HISTORY THROUGH A
A PERSONAL VIEW BY JOHN TARTTELIN
Ben Weider (1923-2008)
“No historian who believes strongly in their profession or their passion, having looked at the various arguments and seriously investigated the documents, can believe a word of these poisoning or substitution theories…” (Thierry Lentz)1
There exists today a conspiracy between Thierry Lentz et sa bande to muzzle opposition and confine to the outer darkness all those views and opinions that do not accord with their own. From his arrogant Olympian heights he descends like a new Moses with his tablets of stone and cries: “L’histoire c’est moi!”
In an interview given to Delage Irène in April 2009, the new Messiah espouses his philosophy with a forthright and practiced brio. He states that: “Napoleon was poisoned! Despite historians’ best efforts, Rumour(sic) continues to flourish, endlessly seeking to make the transition between Myth and History… In recent years, the poisoning and substitution hypotheses have resurfaced, driven by the death of Ben Weider…”
In a classic ‘guilt by association’ trick, Lentz tries to connect Ben Weider’s life’s work on the poisoning of the Emperor with nonsensical stories about a substitute for Napoleon’s body having been placed in his tomb – as if the two cases were the same. Lentz looks through a glass darkly and refuses to countenance what he has not discovered himself. He literally ‘won’t see’ what he doesn’t want to know.
Then, in the same interview, in a phrase that could have come directly from the mouth of the Korean Great Leader he says: “Jacques Macé and I …want to close these debates, once and for all.” So much for unrestricted historical enquiry and freedom of speech – it would appear that Lentz would burn those books that he disagrees with if only he had the chance.
Lentz continues: “What is important, and certainly the most worrying, about the substitution and poisoning theories is the way that the media coverage surrounding them has given them an air of validity, of incontrovertability. As a consequence these “false truths” have painted and continue to paint historians who do not believe in them as “has-beens”…” Here we have it: one protests a little too much Monsieur – are the Ugly Sisters whining because they haven’t been invited to the Ball?
The late Ben Weider is not here to defend himself and speak out against such a travesty of his life’s work. So I shall do it for him.
I might add at this stage that I wrote an article on the poisoning of Napoleon at Saint Helena in 1995 entitled Hairsay and Heresy, long before I had ever heard of Thierry Lentz. Theories, stories and evidence pertaining to the Emperor’s early demise have been building up for decades. If Lentz thinks he can trash the research and study of a great number of historians and toxicologists with a few puerile comments in an interview, he has got another think coming.
Napoleon was a singular phenomenon, the greatest man of the C19th. Admired by Germans like Goethe, Heine and Nietzsche and Englishmen like Hazlitt and Byron, his early death was mourned even by his former enemies like the British Peninsular historian Napier, and Wilson, the British attaché to Kutozov’s army during the Campaign of 1812. When graffiti appeared in the streets of London in 1821 asking people to mourn the passing of the greatest genius of their day, many Englishmen wept at the Emperor’s passing.
Napoleon, that mass of energy, a one-man nuclear furnace, who was able to work for twenty hours a day, day after day, and who needed very little sleep, died at the age of 51, an early death even for the beginning of the C19th, let alone for someone so full of life. He died on an outcrop of rock lost in the South Atlantic, having often declared that he was being poisoned by his British jailors. Napoleon was no fool and he obviously had suspicions of his own. Indeed, the Governor of the island, the reptilian Hudson Lowe, was a creature of the night if ever there was one. However, the Emperor was actually poisoned by one of his own, betrayed yet again by someone he had trusted.
In 1982 Ben Weider and David Hapgood published The Murder of Napoleon. Perhaps Lentz has heard of David Chandler, the former doyen of Napoleonic scholarship in the English-speaking world? This is what Chandler said of the book: “Fascinating and deeply researched. The story the authors unfold and the scientific evidence they furnish are more than enough to justify careful thought and reconsideration. This book could well lead to considerable changes in the history of Napoleon’s last years.”2
Let’s take a closer look at that assessment by a man who knew more about Napoleon than McDonald’s knows about hamburgers. Chandler says the volume is “deeply researched” and he speaks of “scientific evidence”. Lentz says the poisoning debate is a result of a “vast media circus”. If that is the case then his contribution and that of his coterie amounts to little more than the entrance of the clowns. Chandler had more academic gravitas in his little finger than Lentz has in his whole body.
Chandler gave an interview to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph on June 25th 2001. He was quoted by their reporter Thomas Harding as follows: “A leading British expert on Napoleon has given his backing to the theory that the deposed French Emperor was assassinated by his fellow countrymen.”
“ Dr. David Chandler, considered the foremost living authority on Napoleon, believes that history books should be re-written to include a final chapter on the conspiracy behind his death.”3 Before he died Chandler had become convinced that Napoleon has been poisoned.
Another commentator on Ben Weider’s The Murder of Napoleon, Michael Baden, M.D., former chief medical examiner of New York City remarked that: “This fascinating account shows how modern forensic scientific techniques can be applied to help resolve old mysteries.”4
In a germane contribution to this discussion, Jean-Claude Damamme, the Representative for France of the International Napoleonic Society said that: “Recently, various media reports have referred to a joint Swiss-Canadian-American study that rejects the “now largely discredited” (quotation) theories of Napoleon’s poisoning by arsenic. In this regard, one must ask who discredited these theories?”5 It wouldn’t perchance be Lentz would it? And here the media circus is clearly against the poisoning of Napoleon, and not all for it as Lentz would have us believe.
As Jean-Claude Damamme goes on to say, the multi-national “study makes absolutely no mention of the work of Dr. Pascal Kintz, President of the International Association of Legal toxicologists, nor those of Prof. Robert Wennig of the University of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, whose analyses demonstrated – beyond question – a massive concentration of rat poison in the core of the Emperor’s hairs. There is only one explanation for this presence: the toxic substance must have entered through the digestive tract.”
Despite a by now decidedly large dose of Thierry ennui, I shall press on. Lentz says of his own book on the subject, La Mort de Napoléon: Légendes, mythes et mystères : “It is our refusal to allow such a noble and useful discipline as history to be taken hostage by these manipulators of public opinion that has driven us to write this book. We make no attempts to hide our surprise, nor our displeasure, in seeing those who at the same time as crying out “Freedom for History!”, manipulate it for their own media-driven ends.”
Physician heal thyself! It is Lentz who is warping and twisting the historically objective and scientific studies undertaken by Ben Weider and Sten Forshufvud, so as to discredit them in the eyes of the public and the mass media. He cannot be allowed to get away with this atrocious spin and manipulation. He himself is poisoning the discipline of history by his vile calumnies.
Just who does this man think he is?
On one side we have Weider, Forshufvud, Chandler, Damamme, Baden, Kintz and Wenning and on the other – Thierry Lentz. Who would a dispassionate reader believe I wonder?
The man who would like to “close these debates, once and for all” has bitten off more than he can chew. History is not written on tablets of stone proof-read by Thierry Lentz. History is a fluid and inexact discipline, more Art than science, with natural ebbs and flows of belief and conjecture. Occasionally there is an historical tsunami when the views of the many are given spate, are widely accepted, and shortly after are to be seen in full-flood – thus is a paradigm created. Lentz has been whining and dining with the media to affect a seismic shift of his own – but his ‘paradigm’ isn’t worth two cents, it is a plugged nickel as the Americans would say, counterfeit coin. It must not be allowed to be the accepted historical ‘currency’ amongst real historians and the public at large.
Napoleon was poisoned. “What proof do they have?” Lentz cries. Well Monsieur, proof-read all the above and then read Ben Weider’s book.
Yet another commentator on The Murder of Napoleon, ‘Steven Ross, professor at the U.S. Naval War College; authority on Napoleonic History’ adds: “An intriguing and well-written book. It makes a strong case and – unless someone has contrary medical evidence – compelling case that Napoleon was poisoned.”6
One wonders if Lentz has ever read any of the books and articles that he would like to bury “once and for all”? It is a strange ‘historian’ who manages to open his mouth and blow off both of his feet at the same time. I shall not dwell any longer upon the antics of the clown prince of Napoleonic history.
When Ben Weider published The Murder of Napoleon in 1982 he was nearly sixty and he had devoted a lifetime of study to the subject. That same year Lentz was twenty-two and a total unknown. He still is, thankfully, in most of the English-speaking world.
There follows the article I wrote back in 1995, after having engaged in a lot of research of my own. By coincidence it was the same year that Ben Weider formed the International Napoleonic Society. Many years later in 2008 he read my review of his book The Wars Against Napoleon on Amazon and invited me to become a member of the INS.
I was lucky enough to know Ben for five brief months. I only ever had two phone conversations with him and never met him in person. He was a kind and generous man, especially with his time – despite being incredibly busy. I will not suffer his memory to be impugned and dishonoured by a person who seems immensely jealous of the organization Ben inaugurated and who has none of Ben’s integrity and sense of honour.
© 2011 John Tarttelin
M.A. FINS (Legion of Merit)
1. See www.napoleon.org/en/fondation THE MAGAZINE/NEWS THIERRY LENTZ: THREE QUESTIONS ON THE “MYSTERIES” OF ST. HELENA ( Interview by Delage Irène, April 2009 ) All Lentz’s quotes are taken from this article.
2. Quoted on the back of the book The Murder of Napoleon (New York, Congdon & Lattès, Inc., 1982).
3. See INS website www.napoleonicsociety.com under Poisoning and Doctor David Chandler, FINS, on the poisoning of Napoleon. The Telegraph article is posted here.
4. Quoted on the back of The Murder of Napoleon.
5. See INS website under Poisoning and The Poisoning of Napoleon, Correction – By Jean-Claude Damamme.
6. Quoted on the back of The Murder of Napoleon.
HAIRSAY AND HERESY:
THE MURDER OF NAPOLEON
In March 1995 a single lock of human hair was sold to an American for £3,680.1 This was no ordinary relic. It came from the head of an exile who spent the last six years of his life upon a lonely speck of rock in the South Atlantic. For decades those frail strands of hair had kept a dark secret. Each contained minute traces of arsenic, a clear indication that the donor had been poisoned. The lock still exists today as mute testimony to the crime of the century – the murder of Napoleon.
History is written by the victors. During his time as First Consul, and then Emperor of the French, Napoleon was castigated by the British press and by its corrupt Establishment. He was the Corsican Ogre, the cause of all wars, an evil man who had to be destroyed at all costs. Mothers threatened their children with his name and his face appeared inside chamber pots.
Black propaganda has coloured innumerable subsequent histories written over a period of one hundred and ninety years and, as a result, errors, misinformation and downright lies have come to be accepted as fact. In England he has been dubbed a “monster genius” by one ‘historian’, and “a great, bad man” by another. Many English writers dismiss him merely as the general who lost at Waterloo.2
In France, after his fall from power, the Royalists printed anything that might sully his name. During the so-called White Terror, officers and men who had fought for him were hunted down and executed without trial, at the express demand of Lord Liverpool, the British Prime Minister, who was determined to wreak a fanatical revenge upon those misguided French nationals who had dared to support Napoleon.
We know of Trafalgar and Waterloo, but how many British people know about this?
Napoleon embodied the principle that the individual mattered, that careers should be open to talent and should not just be the province of the highborn and the well-to-do. This was anathema to the British ruling class and their counterparts, the French aristocracy who clung to a belief in the divine right of kings. To them there was no such thing as the Rights of Man, only the Right of Might.
Following the spread of the doctrine of democracy after the American War of Independence, the French Revolution of 1789, the death knell of privilege, was bound to provoke a furious reaction from the courts of Europe. They would do anything to nip the concept of individual freedom in the bud. Hence common cause was made against the figurehead of the new ideas – Napoleon. The huge bribes secretly paid by the British Government to foreign powers to entice them into wars against France certainly helped this process along.
In Napoleonic France, advancement was possible for gifted people of all ranks. The Emperor was a pragmatist. He even allowed hundreds of former aristocrats back into France if they were prepared to serve him. In the process he unwittingly welcomed his would-be assassins.
The ordinary Frenchman did much better under Napoleon than they had ever done under the Bourbons. Napoleon restored peace within France; his Concordat with the Pope re-established Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French people; his Napoleonic Code instituted a body of laws that confirmed the property rights of the millions of peasants who had gained land after the Revolution – it is still the basis of the French legal system today.
His soldiers worshipped him. One has only to read the memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne and Captain Coignet to see that. Under Napoleon, every soldier believed there was a baton in his knapsack. Anything was possible, they had seen it happen. Men of humble birth like Ney and Murat became marshals, princes, even kings. Napoleon’s personal charisma was almost magical. When he was a boy, Heine, the German poet, saw him: “high on horseback, the eternal eyes set in the marble of that imperial visage, looking on, calm as destiny, at his guards as they march past. He was sending them to Russia, and the old grenadiers glanced up at him with so anxious a devotion, such sympathy, such earnestness and lethal pride: Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!”.3
Napoleon supported French industry and provided political stability after the chaos of the Revolution. As a result, the peasants and the middle-classes prospered and France became a great nation once again. Compared to the days of the old monarchy, the French people had never had it so good. What else had Europe to offer?
In England, Old Farmer George, King George III, after losing the American colonies because of his asinine inability to compromise, went mad and spent his time shaking hands with trees and talking to them. His son “Prinny”, the Prince Regent, convinced himself he had actually led the charge at Waterloo, when the only charge he did lead was the one for the dinner table. Prinny was loathed by the British public because of the way he treated his estranged wife, Princess Caroline. The Royals lived in a world of their own, blind to the misery endured by ordinary Britons at a time of economic hardship and depression.
Wellington was short of cavalry at Waterloo because the politicians at Whitehall relied on mounted troops to keep the people down in Britain and Ireland. They were even more concerned with quelling internal dissent than they were in defeating France. Some 78,400 people were transported to Australia in only nine years, 1816-1825, many for merely daring to question the way the country was being governed.4
Napoleon was three times acclaimed by national plebiscite in France. No one ever voted for Louis XVIII who succeeded him. If Napoleon became the heart and soul of France, Louis can be said to have been its stomach. A political lightweight, he made up for it on the personal level, weighing in at 310 lbs. Twice he returned to Paris in the baggage train of the Allies – he needed it, no horse could carry him. Waddling along, limping, plagued by gout, and with his penchant for blond young men, he was yet mystified by the fact that the populace preferred Napoleon to himself.
It was Louis’ sinister brother and heir Charles, Comte d’Artois, who began making plans for the murder of Napoleon. D’Artois could execute ‘traitors’ every day of the week and still go to Mass on a Sunday. He was a true scion of the Old School.
In 1792, with the blessing of Pitt’s government, d’Artois began planning the Bourbon restoration from a base on Jersey. Living there were 7,500 émigré priests and nobles, all eager to regain privileges and sinecures swept away by the Revolution. There, in the greatest secrecy, with the knowledge of just a few men in the British Cabinet, d’Artois set up his infamous Chevalier de la Foi. This nest of spies and death squads was given the task of restoring Louis to the throne. From Jersey, British vessels could easily land agents on the mainland at the dead of night.5
When Napoleon overthrew the French Directory in 1799, the issue became personalized. D’Artois’ pathological hatred of the Corsican Usurper knew no bounds. To him, Napoleon was evil incarnate, the Antichrist.
Royalist guerrillas fought in Brittany and Normandy and when his troops defeated them, Napoleon had the magnanimity to offer one of their leaders, Georges Cadoudal, a commission in the Army. Cadoudal fled to Jersey instead. Once there he organized a plot to kill Napoleon with a bomb.
On December 24th 1800, Cadoudal’s man, Saint-Regent, abandoned a wine cart in the rue Saint-Nicaise in Paris. A thirteen-year-old girl was left holding the horse’s reins. Napoleon was due to pass on his way to the opera. However, his coachman was suspicious. Whipping his horses on, he careered past the cart. The people in the carriages behind were not so lucky. The innocent girl was blown to bits, more than a dozen others were killed, and over 200 were wounded. Cadoudal slunk back to Britain.
D’Artois had backed the plot. His agent, d’Auvergne, who was also the British naval commander in Jersey, provided the gunpowder, the money for the operation, and the vessel necessary to land Cadoudal on the French coast – all on the orders of William Pitt. It was nothing less than state sponsored terrorism.
Two years later, during the Peace of Amiens, Captain d’Auvergne went to Paris to meet fellow agents. He wore his British uniform in case he was arrested as a spy. He was caught and imprisoned, but when the British Ambassador intervened, Napoleon had him released after thorough questioning.
Parliament was in uproar. Napoleon had dared to arrest a British officer with a valid passport at a time of peace. The French Ambassador in London leaked the real reason for d’Auvergne’s arrest to prominent political figures. With the possibility of “Chants D’Auvergne” ringing in their ears, the Cabinet panicked. The thought that the British public might find out about their illicit dealings with d’Artois, which were still continuing despite the peace, terrified them. Thus, with delicious irony, Lord Liverpool was forced to speak up in Parliament on Napoleon’s behalf. Perhaps that is why, after Waterloo, he was determined to have killed as many people as possible who had ever supported Napoleon.
Napoleon’s military career is well known. More than 300,000 books have been written about him, more than any other individual in history. After his final defeat, with misplaced trust, he threw himself upon British justice, seeking asylum upon these shores. There was precious little freedom and justice for ordinary Britons, still less was there to be for the fallen Emperor.
Betrayed by numerous Frenchmen he had elevated to prominence, Napoleon surrendered to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon – ‘Billy Ruffian’. He was taken to Torbay where crowds of people came from all over Britain just to catch a glimpse of him. However, it was imperative for the Cabinet that he did not land. The public, far more noble than their self-seeking politicians, had sympathy for Napoleon and would have allowed him to stay in England. On August 3rd 1815 an article appeared in The Times stating that an Act of Parliament was necessary to detain Napoleon and another would be necessary to intern him in a British colony.6 Frightened by this growing support for him, Lord Liverpool gave the order to have Napoleon transported to Saint Helena on board HMS Northumberland. With him was a certain Comte de Montholon.
Montholon had attached himself to Napoleon after Waterloo and asked to share his exile. He was, in fact, d’Artois’ agent, and murder was on his mind.7
Napoleon’s death had to be seen as an accident. Any obvious action would have led to widespread insurrection in France and, at the very least, extremely awkward questions being raised in a Parliament that was already greatly concerned with the growing republican movement in Britain. So Montholon began to lace Napoleon’s wine with arsenic. The body’s natural reaction is to disperse the poison where it will do the least harm, hence it got into his hair.
Montholon arranged for the removal of most of Napoleon’s faithful companions after inveigling his way into the Emperor’s affections. Montholon was soon the only person Napoleon trusted. His fate was sealed. With his health failing rapidly, Napoleon stated in his will: “I die before my time, murdered by the English oligarchy and its hired assassin.” To the very end, he never suspected Montholon. He died on May 5th 1821, leaving Montholon 2,000,000 francs in his will. For the final time, Napoleon had been betrayed by someone he trusted. A lock of hair was taken from his corpse and eventually found its way to Phillips’ Saleroom in London.
A French delegation arrived at Saint Helena to reclaim Napoleon’s body in 1840. When his grave was opened the onlookers were stunned. Napoleon’s sightless eyes stared back at them, for the arsenic which had poisoned the Emperor had also preserved his body. His remains now lie in a splendid mausoleum in Paris.
In June 1994 Professor Maury of Montpelier University announced that he had Montholon’s written confession to Napoleon’s murder. This corroborates the findings of Dr Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider. Tests done on samples of Napoleon’s hair at Glasgow University have revealed traces of arsenic inside the hair follicles. There is no way that arsenic from wallpaper or hair pomades could get inside the hair. Furthermore, Sten Forshufvud, a trained toxicologist who had studied the Emperor’s mysterious symptoms for years, proved that the levels of arsenic inside the strands of hair, coincided with bouts of illness described in the memoir of Marchand, Napoleon’s trusted valet. Whenever the levels of arsenic reached critical levels, Napoleon became ill. The work of Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider has proved beyond a doubt and with scientific certainty, that Napoleon was poisoned on Saint Helena.
Does Napoleon’s corpse continue with its victory over death even to this day? If a lock of hair was worth £3,680 in 1995, an intriguing question remains – what is his body now worth? Napoleon’s signature alone fetched £150 back then and its value increases every year.8 His reputation meanwhile, needs to be reassessed and revalued.
1. The Sunday Times London March 26th 1995. It also reported that there were more than 100 other Napoleon lots up for auction in March 1995 alone. In the article by Peter Johnson it says: “In a multitude of forms from portrait miniatures to life-sized statues, from love letters to battlefield autographs, he is revered by collectors.” He also adds: “by contrast a lock of hair from the Duke of Wellington’s (head) was a snip at £598.”
Napoleon’s popularity with collectors is phenomenal. On September 18th 1988 The Sunday Telegraph London reported a: ‘Brush with history – No plaque is expected to mark the spot, but Napoleon’s silver and gold-plated toothbrush goes under the hammer next month at the Munich auction house of Herman Historica.’
2. Napoleon was called a “monster genius” by the English journalist Nigel Nicholson, in an article in the Daily Telegraph London of September 3rd 1988. Nicolson’s twisted portrayal of Napoleon is far too ludicrous ever to be called history. Napoleon was called a “great bad man” by David Chandler in the video series called The Great Commanders. Chandler, who was a great historian, shortly before his own death came to accept that Napoleon had been murdered by Montholon – for years he would not accept the fact.
3. Quoted in Paul Britten Austin 1812 The March on Moscow, 29
4. David Hamilton-Williams The Fall of Napoleon, 330
5. Ibid., APPENDIX II The Royalist Underground and the Chevaliers de la Foi, 302-308
6. Ibid., 271
7. Ibid., 273
8. Peter Johnson article in The Sunday Times March 26th 1995. See above.
© 2011 John Tarttelin
A SOULADREAM PRODUCTION