What is required to disprove the poisoning theory?
It was entirely possible for Napoléon to die from cancer at the age of 51. As such it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which the poisoning hypothesis has been disproven. Now, this has not taken place. I will go through the four evidence and show for each of them in which way it has not happened.
The original poisoning hypothesis was based on the eyewitness account of Louis Joseph Marchand. At least seven other people have also testified about Napoléon’s symptoms. These were Francesco Antommarchi, Archibald Arnott, Henri Gratien Bertrand, Gaspard Gourgaud, Charles Tristan de Montholon, Barry Edward O’Meara and John Stokoe. If their descriptions had differed much from Louis’ that would had sown doubts about his testimony. Instead, six of them roughly match Louis’. The small differences can be explained by human error and errors of communication. It is only Charles’ which differs radically from the other testimonies. Yet it contains so many absurdities it is not credible anyway. That people once believed him was only due to social class prejudice. This is not a reliable way to search for the objective truth about the past.
For the autopsy of the dead Napoléon there are no less than five autopsy reports. Two are written by Francesco Antommarchi and two by the British physicians together. The fifth one was written by the most naïve of the British physicians. As far as I know no-one of them points out any tumour. The Britons’ still suggest that he died from cancer or a condition leading to cancer. Both suggested causes of death suffer from far too great problems. If he really died from cancer, why could they not point out any tumour? If they could point it out, why did they not do so? Neither do you die from a condition leading to cancer, you die from cancer. Furthermore, no physician could have known back then if there where such a process going on. Consequentially, no-one of the suggested causes of death are logically consistent. Francesco instead drew the conclusion that Napoléon had died from hepatitis. But at least he admitted he could not explain the condition of the stomach. This indicates he was an honest man who did not intentionally exaggerate the precision of his own observations. The Britons most have done so. If we remove what they could not have known the rest supports Francesco’s description. His in turn support the poisoning theory to the very highest degree. Francesco did not know this, however.
Napoléon’s grave on Saint Helena was opened 19 years later. If someone claimed the corpse to be rotten it was probably someone not present. On the opposite several people have witnessed that the dead man was almost intact. At the very least he had decomposed so little as to be still recognisable. Please note that normal decomposition makes dead humans’ soft parts to lose shape rather fast. In this case that had not happened in 19 whole years! Yet there is no eyewitness account of the dead man being intentionally preserved. No contemporary eyewitness has mentioned any mummification process. The innermost coffin he was buried in was airtight for sure. But it neither contained no air nor was filled with alcohol. Neither is there any eyewitness account of it being heated with fire. The dead man was never in contact with the ground. So the chemical properties of the ground can’t explain the preservation. The place had a constant temperature above the freezing point of water. Furthermore, it was moist during a large part of the time. As such there were those no-one of the conditions leading to natural mummification. I think dead bodies would normally turn into skeletons in less than half the time. The condition of the dead Napoléon demands a natural explanation. The only sensible explanation is a very high arsenic content, earlier eyewitness accounts suggest this. When given his ultimate poison he was already dying from arsenic and antimony poisoning. Calomel and bitter almonds combined only hastened his death.
Finally, we have different measurements of chemical poisons in hair samples from him. They could be imagined to not show higher contents than normal. Please note that “normal” means what is considered normal today. The normal content at the time could even have been lower then today. If the measurements were no higher than normal that would cast doubt about the reliability of the contemporary eyewitness accounts.
There have been at least 16 chemical measurements. Twelve of them match the poisoning theory. The four remaining measurements must have been grossly misinterpreted. It is patently absurd that an arsenic content a hundred times as high was normal in Napoléon’s day. I seriously doubt the ones claiming so knew what a dangerous poison this is about. They also assert their claim to be verified by measurements of hair samples from “relatives”. These were in fact his first wife Josèphine, and his (but not her) son Franz. I think they made the same error for all three people. The same testing method was used in 1960 by the British toxicologist Hamilton Smith. Before he measured the arsenic contents, he washed the hair samples with acetone. It is entirely possible that those which made absurdly high measurements did not realise the need for it. If so they would have measured an arsenic content due to external contamination. There is a way to find out if my educated guess holds true. Three hair samples could be taken from a present-day, healthy person. (I accept if I get the chance and no-one else does.) Two would be treated with preparations of arsenic made after an old recipe. One out of the two treaded samples would then be washed in acetone. All three would have their arsenic content measured with the same method as Hamilton used. If I am correct two of the hair samples would have contents within the normal range of variation. The one treated but not washed would have one a hundred times as high. At least this is my suggested solution of the absurdly high measurements.
This page was last changed on the 19th of July 2022.