By Ben Weider, President of
the International Napoleonic Society

President Ben Weider

On February 11, the France Presse agency issued a release entitled “Napoleon: Italian Researchers Rule out Arsenic Poisoning.”

I have reproduced several extracts from this release in bold italics, because they truly merit your attention.

“The studies have shown that two centuries ago, the concentration of arsenic in the hairs was 100 times stronger than the average level contained in hairs of our time.”

“For the Emperor and his intimates, the level of arsenic present would be considered toxic today, but is analogous to those levels found in other subjects who lived at that time, and is thus not unusual.”

“The environment in which people lived at the start of the 19 th Century was conducive to ingesting quantities of arsenic that we would today consider to be dangerous.”

“Consequently, the concentration of this substance was insufficient to cause Napoleon's death,” and the cause of that concentration would not have been “a poisoning, but rather a constant absorption of arsenic.” (End of quotation)

I can at least agree with the last part of this phrase, relative to the “constant absorption of arsenic.”

And here is the “logical” conclusion that supposedly arises after such statements: “It was not arsenic poisoning that killed Napoleon at Saint Helena . . .”

I repeat for the umpteenth time: the thesis which I support proves nothing EXCEPT the fact that, during the entire duration of his deportation, Napoleon was being—I use the word for simplicity—poisoned. A fact that, considering the greatness of this man, is not insignificant.

To lead people to believe that the poisoning thesis seeks only to affirm that Napoleon's death on May 5, 1821, was the direct consequence of arsenic is a perverse strategy of misrepresentation. It is, however, astute and well suited to discredit the thesis.

The conclusion of the article mentioned above leads me to return briefly to the past to review, again for the umpteenth time, the analysis I had made on behalf of the International Napoleonic Society. Unfortunately, each time that I have had the greatest recognized experts conduct analyses that demonstrate that the Emperor, deported to Saint Helena, was in fact the victim of what the scientists call “chronic exposure” (but which you and I call “poisoning,”) strangely, someone initiates other analyses designed to prove the contrary—as indicated by the sequence of events that follows.

- 1962: (and subsequent years): The Toxicology Department of the University of Glasgow places in evidence the presence of arsenic—at this point without more specificity as to the nature of the toxin—in Napoleon's hairs.

- 1995: The FBI confirms the presence of arsenic, and the director of the department of chemistry/toxicology concluded his report as follows: “The quantity of arsenic present in the hairs we analyzed is consistent with poisoning . . .”

- 2001: Dr. Kintz, at that time president of the French Society of Analytical Toxicology—he currently heads the International Association of Medical-Legal Toxicologists—confirms all the preceding results: Napoleon's hairs show concentrations of a toxic substance that are (in round numbers) between seven and thirty-eight times superior to the level considered “natural,” because all these hairs contained infinitesimal quantities of arsenic.

Reaction of Opponents:

The reaction took the form of analyses conducted by the laboratory of the Prefecture of Police of Paris and published with great fanfare in November, 2002, in the columns of the popularizing magazine Science et Vie (Science and Life). This article concluded peremptorily that the toxin was located on the surface of the hairs, and thus its presence was due to hair care products used at that time.

- 2003: Professor Robert Wennig, of the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, established that, while there was some poison on the periphery of the hairs as a consequence of various manipulations, that poison was also and especially found at the very heart of the hairs, which indicated that it was “pushed” there by blood circulation. In other words, the arsenic had passed through the digestive tract. This analysis disposed completely of the hasty (and biased?) deductions of the above-mentioned popular magazine concerning hair care products.

- 2005: A decisive demonstration. Dr. Pascal Kintz revealed that the poison present in Napoleon's hairs was mineral arsenic, known in vulgar terms as “Rat killer.” I'm sure that you will agree with me that this is not a harmless substance commonly found in the body.

The news attracted much attention, spreading throughout the world like a powder train: the most famous man in the history of the world was poisoned cunningly like a common rodent!

This was too much for the opponents of the theory that Napoleon was poisoned; they had to do something grandiose in response.

Opposition Counter-Attack:

First came some picturesque “appetizers:” Swiss researchers claimed that Napoleon had indeed died of his emblematic stomach cancer. They arrived at this conclusion by measuring the size of his pants (what a triumph of science!). Next, the public was asked to believe (another report of the France Press Agency, citing other Swiss “researchers”) that the arsenic present in Napoleon's hairs could be explained by the “ the custom of winemakers of that era to wash out their casks and bottles with arsenic” —Rat killer—and these same people supported their beliefs by the claim that Napoleon was a great lover of wine! The absurdity of this statement is evident to all those who know the “gastronomic” habits of the Emperor!

Using a mortal poison to clean casks made of porous wood! Our detractors will obviously stop at nothing.

After this small “artillery preparation,” at the end of 2006 came a new and unexpected attack of great breadth.

It appeared as a study published in the scientific revue Nature: Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology, which alleged in effect that Napoleon died of a stomach cancer. It is important to note that the analyses in questions were conducted at the initiative of a physician, a member of the Napoleonic Memory, and thus an adversary (like all the Napoleon Foundation) of the poisoning thesis. In this “study,” one may read that the “fantastic” theories of Napoleon's poisoning by arsenic are “now largely discredited.”

A troubling observation: Nowhere in this “study” are the works of Prof. Wennig or Dr. Pascal Kintz mentioned in any way. Obviously, this makes brainwashing about the question much easier.

After this, calm returned on the poisoning front.

Until February 11, 2008.

This new and third offensive does not surprise me: Jean-Claude Damamme, who knows our adversaries, ended one of his articles «On the contrary - Gentlemen, Napoleon was indeed the victim of Poisoning by Rat-Killer» (which is already on our web Site), by writing: “We await further developments with interest.”

Nonetheless, several questions arise:

- Why this new and sudden attack? I do not know. All that I can say is that it is evident that someone is determined to completely discredit the poisoning thesis by whatever means necessary.

- Why this time, unless I am mistaken, were the works of Wennig and Kintz obscured in the new effort that these Italian researchers propose to the general public?

- Was the small nuclear reactor “dedicated exclusively to research” used to examine the heart of the hairs, or was it only rested on the surface; was it the same procedure for toxic identification used in the analyses conducted by Dr. Kintz at the Chemtox Laboratory in Illkirch?

- Why all these attacks at more or less regular intervals?

- Why were the hairs examined at Pavia, unlike all the hairs that I have had analyzed, not suspected of being false?

- Why, this time, did the France Press Agency not publish the interview that one of its journalists had with Jean-Claude Damamme, representative in France of the INS, to permit him to present our arguments? This failure made it impossible for us to refute in the media this new and fallacious argument.

- Why are all these banal absurdities by the opponents of the thesis presented, to use a well-known phrase, as if they were “the Gospel truth?”

- Why has the Ukrainian government accepted Dr. Kintz' conclusions concerning the poisoning of President Vikor Yushchenko, and why, when it is a question of Napoleon's poisoning, do people continue to multiply analyses for the sole purpose of destroying a thesis that—as this relentlessness demonstrates—disturbs many people?

- And above all, why attempt at any price to deceive the public?

For that is in fact what is at issue, and one need not be paranoid to recognize that there is something that is both unhealthy and methodical behind these analyses, undoubtedly well conducted, but deceiving in their alleged certainty.

In various announcements, I have noted that the hairs analyzed by these Italians belonged not only to Napoleon but also to the Empress Josephine (supposedly taken after her death in 1814) and to the King of Rome, the son that the Emperor had by the Empress Maria-Louisa.

The information organ Science Daily for February 11 is more precise about the (supposed) dates at which Napoleon's hairs were taken: while he was a child in Corsica, during his exile on Elba, the day of and the day after his death at Saint Helena.

And here we come directly up against the most total absurdity (or dishonesty?).

In effect, the analyses made by Dr. Kintz have demonstrated—I would say demonstrated scientifically beyond any possible question—that Napoleon's hairs taken at Saint Helena were impregnated with a toxin. And, as I have written above, not just any toxin: Rat killer! A mortal poison.

So, I recall yet again for the umpteenth time that I had analyzed only those hairs cut during his deportation to Saint Helena, the period during which it is obvious—it has been scientifically demonstrated—that someone (and I don't know who that “someone” may be)—caused Napoleon to ingest a mortal poison. Otherwise, since arsenic-based preparations were used during that time to care for hair, there is no reason to be interested in the presence of arsenic in the hairs of the child Napoleon, of the Empress Josephine, or the King of Rome. The Italian scientists have only forced a door that was already open, behind which they found only “innocent” arsenic.

By contrast, we can be rightfully surprised that these same scientists did not detect the presence of mineral arsenic, Rat killer, in the hairs taken on the day of and the day after the Emperor's death. One sole explanation is possible: the analysis concerned only the surface of the hairs, and neglected an interior “exploration” of them.

If that is the case, these analyses are nothing more than an attempt to “throw sand in the eyes.”

If not, unless I am mistaken or have misinterpreted, this implies that Josephine and the King of Rome also had Rat killer in their hairs.

If I have correctly understood what we are told, these Italian researchers made no distinction between this “unknown” arsenic—whose nature they were careful not to specify—found in the hairs of the child Napoleon and in those of the unfortunate deportee of Saint Helena.

Because the 2005 analyses made in the ChemTox Laboratory by Pascal Kintz demonstrated that the toxin present in Napoleon's hairs is Rat killer, one can understand why the Italian researchers of Pavia preferred to leave those studies in the shade.

If they had mentioned this, and bearing in mind their conclusions, cited at the start of this article, that “two centuries ago the concentration of arsenic in hair was 100 times stronger than the average level contained in the hairs of our time” —and bearing in mind also the nature of the poison found in the core of Napoleon's hairs—that would signify that some 26 million Frenchmen of that era-- all!— had Rat killer in their hairs. And that this situation was in no way “uncommon!”

These Italian researchers did, however, bring us one piece of good news: if, today, we all have, like Napoleon, some Rat killer in our hairs, it is in a quantity one hundred times weaker. What a relief!

More seriously, did the sponsors of this new enterprise of destruction really imagine that such arguments would eliminate the thesis of Napoleon's poisoning?

I recall that certain people—whom I will not name—have said that, to know whether Napoleon was really poisoned (in other words, to definitively strangle this iconoclastic thesis), we must analyze the hairs of his contemporaries. These recent analyses conducted at Pavia by the National Institute of Physics can have no other purpose than to grant this wish by putting a final end to all questions.

I regret to inform them that this maneuver has failed, that nothing has been demonstrated, and that, since the surface analyses of Science et Vie, the detractors of the thesis have made no progress in their demonstration.

Deliberately obscuring the definitive works of Robert Winnig and Pascal Kintz will not eliminate those works. I affirm that this recent series of analyses is nothing other than a perfect illustration of the long-term deception conducted to ridicule and destroy the thesis of Napoleon's poisoning.

I persist therefore in asserting: the Emperor deported to Saint Helena was indeed a victim of poisoning by Rat killer, and this latest fantasy cannot refute that reality.

Ben Weider
President of the International Napoleonic Society.