Was Napoleon Murdered by his Wallpaper?

By the time the former French emperor Napoleon died in exile at age 51 on the remote island of St. Helena, plenty of people had motive for wanting him dead. He had terrorized Europe for years, ever since becoming emperor in 1804. Napoleon himself, when he knew he was dying, even accused blamed the English for his impending death in his will.

At his autopsy, the doctors concluded that a perforated stomach ulcer killed him. Everyone who mattered seemed okay with this explanation, and there the matter rested for over 100 years.

history.com

In the 1960s, people started to question Napoleon’s cause of death after his valet’s memoirs were published, which reignited the controversy. Fortunately, there were plenty of locks of his hair scattered about, kept by devoted servants and family members and preserved throughout the years. When tested, the hair was shown to contain significant levels of arsenic, a poison. Now people began to believe that he might have been poisoned, though no one was sure who to blame.

A new and astonishing theory about the source of the poison was put forward in the 1990s, when a scrap of wallpaper from Napoleon’s St. Helena home was discovered in a scrapbook in England. The wallpaper was originally a brilliant green color, called Scheele’s green, so historians and scientists were not surprised when it also tested positive for arsenic.

Scheele’s Green was a popular dye for both textiles and papers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, one of the ingredients that gave it its brilliant hue was a compound called copper arsenite.  When this compound was subjected to hot and damp conditions, like those present on St. Helena, it gave off a poisonous arsenic vapor. The dye was later implicated in the illnesses and deaths of hundreds of people in Europe.

But if it killed Napoleon, wouldn’t it have affected the servants and staff who lived with him in the St. Helena house? As it turned out, many of the people who lived in the house also complained of symptoms that sound a lot like arsenic poisoning, such as stomach pains, swollen limbs, and diarrhea. Napoleon’s butler even died after experiencing these symptoms.

But other than Napoleon and his butler, no one else died. So, did the wallpaper kill him, or was it something more sinister, like intentional poisoning? A recent study has shown that the levels of arsenic in the wallpaper would not have been enough to kill Napoleon alone. However, if he had developed a stomach ulcer, as we have been told he did, the arsenic vapor could have made it worse. Additionally, many medicines during those years also contained arsenic, which would certainly have exacerbated the condition even further.

We will probably never know for sure if arsenic poisoning was the cause of Napoleon’s early demise, or if it was accidental or deliberate. If the arsenic theory is true, it would be the only known incident of wallpaper killing a world leader.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • The unstoppable Iron Mike

    If you thought Iron Man was indestructible wait until you hear about Michael Malloy or Mike The Durable as his friends liked to call him. Malloy was a firefighter who lives in New York City during the 1920s but by 1933 he was homeless and had fallen deep into the clutches of alcoholism. You see...

    Read More
  • You Want To Live Forever? Start By Getting A Dog.

    Next time you find yourself screaming at your dog in anger because the young puppy chewed up your shoes, tore down your curtains or ruined your sofa, do keep this in mind: Buddy may actually be adding years on your life! In Sweden, researchers followed over 3 million people over the age of forty for...

    Read More
  • The Town That Respectfully Maintained The Grave Of A Toilet

    General George Smith Patton was a highly decorated senior officer of the United States Army, he is best known for commanding the U.S Third Army during the Allied liberation of Normandy in June 1944. His military exploits are well noted and documented, in fact, he is seen as one of the greatest war generals to...

    Read More
  • New Evidence Shows Menopause Treatment Not a Cancer Risk

    An exciting major new study has found that taking hormone replacement therapy to counter the symptoms of menopause does not increase a woman’s risk of early death. Researchers in the early 2000s discovered a link between women taking HRT for over five years and a higher risk of cancer. It even detailed how patients could...

    Read More
  • The Mysterious tale of Lucky Lord Lucan

    Some claim it to be one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century and when you dive into the story it really just begs the question - what in the world happened to Lucky Lord Lucan? On November 7, 1974, Lord Richard John Bingham the Seventh Earl of Lucan murdered his wife’s nanny by...

    Read More
  • A French Noblewoman Who Became a Ferocious Pirate Legend

    During the height of the Hundred Years War between England and France, one French noblewoman became feared throughout France for her ferocious never-ending appetite for revenge. Jeanne de Clisson with the help of the English outfitted three warships and caused havoc to any French ships crossing the English channel. Some may say privateer but at...

    Read More
  • The Native American Who Saved the Pilgrims

    Many of us are familiar with the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but have you heard of Squanto, the Patuxet Native American from Cape Cod Bay that saved the Pilgrims from disease and disaster? Squanto was a young man when, in 1614, he was abducted by Spanish conquistadors. He was forcefully taken by ship back...

    Read More