A. Plan of Investigation
Napoleon’s death has been attributed to many causes: stomach cancer, arsenic poisoning, improper medical treatment, hepatitis, and St. Helena’s climate. The purpose is to ascertain the likeliest cause, and if foul play was involved. With each possible cause, there are different implications, i.e., cancer frees everyone from blame, hepatitis incriminates the British, improper medical treatment the doctors, and poisoning implicates the suspected poisoner. The focus is on four causes - cancer, poisoning, improper treatment, and hepatitis - common explanations for Napoleon’s failing health, and evidence that supports or refutes each case.
B. Summary of Evidence
1. Napoleon’s Last Days:
On May 5th, 1821; Napoleon died after a lengthy sickness, joined by more than six doctors in 1821(Kauffmann 87). He was 51. His health had started to decline March 1821; Antommarchi, Napoleon’s lead physician, introduced a tartar emetic (antimony potassium tartrate, highly toxic) to Napoleon’s diet to help with his persisting ailments. In April, Napoleon was feeling no better, and Montholon, the alleged poisoner of Napoleon who came to St. Helena for Napoleon to dictate notes on his career, thought orgeat, an almond drink would help ease thirst - Antommarchi titled the orgeat ‘orange-flower water’ in his papers, not knowing the true nature of the drink, which contained hydrocyanic acid. Napoleon had toxic substances in his system which he couldn’t expel due to the emetic (Schom 784). Napoleon, unfortunately, looked to Dr. Archibald Arnott, who after seeing the fate of O’Meara and Stokoe (previous doctors who had been dismissed over their diagnoses of hepatitis), and knowing Hudson Lowe, St. Helena’s governor and warden of Napoleon, who wouldn’t accept disreputable diagnoses, reported nothing was wrong as late as April 23rd: Napoleon was faking (McLynn 654). However, by April 25th, Napoleon was coughing up black flecks and blood, and two days later, Napoleon’s fever was higher, with shivering fits and violent hiccups (McLynn 654).
Come May 3rd, Napoleon had alarming symptoms, and at 6 pm, Dr. Arnott recommended ten grains (0.6g) of calomel – the miracle drug of the day, mercury chloride. Antommarchi protested, thinking it would kill him as he hadn’t eaten in 6 days, but was outnumbered. By 11-12 pm came a black evacuation, after which Napoleon drank more orgeat (Antommarchi 150). On May 4th, Napoleon constantly drank orgeat, continued to evacuate substances, but was no longer conscious of bowel movements – it was evident the calomel produced a huge haemorrhage (Antommarchi 151). On May 5th, he vomited the same matter he evacuated, had delirium and couldn’t even speak (Antommarchi 152). He died at 5:51 pm (McLynn 655).
Napoleon’s periodical illnesses were chiefly digestive and were around as far back as 1816 (Johnson 176). In May, Napoleon complained of weak legs, headaches, and chills; in July, sharp side pains; ill again in September,...