September 19, 2008 cameron

The Napoleon Bonaparte Podcast #44 – The Murder Of Napoleon

On today’s episode, David and I talk about Napoleon’s struggles with Hudson Lowe, the theory that he was slowly being murdered while on St Helena, poisoned by someone in his own retinue, his sexual escapades with Albine de Montholon, and whether or not he had a “foxhole” religious conversion.


Comments (10)

  1. Greg McP

    Yikes! I just listened to The Death of Napoleon without listening to this one. Damn iTunes. I thought the jump to the end was rather abrupt.

  2. Cameron

    Ugh. Sorry about that Greg. I guess that’s my fault. In my enthusiasm I put them out too closely together. I should have spread them out by a week I guess.

  3. Just found the show and I can not stop listening to it on the bus with my iPod. I think you could do with a ‘different point of view’. The debate would be very entertaining. Can you do a show on the literature, documentaries, websites and movies on Napoleon and the period, both fiction and non fiction. I would love to hear you two discuss the merits and pitfalls on what you have seen, read and found.

  4. Mutatis Mutandis

    I wonder what you think of the theory that Napoleon was an early victim of “Gosio’s Disease”, a syndrome named after the Italian scientist who explained it.

    Basically the theory rests on the fact that in the 1800s, a very common green dye used for wallpapers was Scheele’s Green, which is a copper-arsenic compound. Like other arsenic-based dyes, it is toxic, but it is a bright, stable pigment, which is why it was highly popular from the 1780s until the 1870s.

    But if the concentration of Scheele’s Green is not too high, and the wallpaper is damp, some moulds are able to process the dye and release trimethylarsine, a substance that is both toxic and volatile. This is then discharged from the wallpaper into the room. It killed mainly children, which prompted Gosio’s investigation in the 1890s, and made victims as late as the 1930s.

    Apparently at least some of the wallpaper at Longwood contained Scheele’s Green. The combination of such a wallpaper, a damp house, and the habit of staying indoors to protected himself from being constantly spied on, would have been quite harmful for a man whose health was already in decline. It might also explain why Napoleon’s entourage found Longwood such an unhealthy place to live in.

    Apparently one reason arsenic-containing wallpapers were popular was that people noticed that rooms hung with them had fewer bugs. As indeed they did. I think the story at least serves as a lesson to those who pooh-pooh modern safety regulations.

  5. Cameron

    Mickey – agreed that it would be good to have someone who disagrees with us on the show. We plan to do that with the “epilogue” shows.

    Mutatis – I believe the argument against the wallpaper theory is that Napoleon’s hair shows arsenic inside the CORE of the hair, not just in the outer layers. Apparently this can only happen if arsenic is ingested.

  6. Mutatis Mutandis

    I don’t quite follow this argument. Surely the presence of arsenic in the core of the hair only tells us that the arsenic was in Napoleon’s body, and not how it entered that body? Apparently arsenic compounds can enter the body also through lungs or skin, although in doses large enough to kill quickly, only through the stomach. Probably one would observe absence of arsenic in the core of the hair if it contaminated the body after death, or as some have suggested, Napoleon used an arsenic-containing hair ointment.

    By modern standards, Napoleon’s hair contained shockingly high levels of arsenic. But the problem is in proving that he was deliberately poisoned, which would mean that he had higher levels of arsenic than other people of his time and social status, and more specifically, higher levels than the other people in his entourage at St. Helena. Because average exposure at the time may have been quite high, and apparently the human body adapts to it. I wonder whether it would be possible to test the hair of any of them — to be able to test the hair of Montholon himself would be nice.

  7. Adam

    The other thing i was wondering about regarding the wallpaper theory is the other people who lived at Longwood (Gourgaud, the Montholons etc.) If there were arsenic coming from the wallpaper alone and that’s what killed the emperor, they too should have high levels of arsenic. Cameron/David- do you know if any of the members of the imperial entourage have been tested for arsenic poisoning?

  8. To Mutatis and Adam, the problem with the wallpaper theory, paraphrasing John Fournier who worked with Ben Weider as one of the head developers and promoters of the poison murder concept which has been proven really but without a definite perpetrator, was that if that were the case, the exposure to the arsenic would have been at least relatively constant. On the contrary, the hairs and the journal records indicate severe and altering spikes in the level of arsenic ingested. Weider’s research is the only one fully borne out by facts and reason, and I would definitely recommend reading his books on the subject.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We Love To Hear From Our Listeners.

Get in touch with us!