By Rob Wilkins, Special Assistant
On June 2, 2005, historians were presented with new scientific evidence supporting the theory that Napoleon Bonaparte was poisoned with arsenic during his exile to St. Helena. Dr. Pascal Kintz, one of the leading toxicologists in France, delivered the news.
Dr. Kintz conducted the tests at the request Mr. Ben Weider, the President of the International Napoleonic Society (INS). For over 40 years, Weider has been traveling the globe in search of evidence to prove without a doubt Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning. He argues that the British and French wanted to ensure that he would not make a second comeback, as he had done after his exile on the island of Elba.
“To validate my theory that Napoleon was poisoned, we had to make analysis of arsenic on Napoleon's hair,” Weider said. “To ensure our results were accurate, our tests were run using the most sophisticated machinery possible, the Nano-Secondary Ion Mass Spectrography (Nano-SIMS). There are only ten such mass spectrometers in the world. The Nano-SIMS was graciously provided to Dr. Kintz by Dr. Robert Wennig, Professor of Toxicology at the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.”
In addition, Dr. Kintz utilized a number of new sophisticated chemical techniques to examine hair samples, taken by Napoleon's servant Abraham Noverraz and General Bertrand, who was deported to St Helena with the emperor.
The new techniques perform a simultaneous analysis of 30 different metals and can distinguish between the organic and innocuous form of arsenic, found in crustaceans, and its toxic metallic variety, which was not possible previously. The toxic form of arsenic, used for centuries as rat poison, was found in Napoleon's hair samples at 37 to 42 times above the normal level in the new study.
“The investigation about proving that Napoleon died of poisoning and not of cancer was complicated, lengthy, and took a lot of research,” said Weider.
Weider continues, “Since Napoleon’s death, the official cause of his death was listed as cancer however, in the memoirs written by the people who shared the exile with Napoleon, many listed all of the symptoms that Napoleon suffered from. These symptoms had nothing to do with cancer but if you compare them with a list of symptoms of arsenic intoxication, both lists were the same.”
The hair strands studied by Dr. Kintz were purchased at a Paris auction 30 years ago. In other tests, Napoleon's hair samples came from a number of different sources to ensure accuracy.
Weider’s first major breakthrough related to his theory occurred on 28 August 1995 , when the US Department of Justice in Washington DC stated, “The amount of arsenic present in the submitted Napoleon hairs is consistent with arsenic poisoning.”
In addition, in a letter from New Scotland Yard, London, dated 4 November 1997, stated “The answer must be “yes,” with a view to presenting a formal case [of arsenic poisoning] to the Crown Prosecution Service.”
Then, on 1 June 2001, Dr Weider revealed to a large meeting in Paris that he had received from Dr Pascal Kintz of the Toxicology Department at the University of Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, an analysis of five samples of Napoleon’s hair taken soon after his death. According to Dr Kintz, these ‘showed there was major exposure, and I stress major, to arsenic’.
Widely considered one of the worlds leading authorities on Napoleon, Weider was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2000. T he Legion of Honour is presented to individuals for outstanding achievements in military or civil life and is the highest award France can bestow on a foreigner. The award was created in 1802 by Napoleon.
The International Napoleonic society is proud to recognize Ben Weider for this historic achievement.
For more information related to the INS, visit their web site at www.napoleonicsociety.com