Ben Weider, O.C. CStJ, C.Q., PhD
President of the International Napoleonic Society
Foreign researchers recently published a study, which was picked up and diffused in certain media on the causes of Napoleon's death. This report contends that the Emperor deported to St Helena had succumbed to stomach cancer.
This is not the first time that the death of the most famous sovereign in the world has been put down to this cause.
Although it is not within our competence to comment on the technical terms of the study, we cannot, however, pass over some of the comments which claim, for example, that the “whimsical” theories of the poisoning of Napoleon are now “largely discredited”.
The text below replies to these unfounded declarations and false accusations which deliberately give the impression that the results of the analysis that were carried out at the request of the INS by the most competent scientists in their field are nothing more than fantasies and illusions.
Sorry, Gentlemen, but Napoleon was indeed a victim of poisoning by rat poison.
By Jean-Claude Damamme
Representative for France of the
International Napoleonic Society
On June 2, 2005, in the presence of senior representatives of the French Minister of Justice, Police, and “Gendarmerie”, Dr. Pascal Kintz made a brilliant presentation at the ChemTox Laboratory at Illkirch, near Strasbourg, of the final results obtained from the analysis of Napoleon's hair.
Let us briefly recall these results, which are described in detail on our internet site.
After the confirmation of the presence of arsenic in Napoleon's hair in 2001, Dr. Kintz, in 2003, further revealed that the arsenic was located in the core of the hair, thereby clearly establishing that it had passed through the circulation (thus via the digestive tract). This conclusion finally put an end to the hypothesis that the arsenic came from external contamination due to the use of conservation products, a hypothesis which had been advanced by the French magazine Science & Vie [Science and Life] following the analysis conducted in 2002 by the Laboratory of the “Préfecture de Police” of Paris.
Finally, in 2005, in the last stage of his research, Kintz determined the precise nature of the toxic substance in the Emperor's hair: mineral arsenic, commonly known as rat poison!
Ben Weider, President of the International Napoleonic Society, had won his battle. Science had indisputably confirmed the thesis he had defended so strenuously for over thirty years. Not surprisingly, however, the final confirmation of the poisoning thesis met widespread displeasure among his opponents whose arguments in the past have often been biased and based on deliberately false info rmation.
The strange silence observed by these opponents from June 2005 onwards was too good to last and we anticipated various forms of “reprisals.” It was well worth waiting for and we were not disappointed.
They arrived in the form of press releases based on a study published in the scientific journal Nature Clinical Practice, Gastroenterology, and Hepatology, and in substance, alleged that Napoleon died of stomach cancer.
Questionable Omissions and
This reference to the Emperor's supposed cancer gives me the opportunity to recall that, for many years, the medical expert of the French Napoleonic Society, “Le Souvenir napoléonien”, whose almost-neurotic opposition to the poisoning thesis is well known to visitors to our web site, was one of its former presidents, Dr. Guy Godlewski.
In the foreword by Marcel Dunan to the Notebooks of St Helena, January 1821-May 1821, by General Henri Bertrand, Grand Marshal of the Palace, one reads: “Dr. Guy Godlewski... dismissed the noxiousness of the climate as well as the idea of a cancerous disease with arguments based on the development of the fatty tissues...”
It is enough to confuse anyone!
Yet, later on, as President of the Souvenir Napoléonien, Dr. Godlewski felt compelled to change his opinion and he violently attacked and ridiculed the theory of the poisoning of Napoleon.
In spite of their notorious incompetence in this highly scientific domain, our opponents never fail to deride the results obtained by the toxicologists working on the poisoning thesis, and I shall not epilogue on this umpteenth version of the cause of the Emperor's death. I will, however, make two remarks.
First: Unless I am mistaken, neither the names nor the conclusive work of Dr. Kintz and Professor Wennig, of the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, are even mentioned — which is questionable in a study that claims to be exhaustive and definitive. To sum up, if I follow the reasoning which prevails in this new report correctly, Robert Wennig and Pascal Kintz simply do not exist, and thus they cannot have made their analysis! Simple and very clever indeed!
Second: The statement that “fanciful” ( sic ) theories of Napoleon's poisoning by arsenic are - and I quote -“now largely discredited.”
Discredited by whom, may I ask?
It is opportune to recall yet again here that Dr. Pascal Kintz, President of the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists, is an acknowledged world-renowned authority in the field of toxicological hair analysis. Among the mysteries which he solved recently is the case of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was poisoned by dioxin, and as far as I know the results of his tests have never been refuted nor questioned by governmental authorities in the Ukraine.
Apart from the fact that an allegation of this kind is arbitrary, dishonest, and inadmissible, to claim that the “fanciful” theories of Napoleon's poisoning “are now largely discredited”, obviously has no other aim than to confuse the general public on the work of an internationally-renowned scientist. Why?
An Acrimonious Debate
I believe it also important here to stress the particularly detestable intellectual climate which has prevailed in the context of the poisoning thesis of French Emperor since the very beginning.
A single example will serve to illustrate many others.
When Mr. Jean Defrancheschi, historian, former Research Director at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique [National Center for Scientific Research], and co-author of the Dictionnaire Napoléon, dared - that is the appropriate term - to say that the poisoning theory “should not be dismissed with contempt,” all the microphones were switched off and, he explained, he was deprived of the right of expressing himself, even at the Institut Napoléon, of which he is an eminent member. I encourage those visitors who have not yet heard his testimony to listen to his interview (unfortunately only available in French) on the front page of the web site of the International Napoleonic Society. It is most instructive.
Moreover, the latest study contemptuously disregards the conclusions of Professor Lucien Israel, a distinguished oncologist and member of the “Institut de France”, who has refuted both the thesis of a stomach cancer and its supposedly hereditary character.
What credit can we possibly give a study which deliberately ignores the major parameters which are the massive concentrations of rat poison discovered in the core of Napoleon's hair?
In any event, I see nothing at all in this new study which justifies re-examining or questioning the poisoning thesis.
French Daily, Le Figaro declares: “Arsenic is not due to poisoning”
Following the various press releases mentioned above, there was a brief period of calm until fresh news suddenly reached us on February 7. An article written on Figaro.fr on the study in question, stated:
“As for the analysis conducted on Napoleon's hair, the most recent studies show that it [the arsenic] was not ingested but came from the outside, without being able to determine how exactly. But the presence of the arsenic was not due to poisoning” (End of quotation).
Upon reading such a peremptory assertion written by a journalist on the staff of one of the leading French daily newspapers, one can only be astounded. Yet we must bear in mind that it was this same newspaper which already back in May 1999 had published an article written by a well-known French Napoleonic historian who referred to the thesis as the “new Loch Ness monster”.
But it is only fair to admit that at the time research on the subject was not as advanced as it is today.
Not that it really matters. Compared to the weight of evidence brought by the discovery made by Pascal Kintz and Robert Wennig, this sort of skepticism is of no importance whatsoever.
The article mentioned above does arouse certain questions, however.
- Is the author really unaware of the latest developments? If not, it would mean that the last info rmation he had read on the subject was the result of the surprising analysis (which had only consisted in analyzing the outer layers of the hair) published back in November 2002, in Science & Vie and which is no longer valid nor news.
- Was he deceived by his sources? Or, for reasons that have yet to be established, is he an accomplice to what can only be described as the usual dis info rmation surrounding this affair? If that were the case, it would be extremely serious as in my opinion, there is no greater violation of journalistic ethics than to consciously accept dis info rmation in a deliberate attempt to mislead the general public.
- And above all, what gives him the right to play arbiter and decide categorically on a subject which he is obviously incompetent to deal with scientifically and about which he visibly knows nothing, or pretends to know nothing?
For the present, let us retain the improbable hypothesis of ignorance, which would be a lesser evil on the part of the author were it not for his remarks which scornfully disavow and reject the final results obtained by Pascal Kintz and Robert Wennig, results which have since been acknowledged by their peers.
We are awaiting further developments with interest.
A Staggering Discovery:
Napoleon was extremely fond of wine
Among the press releases mentioned above, we were once more confronted with all the old theories which are so popular with the opponents of the poisoning thesis. Among other explanations was the highly imaginative theory, already mentioned on our site, that Napoleon “died of boredom and unhappiness.”
But the most astounding revelation of all was in a press release from the “Agence France Presse”, which was picked up by several medias, stating that: “the custom of winegrowers at the time was to wash out their casks and vats with arsenic, which could explain its presence in Napoleon's hair. This theory which had first been put forward by Swiss researchers in Bale in 2005 also alleged that Napoleon was extremely fond of wine.”
This, of course, was the perfect argument to put an end to the poisoning theory once and for all.
Napoleon was “extremely fond of wine?” A great amateur indeed, who only drank a small glass of “Chambertin” wine, diluted with water!
It appears that these “researchers from Bale” were those who had previously asserted that the Emperor died of a stomach cancer by measuring the size of his trousers!
French history magazine Historia, after refusing to write an article on the results obtained by Dr. Kintz and Prof. Wennig, was, however, strangely eager to report on this new and highly scientific breakthrough.
As for making people believe that winegrowers cleaned out their casks with deadly poison - rat poison, as that was the form of arsenic discovered in the Emperor's hair - it can be regarded as nothing more than an attempt to deliberately fool readers.
I would also like to stress that without being a gourmet, Napoleon was not masochist to the point of seasoning his meals with rat poison which, as everyone knows, is hardly a “magic potion” which ensures long-life!
The fact is that we are continuously “bombarded” with biased theories that are more or less scientific and all of which have the same aim: to prove that cancer was indeed the cause of Napoleon's death, thereby “demolishing” the poisoning thesis.
Neither the International Napoleonic Society nor, of course, Dr. Kintz has ever said that on May 5, 1821, Napoleon died of an “overdose” of arsenic. It is nevertheless true that, over a period of almost five years, the Emperor who had been deported to St Helena , was well and truly the victim of poisoning by rat poison.
So, sorry, Gentlemen, but all these manœuvres - even those elaborated and concerted with ingenuity - cannot change this indisputable scientific fact.
Representative for France of the
International Napoleonic Society