BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Friday, 1 June, 2001, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
Napoleon 'may have been poisoned'
St Helena Island
Napoleon died in 1821 on the island of St Helena
New evidence suggests the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, did not die of cancer but was poisoned.

According to two French forensic specialists in Strasbourg, tests on five strands of Napoleon's hair preserved since his death confirm "major exposure to arsenic".

The level of arsenic found in Napoleon's hair is higher than seven to 38 times normal amounts and is an unmistakable sign of poisoning

Pascal Kintz, forensic expert

Napoleon, who was born in Corsica, died at the age of 52 on 5 May 1821, on the island of St Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean, where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.

Officially, he was said to have died of stomach cancer.

Poison theory

According to Pascal Kintz, one of the two Strasbourg Forensic Institute's experts, "the level of arsenic found in Napoleon's hair is higher than 7 to 38 times normal amounts and is an unmistakable sign of poisoning".

The analysis was commissioned by Ben Weider, a Canadian millionaire businessman and Napoleon enthusiast who for years has defended the poison theory.

Ben Weider
Mr Weider believes Napoleon was poisoned as the result of a conspiracy
Mr Weider, the founder of the International Napoleonic Society, received confirmation from an American laboratory of arsenic concentrations in the emperor's hair five years ago.

A year ago, he presented French journalists with evidence of his claims.

One theory for the presence of the arsenic is that it was found in paint or wallpaper in Napoleon's room on St Helena, or that the local water was contaminated with it.

But the experts ruled this out, saying the amounts showed it must have been deliberately administered.

English conspiracy

Against the opinion of mainstream historians, Mr Weider argues the British governor of St Helena, Hudson Lowe, conspired with French count Charles de Montholon to assassinate Napoleon for fear he would escape from the south Atlantic island and return to France.

But according to others, it was in fact one of Napoleon's aides on the island who gave him the poison, with the intention of making him ill and thus persuading the English to let him back to France.

Napoleon, who rose swiftly through the ranks of the revolutionary French army, proclaimed himself emperor in 1804.

He was exiled a first time to the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1815 before returning for a Hundred Day rule, which ended with defeat by the English at Waterloo, and a second exile.

Mr Weider plans to ask the French Government to open Napoleon's tomb at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris to compare the DNA in the hair samples with that of his remains.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

27 Sep 99 | Medical notes
Arsenic poisoning
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories