The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

The Death of Napoleon

By Mikael Kehler M.D.

As I can see from the comments in the Discussion Forum it is clear that Forshufvud’s theories about poisoning are still very much alive.

This is a fascinating theory, but almost too fantastic to be true, and almost the only indication is the arsenic content in the hair. Arsenic was commonly used for medications and in addition there was a plethora of other sources for arsenical poisoning (for example the dye used for the curtains around Napoleons camp bed).

I can agree that the official cause of his death – ventricular cancer – is just as improbable, cancer patients usually dies emaciated and not fat as Napoleon. A third theory, evoked already before his death but suppressed by the British for political reasons, was hepatitis, a disease endemic in St. Helena. Hippolyte Larrey, son of Napoleons famous surgeon and himself a surgeon wrote so 1892, and that a stomach ulcer was secondary to hepatitis, an opinion he apparently shared with his father. An Irishman, Dr. Knott is the next to state that the cause was hepatitis, and in 1931 Dr. Mets and Dr. Abbatucci published a book about the St. Helena disease which now is associated with amoebic disease. The advantage of this diagnosis is that it fits in with all known symptoms: the remittent fever with drenching night sweats; the feeling of heaviness and discomfort on the right side with referred pain in the right shoulder; the palpable tender liver; the muddy, shallow-looking skin is also typical of hepatic amoebiasis, and even the red spittle fits in with a perforated abscess, either to the stomach – or more likely – to the lungs.

The arguments above are from a book by Major-General Frank Richardson, M.D.: Napoleon’s Death: An Inquest (William Kimber 1974) which is just as if not more readable than the book of Forshufvud as it seems to be more based on medical facts.