kintz and the ChemTox laboratory, in accordance with current procedures in forensic medicine–Napoleon did not follow a special diet–thus eliminating all the causes advanced above.
We thus find ourselves faced with an absolute certainty; in the words of Doctor Pascal Kintz:
“In all the samples of Emperor’s hair, the ICM-MS identified massive concentrations that are consistent with chronic poisoning by very toxic mineral arsenic. This points to the unambiguous conclusion that we are dealing with a case of criminal poisoning.”
(*) For detailed explanations of the analyses and a description of the climate of conflict surrounding this affair, I refer visitors to the site to two documents written by Jean-Claude Damamme, Representative of the International Napoleonic Society in France : “The Poisoning of Napoleon : The Final Proof” and “ Special Release: Poisoning.”