Napoleon Bonaparte (1821)
Poison, Poison Everywhere
Great heroic leaders are not supposed to die accidentally. Had Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s supreme general and arguably the finest military commander of modern times, taken a musket ball in the chest or been eviscerated by a saber thrust in battle, then the gods would have been assuaged and the academics could have busied themselves assessing his role in history. Unfortunately, this potbellied little Frenchman wasn’t so accommodating. He died in bed, and at a relatively early age. As invariably happens when notable figures expire out of turn, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start grinding, with most of the accusing whispers hinting that perfidious Albion had been up to her old tricks again. Napoleon would have been delighted. All his military life he’d been a thorn in the side of the British, and he wasn’t about to cut them any slack in death.
Five and a half years of stultifying exile on the island of St. Helena had turned the fifty-one-year-old battlefield maestro into a bloated, careworn wreck. Even so, when he did eventually die, on May 5, 1821, the circumstances were sufficiently unusual to merit an autopsy. Because its results were so ambiguous, so confusing, it left many of his countrymen in no doubt at all: France’s greatest hero had been secretly murdered by his British captors.
It’s an intriguing possibility.