Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Napoleon

So What Killed Napoleon?

The causes given for the demise of Napoleon range from the fantastical to the plausible. Some authorities have accepted the verdict of stomach cancer. As recently as March 2003, national newspapers printed an article of a study confirming that cancer was the cause of death. Others have not agreed.

In many respects, no historical person's medical record has been so microscopically examined. Many of the maladies supposedly suffered by Napoleon have little to do with his cause of death, but these speculations illustrate the bizarre accumulation of medically related issues. It has been suggested that Napoleon suffered from attacks of hemorrhoids so severe that they actually influenced the result at the Battle of Waterloo. In addition to scabies, the chronic skin disease neurodermititis (explaining Napoleon's penchant for prolonged baths), rages, weeping fits, migraines and dysuria (painful urination), a medical journal article in 1966 by Ayer proposed that all of these symptoms were the result of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis, (acquired during the Egyptian campaign of 1798). To round out these speculations, Napoleon's hormones have been implicated as having important roles in his personality. These include suggestions of hyperthyroidism, Foehlich's Syndrome (pituitary deficiency), hypogonadism, Klinefelter's Syndrome (an extra X chromosome) and, as a bonus, undefined latent homosexuality.

Even the much examined Adolf Hitler, with his condition of hemicryptorchidism (one undescended testicle), never rivaled the encyclopedic medical record of Napoleon.

Then, of course, there are the poisoning theories.

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