Arsenic Wasn't Napoleon's Waterloo: Study

Military diet, not murderous Brits, likely killed the little emperor
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 13, 2008 7:24 AM CST
A statue of Napoleon Bonaparte in Paris. Studies of hair samples from museums in France and Italy can put to rest that the emperor died of arsenic poisoning, say Italian scientists.   ((c) joxeankoret)
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(Newser) – Rumors that Napoleon Bonaparte was poisoned with arsenic have persisted since he died in exile 187 years ago on the island of St. Helena. Italian scientists now say they've established that the French emperor's death had more to do with bad French army food than murderous British guards, the Daily Telegraph reports. Tests on hair samples found no significant increase in arsenic levels over his lifetime.

The study, to be published in the journal Il Nuovo Saggiatore, tested hairs from different periods in Napoleon's life kept by museums. Tests on hairs of his 19th-century contemporaries found that arsenic levels then were generally far higher than they are today. A military diet high in salt-preserved foods and low in fruit and vegetables is likely to have contributed to the stomach cancer that's believed to have killed him at the age of 51.