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Comments on the Death of Napoleon

By John F. Davis, M.D.
St-Bruno, Quebec

There was probably plenty of talk here last year when Ben Weider’s latest book Assassination at St.Helena Revisited was published (Wiley, 1995). But, since comments in the guestbook (note from the editor: former guestbook is replaced by the Discussion Forum) only stay about a month or so, they have passed on into oblivion, so it seems appropriate to refresh the information here.

I am enjoying this highly readable book which retells the story of Napoleon, not only of his last years at St-Helena but of the last years and the last battles he fought before his first resignation and banishment to Elba. It completes the cycle which started with Sven Forshufvud’s book Who Killed Napoleon in 1961 and was widely circulated in 1978 with the first version of “Assassination at St.Helena” jointly authored by him and Ben Weider. Then in 1982 came Ben Weider’s “Murder of Napoleon” like a suspense story.

Now we have the reworked documentary mentioned above, completed by Ben Weider since the death of Prof. Forshufvud. It is still current in the bookshops. Go get it, READ IT and enjoy!

This interesting but very sad story of Napoleon’s illness and slow death by arsenic poisoning (complicated by the prescription of other medications which interacted fatally with the arsenic) is now so well established, factual point by factual point, confirmed in scientific laboratories, that no reasonable historian can doubt its veracity. And it raises the fascinating question: What would the end of the Napoleonic Period have been like if his health and judgement had not been so drastically impaired by arsenic poisoning?

An addendum has been added to the story as an annex after this last book was written but included in the published list of exhibits. This is a letter dated August 1995 from the Director of the Forensic Laboratory of the FBI in Washington DC which confirms the documented evidence through further analysis of the hair of Napoleon cut 6 hours after his death by his valet and carefully preserved down through the years. Ben Weider presented this information in a convocation speech in Tallahassee (Florida State University) in September 1995.

As a medical doctor I have found this whole piece of research and logical diagnostic work extremely interesting and credible. Toxicology and Forensic Medicine are not my specialty, but world class experts have been brought into the picture to add technical proof to the story.

Hope this information is of interest and I recommend the book as a good read.