Sten(1) became a dental surgeon when he was 21 years old. In Sweden, he was the youngest to qualify in his profession.
Later on, he went to the University of Bordeaux to carry on his studies. Encouraged by the famous histologist George Dubreuil(2), he made several major discoveries.
Once back to Sweden, he carried on his studies in Biology at Lund University where he conducted his PhD thesis in Medicine. Then, he studied in the laboratories of bacteriology and pathology of the Sahlgren Hospital, and in the biology laboratory of the Göteborg zoological Museum.Afterwards, hehad access to the Nobel Institute of Physics where he carried on his research and became professor at the University of Odontology.(3)
Parallel to his career, he started investigations in serology, and dedicated himself to the study of the bloodstream and its functions, the blood plasma and poisons.
In 1955, Forshufvud read Marchand’s memoirs, the Emperor’s servant in Saint-Helena, and while studying the symptoms presented by Napoleon when he was exile and before his death, he began to suspect arsenic poisoning. He discovered that at least 28 of the 31 symptoms were characteristics of arsenic poisoning. In 1959, he discovered a crucial article written by Hamilton Smith, professor of legal medicine in Glasgow. This man finalized a process according to which the nuclear bombardment of one single hair activated the arsenic that was found in it, which facilitated measures of quantity.
On 8th October 1960, with a written note, Lachouque(5) paid tribute to Forshufvud’s work:
“My dear Doctor,
I read and rereadyour brilliant work which naturally interested me a lot. Would you please allow me to congratulate you on your patient study, your profound knowledge, your critical sense, and your accuracy for the texts.
All of this gathers incredible qualities without which the historian is similar to the historical novelist .”
After giving him numerous advices to help him give weight to his developed thesis, Lachouque ended up with: “There would be some alterations to make to your text, but it is rather minor. I can see very clearly what we can do and it is very interesting…”
Therefore, he had to find other hair to confirm his first study, but surprisingly, he came up against a brick wall. Indeed, even the commanding officer Lachouque did not help him anymore. Consequently, Sten(6) decided to turn to the overseas to find other relics. Samples from Las Cases, Marchand and others, whose authenticity was indisputable, were coming from Switzerland, Australia, and New Jersey…In 1961, Forshufvud published a book entitled “Was Napoleon poisoned?” His work was severely lambasted by the French Napoleonic circles, as professor Tulard obligingly recalled in Le Figaro Littéraire of May 27 th 1999: “The French translation was welcomed with amusement. Imminent specialists of the Saint-Helena period, and secure in the strength of their medical knowledge, the doctors Godlewski and Ganière made short work of the unfortunate dentist.”
On 26 th March 1962, Hamilton-Smith confirmed the results of his first examination. The Swedish Doctor succeeded in demonstrating notably that these doses came from periodic administrations, and not from the environment, which therefore could explain the phases of respite that Napoleon lived.
After meeting him in 1972, he and Ben Weider worked as associates from 1974.
The latter(7) recalled: “With Sten Forshufvud, we established two chronological lists. In the first one, focusing on their precise dates, we wrote down the symptoms that Napoleon was suffering from with respect to the eyewitnesses’ accounts. Thereby, we covered the last six months of Napoleon’s life. This accurately tallied with the time growth of his hair that we hadanalyzed. In the second list, we recorded the arsenic rate which was found by the analysis of the dates of variation.”
After this study, Forshufvud asked Professor Henri Griffon(8), manager of the toxicological office of the Police of Paris, to explain him the difficulties he came up against to detect the presence of arsenic intoxication. He replied that he had never met a doctor who correctly diagnosed arsenic poisoning as the cause of illness of one of his patients. Arsenic with trioxide is without flavour and smell…
In 1978, through tests of neutron physical activation, Forshufvud(9) and his associate attested that Napoleon had been the “victim of repetitive poisoning”. New analyses succeeded in dating the beginning of arsenic poisoning to January 1816.
The time period from March 22 1821 to the death of the Emperor had been admirably unscrambled by Forshufvud. He meticulously counted clues that could indicate some kind of arsenical intoxication. After the study of the whole analysis, he came up with the thesis of Napoleon’s death.
Forshufvud and Weider published two books in which they explained their conclusions. Those books are entitled “Assassination at St Helena” (1978) and “Assassination at St Helena revisited” (1995).
Sten Forshufvud died in 1985.
Finally, on 14 th January 2003, during a conference in Strasbourg(10) whose theme was “Napoleon’s poisoning”, the Swedish dentist’s merits and scientific skills in his quest of truth were officially recognized, including from his former detractors.
- Damamme Jean-Claude, Empoisonnement de Napoléon ; Vérités – mensonges ; à propos de l’intervention de Thierry Lentz, 2003, http://www.napoleonicsociety.com, p. 1.
- Lamendin Henri, Napoléon, des dentistes et l’Histoire..., in Le Chirurgien-Dentiste de France, 6-13/01/2000, 966/967 : 66-71.
- Riaud Xavier, Les dentistes, détectives de l’histoire, L’Harmattan (éd.), Collection Médecine à travers les siècles, Paris, 2006.
- Weider Ben, L’assassinat de Napoléon, in Conférence au Festival Militaire International de Borodino , Russia, September 1997, & in Conférence à l'Académie Militaire de Sandhurst, England, February 1998, http://www.napoleonicsociety.com, pp. 1-6.
- Weider Ben & Kintz Pascal, Empoisonnement de Napoléon, in The International Napoleonic Society Journal, Montreal, 2005, pp. 6, 7.
“Translated by Anne-Sophie Millet”
" Translated by Anne-Sophie Millet "