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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May 2005, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Trousers tell why Napoleon died
Napoleon Bonaparte
Clothes appear to confirm the official explanation for Napoleon's death
A study of Napoleon Bonaparte's trousers could put an end to the theory that the French Emperor was poisoned.

Napoleon died aged 52 on St Helena in the south Atlantic where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.

His post mortem showed he died of stomach cancer, but it has been suggested arsenic poisoning or over-zealous treatment was to blame.

Now Swiss researchers say his trousers show he lost weight prior his death, confirming he had cancer.

We are sure that the autopsy report speaks clearly in favour of gastric [stomach] cancer
Alessandro Lugli, University Hospital Basel

The research, by scientists from the anatomical pathology department of the University Hospital in Basel and the Institute of Medical History at the University of Zurich, looked at 12 pairs of Napoleon's trousers.

Four were from before his exile and eight were pairs he wore during the six years he spent in exile on St Helena, including the pair he wore while dying.

The researchers also collated information from post mortems on the weights of patients who had died of stomach cancer.

They then measured the waists of healthy people to work out the correlation between that measurement and their actual weight.

This information was then used to calculate Napoleon's weight in the months leading up to his death.

The largest pair of trousers Napoleon wore had a waist measurement of 110cm; those he wore just before his death measured 98cm.

This, they say, shows he lost between 11 and 15kg over the last six months of his life.


The Swiss team say the presence of arsenic in Napoleon's hair, the source of the poisoning theory, was linked to this enthusiasm for wine.

At the time, it was the custom of winemakers to dry their casks and basins with arsenic.

Dr Alessandro Lugli, who carried out the study which appeared in the American Review of Human Pathology, told the BBC News website he thought theories about alternative explanations for Napoleon's death would continue to be put forward.

But he said: "We are sure that the autopsy report speaks clearly in favour of gastric [stomach] cancer."

The demise of the French Emperor has provoked numerous theories.

Last year, researchers from the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Department said in New Scientist magazine that it was regular doses of antimony potassium tartrate, or tartar emetic a poisonous colourless salt which was used to make him vomit, that killed him.

He was also given regular enemas.

The researchers, led by forensic pathologist Steven Karch, say this would have caused a serious potassium deficiency, which can lead to a potentially fatal heart condition called Torsades de Pointes in which rapid heartbeats disrupt blood flow to the brain.

Dr Karch told BBC News Online at the time that he studied similar modern cases.

He said: "There is a very strong argument for this - but it's not as sexy as the idea that he was murdered.

"The arsenic wasn't killing him - his doctors did him in!"

British 'cleared' of Napoleon's murder
29 Oct 02 |  Science/Nature


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