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Study: Napoleon killed by medics
Updated: 2004-07-27 10:54

There was no plotting by royalists, no arsenic and no murder. Instead, Napoleon Bonaparte was killed by incompetent doctors and too many uncomfortably large enemas, according to a new study.

One of the world's most enduring conspiracy theories may be laid to rest if research conducted by the San Francisco medical examiner's department proves accurate.

An autopsy performed straight after Napoleon's death, by his personal physician, revealed that he had died from stomach cancer.

But over the decades historians have disputed this explanation, suggesting either that the exiled leader might have died from toxic ingredients in his hair ointment, or was killed by his confidant Charles de Montholon as part of a plot to prevent his returning to seize power in France.

But after a detailed study of the medical records kept during the illness that blighted most of Napoleon's final years in exile on St Helena, where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo, forensic pathologists in California have focused on the daily enema he had to relieve the pain caused by the cancer.

"They used really big, nasty syringe-shaped things," Steven Karch, head of the researchers, told New Scientist magazine.

In the final crisis of Napoleon's illness, five English doctors were brought in to see him. They gave him regular doses of antimony potassium tart rate to make him vomit.

But this treatment would have depleted his potassium levels, and may have caused a lethal heart condition in which rapid heartbeats disrupt the blood flow to the brain, the scientists say.

The doctors' decision to administer a purgative of 600mg of mercuric chloride (five times the usual amount) on May 3 1821 would have further reduced his potassium levels - and may have been fatal. He died two days later, aged 51.

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