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The Death of Napoleon

The Death of Napoleon


200 Years Since The Death of Napoleon

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), as First Consul, three-quarter length, holding a sabre (oil on canvas), Andrea Appiani the Elder (1754-1817) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images

Napoleon was born Napoleon Di Buonaparte on August the 15th, 1769 to a relatively modest family of minor noble descent, on the French island of Corsica. The French revolution came to a head when Bonaparte was an artillery officer. During this period of civil unrest he seized the opportunities that were presented to him and subsequently rose through the ranks of the military to become a general at age 24. He was eventually put in charge of the ‘Army of Italy’, a contingent of the French military, stationed on the French-Italian border.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) First Consul, Reviewing his Troops after the Battle of Marengo, 1802-03 (oil on canvas), Baron Antoine Jean Gros (1771-1835) / Château de Versailles, France

When he arrived in Italy, he found the army to be poorly organised and losing to the Austrians. He used superior organisation and prioritisation skills to move troops rapidly around the battlefield so they would always outnumber the enemy, winning the consecutive battles of Lodi, Arcole and Rivoli. He soon drove the Austrians out of Italy and returned to France as a national hero.
Napoleon’s power over France continued to intensify. He formed an entirely new government ‘The Consulate’, overpowering the weakened Directory (the previous government) and naming himself ‘First Consul’.

Napoleon I (1769-1821) in Front of the Chateau de Malmaison, 1804 (oil on canvas), Baron Francois Pascal Simon (1770-1837) / Musee National du Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France

As the leader of his country, Napoleon revolutionised the age old framework that had previously defined France. Most famously, he instituted a new reform known as the ‘Napoleonic Code’ which stated that government positions would not be appointed based on a person’s birth or religion, but on their qualifications and ability. This reform gave those of modest birth a chance of acquiring important positions within the government – on the basis that they had the required skills.

Napoleon Bonaparte in his Study at the Tuileries, 1812 (oil on canvas), Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

Aware of the precarious French economy, Napoleon focused on building new roads in a bid to encourage business. He also triumphed in ending the rift between France and the church by instituting the Concordat of 1801, at the same time establishing secular schools to enable anyone, religious or not, to receive an education.

The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon (1769-1821) and the Coronation of the Empress Josephine (1763-1814) by Pope Pius VII, 2nd December 1804, 1806-7 (oil on canvas), Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) / Louvre, Paris, France

In 1804, Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France in an extravagant coronation ceremony. Initially, Napoleon maintained peace in Europe, however, soon France was at war with Britain, Austria, and Russia. After losing a naval battle against Britain at the Battle of Trafalgar, Napoleon decided to attack Austria. He soundly defeated the Austrian and Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Over the next several years, Napoleon expanded the French Empire. At its greatest extent in 1811, France controlled much of Europe from Spain to the borders of Russia.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps on 20th May 1800, (oil on canvas), (workshop of) Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) / Château de Versailles, France

After the disastrous invasion of Russia, Napoleon was forced into exile on the island of Elba in 1814. He plotted his return to France, fully aware of the large amount of support for him that remained there. He managed to escape Elba in 1815, returning to a position of control in Paris for a period of time now known as the ‘Hundred Days’.
European countries like Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia strongly opposed his return from exile and thought of him as an outlaw. Each pledged to put 150,000 men into the field to end his rule.

Napoleon (1769-1821) after his Abdication (oil on canvas), Paul Hippolyte Delaroche (1797-1856) / Musee de l’Armee, Paris, France

On the 18th of June, 1815, the armies of Napoleon and Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington met near Waterloo. Napoleon waited until midday to give the command to attack in order to let the waterlogged ground dry after the previous night’s rainstorm – a critical error. This delay meant that Blucher’s remaining troops had time to march to Waterloo and join the battle later that day. The arrival of the Prussians turned the tide against the French. Napoleon’s outnumbered army retreated in chaos. The French emperor surrendered almost a month later, aboard the HMS Bellerophon on July 15th. The decisive defeat marked the ended of the Napoleonic years.

Once again forced into exile, this time to the remote Atlantic island of St Helena, Napoleon spent the final 6 years of his life alone. He died on the 5th of May 1821 allegedly of a stomach cancer.

Napoleon Bonaparte Musing at St. Helena, 1841 (oil on canvas), Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) (after) © Christie’s Images

Despite his strategic blunders later on in his military career, for some the image of Napoleon epitomises the symbol of revolutionary change – not just for France but for the whole of Europe.

Discover more Napoleon images in the archive.


Napoleon&rsquos Early Life

Napoleon was born in Corsica&rsquos capital of Ajaccio on August 15 1769. He was racially Italian, but Corsica&rsquos recent capitulation to France made him nationally—and reluctantly—French. Later critics would ridicule the low birth of this &ldquocoarse Corsican&rdquo: in 1800 the British journalist William Cobbett labeling him as &ldquoa low-bred upstart from the contemptible Island of Corsica.&rdquo But this assessment was completely untrue. Napoleon was in fact born to recent minor nobility. His father, Carlo Bonaparte, was Corsica&rsquos representative at the court of Louis XVI. But it was his mother, Letizia Ramolino (who he later credited as having &ldquothe head of a man on the body of a woman&rdquo) who exerted greater influence on the young Napoleon.

In May 1779 he took advantage of a military bursary to study at the academy at Brienne-le-Château. His heavy Corsican accent earned him the enmity of his overwhelmingly French aristocratic cohort. And, feeling isolated yet also driven to prove himself as being better than them, he devoted himself to his studies. He excelled in some of the more practical subjects: mathematics in particular, but also geography and history—counting among his heroes figures of antiquity like Alexander, Hannibal and Julius Caesar. Five years later, aged just 15, he would graduate with distinction and become the first Corsican ever to be awarded a place at Paris&rsquos École Militaire.

It was during his time at the École Militaire that France had its Revolution: an event that would prove crucial in Napoleon&rsquos career, replacing aristocratic privilege with meritocratic possibility and, for men like Napoleon, opening up the way to the upper echelons of politics and the military. The tumultuous times following the French Revolution also radically shifted the young Napoleon&rsquos political allegiances. As second lieutenant of an artillery regiment, he would take the (lack of) opportunity while on garrison duty to return to Corsica in 1789. There he became involved in the complex politics of the island, taking command of a battalion of volunteers and alienating the separatist leader Pasquale Paoli.

Remarkably, despite leading a riot against French forces on the island, he was made a captain of the French regular army in 1792 a role he would take up upon his return (or rather exile at the hands of Paoli) in June 1793. Back in France, among the bloody carnage of the Reign of Terror, it became clear he had backed the right political horse in aligning himself with Revolutionary Jacobinism rather than Corsican nationalism. It was the Jacobins—under the fearsome leadership of such figures as Maximilien Robespierre— who held the reigns of power in the French National Convention. He further ingratiated himself by publishing a pro-republican political pamphlet &ldquoLe Souper de Beaucaire&ldquo. Robespierre&rsquos brother, Augustine, approved of its pro-revolutionary content. And he would reward the political aspirations of the man who wrote it by dispatching him to Toulon.


The Death of a Prince: Louis Napoléon and the Tragedy of the Zulu War

Ask anyone with a little knowledge of Victorian British military or colonial history about the Zulu War of 1879 and you will likely receive replies that talk of the heroic defense of Rorke’s Drift or the disaster at Isandlwana. However, at the time there was another tragedy of the war that caused great consternation in both Britain and France. This was the death of Louis Napoléon, the Prince Imperial of France, at the hands of Zulu warriors, and the subsequent destruction of the reputation of a British Army officer.

Napoléon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte was born in March 1856 in Paris, France. As his full name suggests, he was related to Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte, being the grandson of Louis Bonaparte, Napoléon’s brother. Louis’ father, Napoléon III, brought his son up to believe in French military glory and as such the young prince spent much of his early years watching military parades that harked back to the days of the First Empire. Unfortunately for Louis, he would as a teenager witness the defeat of his country at the hands of the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Before the war was over, Louis was taken by his mother to England to escape the fighting. The presence of a Bonaparte in Britain was seen as an embarrassment to the British political elite, but Louis found himself a powerful benefactor in the form of Queen Victoria. With his father dead in early 1873 and unable to return to France, something needed to be done with the young Louis. He, therefore, was granted a commission as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, passing out seventh in his class at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1875.

As an officer in the British Army, Louis was eager to see active service. With news of the defeat of a British column at Isandlwana in January 1879, he actively petitioned to join the additional forces being assembled for South Africa. Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister, refused the request, but following pressure from both Queen Victoria and the Duke of Cambridge he relented and Louis was granted permission to go. On 28 February, he boarded a ship and went to war.

The presence of the Prince Imperial in South Africa was unwelcomed by Lord Chelmsford, who commanded British forces against the Zulus. Fears around Louis’ safety, not to mention the fact he was a Bonaparte, was the last thing the lieutenant-general wanted, but he was given little option but to grant the young lieutenant a place on his staff as an Aide-de-camp. Louis, however, proved to be a nightmare following his first patrol, when its commanding officer refused to allow the lieutenant to accompany him again. The prince’s impetuousness would ultimately seal his own fate.

An irritated Chelmsford turned to Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Harrison of the Royal Engineers, the assistant-quartermaster general, in the hope of finding Louis meaningful work, and keep him out of trouble. Harrison was charged with various tasks, including reconnaissance work for the British invasion force. It would be at this time that Louis met Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey of the 98th Foot, a member of Harrison’s staff. The prince hit it off with the French speaking Carey, and the two quickly became friends.

With the second invasion of Zululand soon to begin, Harrison and Carey conducted one final reconnaissance of the route ahead. The lieutenant-colonel had no intention of taking Louis with him, but the latter had somehow managed to obtain Chelmsford’s permission, and so joined the patrol. During the reconnaissance, the prince found himself coming under fire from a small group of Zulu riflemen. Drawing his sword, Louis conducted a charge at the Zulus, successfully seeing them off, much to his personal delight. His rashness, however, had much alarmed Harrison and those charged with his safety.

On 31 May the invasion began, and Louis sought permission to continue his sketching work of terrain ahead of the main column between the Ityotosi and Tombokola rivers. Harrison told the prince that he could do so, but that he must go accompanied by Carey – who had requested to go with Louis – and a small escort. And so, on 1 June, Carey, Louis and their little escort trotted off out of camp to carry out their work.

Having reached elevated ground at the edge of their intended reconnaissance, both Louis and Carey began sketching. As the afternoon progressed, the prince asked his fellow lieutenant if they could replenish their water supplies from the nearby river. An anxious Carey initially refused, since there was an abandoned Zulu kraal nearby, but later he relented and the party descended from the high ground.

At around 15:30 hours, the alarm was raised by a scout that some Zulu warriors were close by. Orders were issued to gather up all equipment and make ready to mount and retire. Before this was completed a fire was opened on Carey’s patrol and the men scrambled to escape. Carey and most of the men galloped off but one of the escort was shot and Louis had failed to mount his horse. Desperately trying to mount the frightened animal, the prince slipped in his stirrup, at which point he grabbed his saddle holster, only for it to rip. Now on the ground, Louis found his right-hand trodden on by his mount, which then promptly galloped off.

It was now too late to escape, Louis was surrounded by a group of warriors who thrusted at him with their assegais. Somehow getting to his feet, he drew his revolver but was stabbed in the leg. The lieutenant pulled the spear out, and fired his gun, only to miss his targets. Moments later, the Zulus frenziedly stabbed Louis to death.

News of Louis’ death sent shockwaves through the higher echelons of British government and society. Many in France were furious, and bitter criticism was aimed at London. Carey was court-martialed for ‘misbehaviour before the enemy’, since he had galloped away leaving the prince to his fate. In reality, Carey was made a scapegoat, since blame should have been apportioned to those in higher authority for putting the officer in an ambivalent position.

The British public, thanks to the press, were sympathetic to Carey’s predicament, and fortunately for the lieutenant his sentence of being cashiered from the army was overturned and he was allowed to return to his regiment. Carey died at Karachi on 22 February 1883, having contracted peritonitis.


This month in history 200 years ago: the death of Napoléon

For many he is regarded as France’s most famous historical figure. He ranks with the great military leaders of the past, men like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghiz Khan, the Duke of Marlborough, Robert E. Lee and Erwin Rommel. However, on the two hundredth anniversary of his death there have been mixed reactions.

He is not the first to have been critically observed through the black-tinted spectacles of hindsight and found wanting. The application of “cancel culture” was applied to Captain Cook on the 250th anniversary of his first voyage to New Zealand by Maori activists, and Waikanae readers will recall an art exhibition at Mahara Gallery where Maori artist Robyn Kahukiwa accused the great explorer of being an imperialist, rapist and murderer, claims that have no foundation in truth.

Napoléon’s legacy

Critics of the great man have raised the issues of Napoleon’s reintroduction of slavery and his crushing of moves to establish a more democratic society after the French Revolution with greater freedoms for women – being able to study, travel and sign contracts. Marriages between black and white people were also forbidden. These policies are black marks on his reputation.

However, he did introduce many reforms, some of which have had a lasting and positive impact on French life:

  • centralizing the government
  • establishing a new system of local government
  • instituting reforms in such areas as banking and education
  • abolishing feudal and church taxes
  • making careers open to men regardless of class
  • supporting science and the arts
  • working to improve relations between France and the pope – who represented France’s main religion, Catholicism — which had suffered during the revolution.

One of his most significant accomplishments was the Code Napoleon which streamlined the French legal system and continues to form the foundation of French civil law to this day. A key element was to ensure that all men were equal before the law, but not women.

In 1802 Bonaparte became first consul for life and two years later he crowned himself Emperor.

Military success creates a massive Empire

Napoleon had risen to power because of important military victories after France had been under attack in the 1790s by countries like Austria who were fearful that revolutionary ideas would undermine their monarchial governments. France not only repulsed the invasions but went on to the offensive. In 1802 at the Battle of Marengo Austria were driven out of Italy which now came under French control.

Within a few years Napoleon had redrawn the map of Europe and the French Empire stretched from Spain in the west to the plains of Poland. In the countries he took over many reforms were instituted, but the people were still very much under the thumb of the French.

The other four European powers failed to unite against him and only Britain remained totally independent of the French. Key naval victories at the Nile, Trafalgar and Copenhagen stopped the threat of a French invasion across the Channel.

But in 1812 Napoléon overreached himself and invaded Russia with 600,000 troops. The Russians kept retreating and allowed Napoleon to occupy the capital Moscow. But there was no surrender and deliberate fires were lit to destroy supplies. The Emperor decided to withdraw and with winter setting in, this proved to be a disaster. The Russians now employed hit and run tactics and with the intense winter and shortages of food and other supplies over 300,000 soldiers died of cold, hunger and disease.

Bigger power unity

The four powers — Russia, Britain, Austria and Prussia – combined in 1813 to defeat the French and by April 1814 they were in Paris, with Napoleon now their prisoner. As there was concern that executing the Emperor would make him a martyr, he was exiled to the island of Elba off the north-western coast of Italy.

The old Bourbon monarchy, which has ruled before the 1789 French Revolution, was restored and the big powers now retired to Vienna to redraw the map of Europe.

Napoléon’s last throw of the dice

In February 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed in southern France. One of his former marshals, Michel Ney, promised the new, but unpopular, King Louis XVIII that he would bring Bonaparte back to Paris “in an iron cage”. However, Ney’s forces and troops in Grenoble and elsewhere rallied to the Emperor. Bonaparte received a hero’s welcome on his return to Paris where he quickly re-established his government.

The four powers in Vienna pledged “not to lay down arms until Napoléon is rendered incapable of again disturbing the peace”. The crunch came at Waterloo in Belgium where in a close battle the allies won, mainly because Prussians troops arrived just in time to support the Duke of Wellington.

Napoléon had fought his last battle and this time he was banished to the stormy British island of St Helena in the South Atlantic. It was here that he died in May 1821.

Hero or villain?

Hitler clearly saw a kindred spirit in Napoléon and visited his tomb at Les Invalides in June 1940.

The answer is both. He did bring glory and prosperity to the country and made France the strongest power in Europe up until 1812. He introduced many positive reforms, but the reintroduction of slavery and the subjugation of women were appalling policies which have tarnished his reputation.

Some writers on Napoléon have called him a military genius. However although he was superb battlefield strategist, his latest biographer Adam Zamoyski says that no genius would have made the disastrous decision to invade Russia. Hitler of course repeated the mistake 129 years later with same the catastrophic results.

Napoléon did make some prophetic comments on world affairs, the most accurate being China is a sleeping giant. Let him sleep for if he wakes he will shake the world.

What is not in question about Bonaparte is that he had a huge impact on Europe in the early 19th century. He is one of France’s great historical figures, but he has a mixed legacy. Perhaps not surprisingly Les Invalides, which houses his remains, is one of Paris’s most visited tourist attractions and it was here that President Macron paid tribute to Napoléon on the 200th anniversary of his death.


The Death of Napoleon

On May 5 th , 1821, Napoleon died on the British island of Saint Helena. After several years of pain and suffering, the eagle was no more. He was 51 years old at the time. Would he have sat quietly in his island had he lived longer? No one knows. What we do know is that of the 5 doctors present to examine the cause of his death, no one was in agreement.

There have been many speculations about the death of Napoleon. Due to a lack of evidence and maybe a refusal by some people to accept that the Emperor could die of natural causes, some wanted to accuse the British of killing Napoleon. After all, they had always been the enemy of France. However, I stumbled upon this article not so long ago and I found that it was a remarkable theory and I am inclined to believe it over any other unless supported by strong evidence (you can read the article here: http://www.napoleonicsociety.com/english/scholarship97/c_assassination.html). Today I will simply brush the main arguments of this article to delve into this theory put forward by Ben Weider.

First of all, of all the possible reasons that could explain the death of Napoleon, one of the main ones was cancer. However, it has been recorded that when Napoleon died, he was fat. It is well known that cancer is a consuming disease so if the Emperor had had cancer, he would have died skinny. This leads to question this diagnosis. It is true that many of the symptoms were the same ones as in cancer patients and later Historians know that Napoleon’s father died of stomach cancer so they were likely to think this confirmed this hypothesis. However, the most important element about Weider’s theory is that it is supported by the evidence of Napoleon’s hair. A day after he died, a lock of his hair was taken by his loyal valet, Louis Joseph Marchand, who was dedicated above all else to the Emperor and took care of all his needs until his death. This lock of hair was kept by Marchand’s descendants and in 1960 it was tested by the Harwell Nuclear Research Laboratory of Glasgow. The testing revealed high amounts of arsenic in the hair. Now, some people have contested the hair was actually from Napoleon or could have been contaminated. It was also said that the Emperor could have ingested arsenic naturally through water or from cosmetic. Weider refutes that last argument on the basis that the level of arsenic would have remained constant. It did not. In fact, Weider found that a hair grows by one inch every two months. The samples were 3 inches long and so represented 6 months of Napoleon’s life. The amount or arsenic varies depending on the tested section of the hair which allows to deduce the day when there was a high dose and the day when there was a low dose. Now, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum level of arsenic that is deemed safe is 0.010 parts per million (ppm) and in the 19th century, a normal arsenic level in the hair was 0.08 ppm. However, testing of Napoleon’s hair samples revealed a range from 2.8 to 51.2 ppm or arsenic. Needless to say it is extremely elevated. It also reveals that the Emperor received regular doses or poison which was pretty easy to do since arsenic is odorless and tasteless. Another interesting fact is that one of the doctors who was with Napoleon, Dr. Francesco Antommarchi, recorded in his diary on February 26 th 1821 that ‘’The Emperor had a sudden relapse, dry cough, vomiting, sensation of heat in the intestines, generally disturbed, discomfort, burning feeling that is almost unbearable, accompanied by burning thirst.’’ (Thirst is one of the most prominent symptoms of arsenic poisoning). The Harwell testing showed a peak or arsenic that can be dated at around this period when the symptoms were more severe which proves the tested hair is from Napoleon.

In 2002, the Journal of Analytical Toxicology (Vol. 26) (see the original article here at: https://academic.oup.com/jat/article-pdf/26/8/584/2288808/26-8-584.pdf) published the results of a study of hair samples (all allegedly taken from Napoleon) that confirmed a high level of arsenic. 5 samples were tested and the results ranged from 6.99 ng/mg to 38.53 ng/mg, Out of the 5 samples 3 of them showed levels of arsenic superior to 12 ng/mL which is considered abnormal and indicate a significant exposure to the substance. There is no doubt Napoleon received more arsenic than he should have even through water consumption, or the use of cosmetic, or even through exposure to the wallpaper in Longwood House on Saint-Helena.

Now, what is even more interesting is the clues that lead to the culprit. For a long time, many believed it was the British who poisoned Napoleon. After all, the Emperor had escaped Elba when he had been exiled and had shaken the whole of Europe when he returned to France. He lasted 100 days and was finally defeated at Waterloo. Victory was within a hair. We all know how close he was to defeat Wellington. Unfortunately for him, he was surprised to see Blucher arrive on the battlefield even though the Prussian general had been badly beaten a few days before. The return of Napoleon so enraged the other European powers that they wanted to impose very severe conditions to France to ensure peace afterwards (800 millions of indemnity and 5 to 7 years of occupation). Thankfully for France, those conditions were eased but Napoleon was exiled to Saint-Helena. A small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. How scared of Napoleon was Europe to put him in such an isolated place? There was definitely room to suspect that they would never rest until he died so they seemed to be the most likely culprit. And how convenient is it to believe that the Emperor was invincible and could only have died through treachery? I believed so myself until I read Weider’s article and I found that his arguments were pretty convincing. Until his view is accepted by the greater community of historians, I will not be able to say this is the exact truth but I will put it forward as the most likely. So according to Weider, the poisoner of Napoleon was French and he did so on behalf of the French government. In order to find who it was, Weider proceeded by elimination. He determined that since Napoleon had been receiving doses of arsenic on a regular basis, it could only have been done by someone close to him on the island. In fact, Napoleon suffered from the symptoms of poisoning throughout his stay there. So it could only be someone who was with him from the beginning of his imprisonment to his death. That left a list of 5 people, only 2 of which had constant contact with Napoleon: his valet Louis Marchand and the Comte de Montholon. Now, Weider tells us that Marchand was loyal to the Emperor beyond dispute and this is accepted by all historians. So the most likely culprit that remains is the Comte de Montholon. The Comte had no reason to spend his life in exile with Napoleon or to admire him. He actually could have nursed a personal hatred for Napoleon who had discharged him from his post of French envoy to Wurzburg and he was also a royalist to the death. It is also interesting to know that the Comte liked to live the fast life and enjoyed courting ladies so it is difficult to imagine such a character in a secluded place such as Saint Helena. Unless, as Weider says, he had a specific reason to be there. Weider also informs us that the Comte was the sommelier and had therefore access to the wine reserve of Napoleon. He could have easily poisoned the wine whenever he wanted. There is also room to believe that the Comte de Montholon was an agent working for Louis XVIII. At last, of all the memoirs written by the people who accompanied Napoleon in his exile and saw the body of the dead Emperor reported the same symptoms and that Napoleon was fat. However, de Montholon did not report the same symptoms and he also reported that the Emperor’s body was emaciated. Weider tells us that gaining weight is another symptom of chronic arsenic poisoning…

In the end, Ben Weider makes a very strong case defending the theory that Napoleon has been poisoned and that the crime perpetrator is the Comte de Montholon, a French agent working for Louis XVIII to ensure Napoleon would never come back. As much as some would like to believe that only the British could have been the authors of such a crime, it is difficult to find a flaw in Weider’s reasoning. However, until this theory is accepted by the wider community of historians and fans of the Emperor, there will still be speculation on the subject. If nothing less, it makes for entertaining reading!


Mystery of Napoleon's Death Said Solved

Putting to rest a 200-year-old mystery, scientists say Napoleon Bonaparte died from an advanced case of gastric cancer and not arsenic poisoning as some had speculated.

After being defeated by the British in 1815, the French Emperor was exiled to St. Helena--an island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Six years later, at the age of 52, Bonaparte whispered his last words, "Head of Army!"

An autopsy at the time determined that stomach cancer was the cause of his death. But some arsenic found in 1961 in the ruler's hair sparked rumors of poisoning. Had Napoleon escaped exile, he could have changed the balance of power in Europe therefore murder speculations didn't seem outlandish.

However, a new study--combining current medical knowledge, autopsy reports, Bonaparte's physician memoirs, eyewitness accounts, and family medical histories--found that gastrointestinal bleeding was the immediate cause of death.

"This analysis suggests that, even if the emperor had been released or escaped from the island, his terminal condition would have prevented him from playing a further major role in the theater of European history," said lead study author, Robert Genta of University of Texas Southwestern. "Even today, with the availability of sophisticated surgical techniques and chemotherapies, patients with gastric cancer as advanced as Napoleon's have a poor prognosis."

A four-inch lesion

The original autopsy descriptions indicated that Bonaparte's stomach had two ulcerated lesions: a large one on the stomach and a smaller one that had pierced through the stomach wall and reached the liver.

Genta and his colleagues compared the description of these lesions with current images of 50 benign ulcers and 50 gastric cancers and found that the emperor's lesions were cancerous.

"It was a huge mass from the entrance of his stomach to the exit. It was at least 10 centimeters [4 inches] long." Genta said. "Size alone suggests the lesion was cancer."

A severe case

Bonaparte, the researchers said, had a very severe case of the cancer which had spread to other organs.

"Even if treated today, he'd have been dead within a year," Genta said.

Although the emperor's father also died from stomach cancer, Bonaparte's cancer most likely stemmed from an ulcer-causing bacterial infection, the researchers said.?

A diet full of salt-preserved foods but sparse in fruits and vegetables--common fare for long military campaigns--increased Napoleon's risk for gastric cancer, Genta said.

The study is detailed in the January edition of Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology.


Napoleon & the Zulus – Death of the Little Prince

When Napoleon Eugene Bonaparte (Louis) was born in France in 1856, he was a lucky lad indeed: his parents were Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. His godparents were Pope Pius IX and Queen Victoria of England. He was the great-nephew of Napoleon and considered by all to be his heir to the French Empire he was lovingly nicknamed “The Little Prince.” His future looked bright, and he lived a life of immense privilege.

There was talk of marriage to Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. The Queen hoped he would become the Emperor of France so that Europe would have lasting peace. His parents indulged him, however, causing him to be impossibly headstrong and impulsive.

House of Bonaparte: The Four Napoleons.

In 1870, at the age of 14, Louis was with his father in battle at Saarbrücken when France fell to the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War. His family fled to England, and their luxurious life was over. His father died two years later Napoleon Eugene Bonaparte was now the Imperial Prince. The prince trained to be a soldier and developed a great fondness and respect for England. After graduating seventh in his class at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1875, Louis was appointed to the rank of lieutenant in the British Army.

By 1879, he was anxious to see action in the war between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. He was eventually permitted to go to Africa after wearing down his mother’s objections and receiving permission from the Queen. He traveled to the front as a special observer, attached to the staff of Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford and the commander in South Africa. Thesiger was directed to keep the young Prince out of harm’s way, and Louis accompanied Chelmsford on his march into Zululand.

Napoléon at age 14, 1870.

A Francophone from Guernsey, Captain Jahleel Brenton Carey was tasked with organizing the protection of Louis, even though the Prince roundly outranked him. The Prince was allowed to take part in reconnaissance missions, but he was, as always, stubborn – enough so to endanger the lives of himself and his men. By ignoring orders in a reconnaissance party led by Colonel Redvers Buller, Louis Napoleon almost caused their ambush.

The Prince in South Africa in 1879.

On June 1, 1879, Captain Carey was given leave to accompany a reconnoitering party under the command of the Imperial Prince in order to verify the findings of a survey made previously. Due to the impatience of the Prince, they had set out earlier than planned and without a full escort. Led by Carey, the scouts rode deep into Zululand. Without anyone present to restrain him, the Prince seized command from Carey despite his seniority. At noon, the troop was halted at a deserted kraal (a traditional African hut village). Louis and Carey were drawing the land around them and used the thatch to build a fire. They had not posted a lookout.

Zulu warriors.

Just as they were gathering their belongings to leave, about 40 Zulus ran into the camp screaming, with weapons raised. The Prince’s horse started to bolt. He grabbed the saddle and was drug 100 yards before he fell under the horse. His right arm was trampled. Louis jumped up, drew his revolver with his left hand, and started to run. He was no match for the Zulus.

He was first pierced by an assegai (a hunting spear) in his thigh. Louis fiercely pulled it out and turned on the Zulu, trying to use it against them, only to be barraged by their spears. Eighteen pierced his head and body. The Prince’s body was sent to England where a state burial was held for him by the Queen.

Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie with their only son.

Later, the authorities in Zululand reported that they would not have killed him if they had known he was the Imperial Prince. Two of the Prince’s escort were killed and another was missing. Lt. Carey and the rest of the group made their way toward the Prince’s body. Carey did not order any action, and they did not fire on the Zulus.

Tomb of Napoléon, Prince Imperial. By Len Williams – CC BY-SA 3.0

He was later subjected to a court of inquiry and a court-martial, but due to intervention by the Empress Eugénie and Queen Victoria, Captain Carey returned to his duties amid the scorn of his fellow officers who shunned what they viewed as his cowardice for his failure to defend the Prince. He died only four years later. The war would end with a British victory and the end of Zulu control of the region.


190 Years Ago: The Post Covers The Death of Napoleon

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As the country’s most popular, most widely read magazine, The Saturday Evening Post became an American institution in the 20th Century. But, as our 190 th birthday reflects, our history goes far back, starting 95 years before Norman Rockwell ever entered its offices.

You get a sense of how old the publication is when you consider that the biggest news story in its first issues was the death of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The death of Napoleon Bonaparte is placed beyond a doubt. News has been received from Liverpool dated July 8th. The Ex-Emperor died of a cancer in the stomach, and was buried on the 7th of May.

In that summer of 1821, the news of the ex-emperor’s death sparked many debates at dinner tables across America. Was Napoleon a liberator or a tyrant?

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The Post picked up the story in August and was still running related items into October.

The illness of the ex-emperor lasted in the whole, six weeks. During the latter days of his illness he frequently conversed with his medical attendants on its nature, of which he seemed to be perfectly aware.

As he found his end approaching, he was dressed, at his request, in his uniform of Field Marshal with the boots and spurs, and placed on a camp bed, on which he was accustomed to sleep when in health.

In this dress he is said to have expired. Though Bonaparte is supposed to have suffered much, his dissolution was so calm and serene that not a sigh escaped him or an intimation to the bystanders that it was so near.

Still widely revered in France, Napoleon had many American admirers who regarded him as a champion of liberty. Most of the world hated and feared him, though. Napoleon had kept Europe at war for twelve years. His struggle for empire had cost the lives of 6 million soldiers and civilians. He had been defeated and imprisoned, but escaped and narrowly missed becoming the ruler of Europe.

Despite his past, and the destruction he caused, he seemed to enchant people. He made admirers out of most people who met him—even his enemies. Since his re-capture in 1815, journalists had been writing of his intelligence, his vision, and his destiny. Now that he was safely dead, and could never again escape from exile, it became easier, and safer, to sing his praises.

The Post quoted one particularly fawning passage from a British newspaper.

“[Napoleon’s] person was well-turned, broad in the shoulders, and, till he grew fat, very elegant downwards. The late Mr. West told us that he had never seen a handsomer leg and thigh.

His head was somewhat too large for his body, but finely cut, as we may all see in his medals. It looks like one of the handsomest Roman emperors. His face [had] a forehead of genius, and mouth and chin of resolute beauty.

Napoleon was of a warm temperament, generous and affection…. His abilities, independent of his warlike genius, were considerable. His intellect was strong and searching, and he acquired so much information that he could converse with all sorts of men on the topics which they had particularly studied.

[A Swiss historian who met Napoleon] says, “quite impartially… I must say, that the variety of his knowledge, the acuteness of his observations, the solidity of his understanding… his grand and comprehensive views filled me with astonishment, and his manner of [conversation], with love for him.”

While the Post reprinted such hero worship, it wasn’t buying any of it. The editors, being sturdy champions of the republic, viewed Napoleon dispassionately:

Thus has terminated the life of perhaps the most extraordinary man who has ever figured upon the stage of history. Born obscurely, and without evident means of advancement, he rose to supreme power, not only over France, but over the continent of Europe, and his authority was extended to both hemispheres.

Disdaining man but as the means of his own exaltation, he probably surpassed all other rulers in his ascendancy over everyone who came within the vortex of his personal influence.

After having dethroned kings and overthrown empires, he himself became the football of fortune, was dethroned and exiled to a high rock in the midst of the ocean, under the guard of the greatest powers of Europe.

There he was imprisoned, and there he has expired—a striking example of the inevitable destruction attending an uncontrollable ambition, and a warning to despots.

The Post’s editors, Messrs. Atkinson and Alexander, knew that celebrity news would sell papers. But they recognized that Napoleon Bonaparte, like most celebrities, was best admired from a distance.

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Macron commemorates 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death

President Emmanuel Macron, in an unusual gesture, has marked the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon, the warrior-emperor who famously bequeathed to France its civil code but whose legacy is tarnished in the eyes of many

PARIS -- President Emmanuel Macron, in an unusual gesture on Wednesday, marked the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon, the warrior-emperor who famously bequeathed France its civil code, among other major reforms, but whose legacy remains tarnished in the eyes of many.

Macron said Napoleon Bonaparte's reinstatement of slavery was a “betrayal of the spirit of the Enlightenment.” But in his speech under the dome of the Institute of France, he said that “Napoleon is part of us” and France “must look our history straight in the eyes.”

With such distinctions, Macron refused to cede to those who would refuse any honor to Napoleon, who is among the most important figures of French history and adored by some members of the right. The timing works for Macron, who is expected to try to renew his presidential mandate in elections next year.

Macron later laid a wreath at the foot of Napoleon's grandiose tomb at Les Invalides, a gold-domed monument and site of a military hospital. He was greeted by Prince Jean-Christophe Napoleon, pretender to the long-abolished throne of the emperor.

The president's speech was meant to commemorate — not celebrate — the larger-than-life figure who died in exile on the remote volcanic island of St. Helena exactly 200 years ago, on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon gave France its civil code and penal code, established the system of prefects, representatives of the state in each French territory, and lycees, or high schools, among other things. But even the Institut of France refers to Napoleon “a major figure of history since always contested.”

“From the empire, we have renounced the worst and from the emperor we have embellished the best," Macron said. "Commemorating this bicentenary, it’s saying just that, simply, serenely," without “judging the past with laws of the present.”

For Macron, commemorating Napoleon was following through with his optics of facing the past and moving forward with lessons learned and offering “neither denial nor repentance.”

Macron voiced his opposition last year to bringing down statues of figures linked to slavery in former French colonies, on the grounds that history can't be erased and the past must be acknowledged.

Napoleon, a celebrated military genius, became an integral part of France’s legacy. But in today’s era, his image is tarnished by a decision to reestablish slavery in French colonies in 1802, after it was abolished in 1784. He was also responsible for years of carnage and destruction in wars fought across much of the European continent and as far away as Egypt.

Ruler from 1799, he became emperor in 1804 for a decade, then again for three months in 1815. He was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, escaped and miraculously raised a new army, only to meet defeat on June 18, 2015, at the hands of a British-led military coalition in the crucial battle of Waterloo. He was sent in 1815 to the British outpost of St. Helena, where he died after falling ill.

Napoleon's body was later exhumed and entombed at Les Invalides in Paris.


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