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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Napoleon died on May 5, 1821 after a severe illness. There has been considerable debate over the cause of Napoleon's death, and persistent rumors that he was poisoned. Most of these rumors have now been dispelled, and it appeared that Napoleon died of natural causes.

Napoleon's attending physician at the time of his demise, Francois Carlos Antommarchi, autopsied the body and determined that the emperor died of stomach cancer, incident to a peptic ulcer. For reasons unknown, Antommarchi did not sign the death certificate, a fact which lent itself to speculation that the cause of death was more sinister. Rumors soon surfaced that Napoleon died from either cyanide poisoning, caused by an overdose of a compound used to quench his thirst. Later rumors suggested that he was actually murdered with arsenic. This rumor gained some credence when Napoleon's body was exhumed in 1840 to be buried in France. It was determined at that time that his body was quite well preserved, and arsenic is an effective preservative. Hair samples taken at that time revealed arsenic levels far in excess of normal. However, a study in 2008 of hair samples taken at various times during Napoleon's life determined that throughout his lifetime, Napoleon's body maintained arsenic levels more than 100 times the normal level. His death therefore appears to have in fact been natural and caused by stomach cancer.