Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
Portrait by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1817)
|Ambassador of France to the United Kingdom|
6 September 1830 - 13 November 1834
|Louis Philippe I|
|Pierre de Montmercy-Laval|
|Horace Sébastiani de La Porta|
|1st Prime Minister of France|
9 July 1815 - 26 September 1815
|Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu|
|Minister of Foreign Affairs|
13 May 1814 - 19 March 1815
|Antoine de Laforêt|
|Louis de Caulaincourt|
22 November 1799 - 9 May 1807
|Monarch||Napoleon I (1804-1807)|
|Napoleon Bonaparte (1799-1804)|
|Jean-Baptiste de Nompère de Champagny|
15 July 1797 - 20 July 1799
|Member of the National Constituent Assembly|
9 July 1789 - 30 September 1791
|Deputy to the Estates-General|
for the First Estate
12 April 1789 - 9 July 1789
|Born||2 February 1754|
Paris, Kingdom of France
|Died||17 May 1838 (aged 84)|
Paris, Kingdom of France
|Education||Seminary of Saint-Sulpice|
|Alma mater||University of Paris|
|Church||Roman Catholic Church|
|Ordained||19 December 1779 (priest) |
4 January 1789 (bishop)
|Laicized||29 June 1802|
|Agent-General of the Clergy (1780-1788) |
Bishop of Autun (1788-1791)
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (,French: [?a?l mis d? tal(?) pe?i, - mo?-]; 2 February 1754 - 17 May 1838), 1st Prince of Benevento, then Prince of Talleyrand, was a French politician and diplomat. After theology studies, he became Agent-General of the Clergy in 1780 and represented the Catholic Church to the French Crown. He worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. Those Talleyrand served often distrusted him but, like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name "Talleyrand" has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.
He was Napoleon's chief diplomat during the years when French military victories brought one European state after another under French hegemony. However, most of the time, Talleyrand worked for peace so as to consolidate France's gains. He succeeded in obtaining peace with Austria through the 1801 Treaty of Luneville and with Britain in the 1802 Treaty of Amiens. He could not prevent the renewal of war in 1803 but by 1805, he opposed his emperor's renewed wars against Austria, Prussia, and Russia. He resigned as foreign minister in August 1807, but retained the trust of Napoleon and conspired to undermine the emperor's plans through secret dealings with Tsar Alexander of Russia and Austrian minister Metternich. Talleyrand sought a negotiated secure peace so as to perpetuate the gains of the French revolution. Napoleon rejected peace and, when he fell in 1814, Talleyrand eased the Bourbon restoration decided by the Allies. He played a major role at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, where he negotiated a favourable settlement for France and played a role in decisions regarding the undoing of Napoleon's occupation of territories.
Talleyrand polarizes scholarly opinion. Some regard him as one of the most versatile, skilled and influential diplomats in European history, and some believe that he was a traitor, betraying in turn the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration.
Talleyrand was born into a leading aristocratic family in Paris. His father, Count Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord, was 20 years of age when Charles was born. His mother was Alexandrine de Damas d'Antigny. Both his parents held positions at court, but as cadets of their respective families, had no important income. From childhood, Talleyrand walked with a limp. In his Memoirs, he linked this infirmity to an accident at age four which made him unable to enter the expected military career and caused him to be called later le diable boiteux (French for "the lame devil") among other nicknames. However, recent research has shown that his limp was in fact congenital. Talleyrand's father had a long career in the Army, reaching the rank of lieutenant general, as did his uncle, Gabriel Marie de Périgord, despite having the same infirmity.
The choice of a career in the clergy for Charles-Maurice was aimed at having him succeed his uncle Alexandre Angélique de Talleyrand-Périgord, then Archbishop of Reims, one of the richest and most prestigious dioceses in France. It would appear that the family, though ancient and illustrious, was not particularly prosperous, and saw Church positions as a path to wealth. Talleyrand attended the Collège d'Harcourt, the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, while studying theology at the Sorbonne until the age of 21. He was ordained a priest on 19 December 1779, at the age of 25. In 1780, he became Agent-General of the Clergy, a representative of the Catholic Church to the French Crown. In this important position, he was instrumental in drafting a general inventory of Church properties in France as of 1785, along with a defence of "inalienable rights of the Church", a stance he was later to deny. In 1788, the influence of Talleyrand's father and family overcame the King's dislike and obtained his appointment as Bishop of Autun. He was consecrated a bishop on 4 January 1789 by Louis-André de Grimaldi. The undoubtedly able Talleyrand, though free-thinking in the Enlightenment mould, appears at the time to have been outwardly respectful of religious observance. In the course of the Revolution, however, he was to manifest his cynicism and abandon all orthodox Catholic practice. He resigned his bishopric on 13 April 1791. On 29 June 1802, Pope Pius VII laicized Talleyrand, an event most uncommon at the time in the history of the Church.
Shortly after he was ordained as Bishop of Autun, Talleyrand attended the Estates-General of 1789, representing the clergy, the First Estate. During the French Revolution, Talleyrand strongly supported the anti-clericalism of the revolutionaries. He (and Mirabeau) promoted the appropriation of Church properties. He participated in the writing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and proposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that nationalised the Church, and swore in the first four constitutional bishops, even though he had himself resigned as Bishop following his excommunication by Pope Pius VI in 1791. During the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790, Talleyrand celebrated Mass. Notably, he promoted public education in full spirit of the Enlightenment by preparing a 216-page Report on Public Instruction. It proposed pyramidical structure rising through local, district, and departmental schools, and parts were later adopted. During his 5 month tenure in the Estates-General, Talleyrand was also involved in drawing up the police regulations of Paris, proposed the suffrage of Jews, supported a ban on the tithes and invented a method to ensure loans.
In 1792, he was sent twice, though unofficially, to Britain to avert war. Besides an initial declaration of neutrality during the first campaigns of 1792, his mission ultimately failed. In September 1792, he left Paris for England just at the beginning of the September massacres, yet declined to defect. The National Convention issued a warrant for his arrest in December 1792. In March 1794, he was forced to leave the country by Pitt's expulsion order. He then went to the neutral country of the United States where he stayed until his return to France in 1796. During his stay, he supported himself by working as a bank agent, involved in commodity trading and real estate speculation. He was the house guest of Aaron Burr of New York and collaborated with Theophile Cazenove, who lived at Market Street, Philadelphia. Years later, Talleyrand refused Burr the same hospitality (Burr had killed Talleyrand's friend, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel).
After 9 Thermidor, he mobilised his friends (most notably the abbé Martial Borye Desrenaudes and Germaine de Staël) to lobby in the National Convention and the newly established Directoire for his return. His name was suppressed from the émigré list and he returned to France on 25 September 1796. In 1797, he became Foreign Minister. He was behind the demand for bribes in the XYZ Affair which escalated into the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war with the United States, 1798-1800. Talleyrand saw a possible political career for Napoleon during the Italian campaigns of 1796 to 1797. He wrote many letters to Napoleon, and the two became close allies. Talleyrand was against the destruction of the Republic of Venice, but he complimented Napoleon when the Treaty of Campo Formio with Austria was concluded (Venice was given to Austria), probably because he wanted to reinforce his alliance with Napoleon.
Talleyrand, along with Napoleon's younger brother, Lucien Bonaparte, was instrumental in the 1799 coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, establishing the French Consulate government. Talleyrand was soon made Foreign Minister by Napoleon, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon's foreign policy. The Pope released him from the ban of excommunication in the Concordat of 1801, which also revoked the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Talleyrand was instrumental in the completion of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. He wanted Napoleon to keep peace afterwards, as he thought France had reached its maximum expansion.
Talleyrand was an integral player in the German mediatization. While the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797 had, on paper, stripped German princes of their lands beyond the left bank of the Rhine, it was not enforced until the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801. As the French annexed these lands, leaders believed that rulers of states such as Baden, Bavaria, Württemberg, Prussia, Hesse and Nassau, who lost territories on the Left Bank, should receive new territories on the Right Bank through the secularization of ecclesiastical principalities. Many of these rulers gave out bribes in order to secure new lands, and Talleyrand and some of his associates amassed about 10 million francs in the process. This was the first blow in the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire.
Napoleon forced Talleyrand into marriage in September 1802 to longtime mistress Catherine Grand (née Worlée). Talleyrand purchased the Château de Valençay in May 1803, upon the urging of Napoleon. This later was used as the site of imprisonment of the Spanish Royalty in 1808-1813, after Napoleon's invasion of Spain.
In May 1804, Napoleon bestowed upon Talleyrand the title of Grand Chamberlain of the Empire. In 1806, he was made Sovereign Prince of Benevento (or Bénévent), a former papal fief in southern Italy. Talleyrand held the title until 1815 and administered the principality concurrently with his other tasks.
Talleyrand was opposed to the harsh treatment of Austria in the 1805 Treaty of Pressburg and of Prussia in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. In 1806, after Pressburg, he profited greatly from the reorganization of the German lands, this time into the Confederation of the Rhine. But Talleyrand was shut out completely from the negotiations at Tilsit. After Queen Louise of Prussia failed in her appeal to Napoleon to spare her nation, she wept and was consoled by Talleyrand. This gave him a good name among the elites of European nations outside France.
Having wearied of serving a master in whom he no longer had much confidence, Talleyrand resigned as minister of foreign affairs in 1807, although the Emperor retained him in the Council of State as Vice-Grand Elector of the Empire. He disapproved of Napoleon's Spanish initiative, which resulted in the Peninsular War beginning in 1808. At the Congress of Erfurt in September-October 1808, Talleyrand secretly counseled Tsar Alexander. The Tsar's attitude towards Napoleon was one of apprehensive opposition. Talleyrand repaired the confidence of the Russian monarch, who rebuked Napoleon's attempts to form a direct anti-Austrian military alliance. Napoleon had expected Talleyrand to help convince the Tsar to accept his proposals and never discovered that Talleyrand was working at cross-purposes. Talleyrand believed Napoleon would eventually destroy the empire he had worked to build across multiple rulers.
After his resignation in 1807 from the ministry, Talleyrand began to accept bribes from hostile powers (mainly Austria, but also Russia), to betray Napoleon's secrets. Talleyrand and Joseph Fouché, who were typically enemies in both politics and the salons, had a rapprochement in late 1808 and entered into discussions over the imperial line of succession. Napoleon had yet to address this matter and the two men knew that without a legitimate heir a struggle for power would erupt in the wake of Napoleon's death. Even Talleyrand, who believed that Napoleon's policies were leading France to ruin, understood the necessity of peaceful transitions of power. Napoleon received word of their actions and deemed them treasonous. This perception caused the famous dressing down of Talleyrand in front of Napoleon's marshals, during which Napoleon famously claimed that he could "break him like a glass, but it's not worth the trouble" and added with a scatological tone that Talleyrand was "shit in a silk stocking", to which the minister coldly retorted, once Napoleon had left, "Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!"
Talleyrand opposed the further harsh treatment of Austria in 1809 after the War of the Fifth Coalition. He was also a critic of the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He was invited to resume his former office in late 1813, but Talleyrand could see that power was slipping from Napoleon's hands. On 1 April 1814 he led the French Senate in establishing a provisional government in Paris, of which he was elected president. On 2 April the Senate officially deposed Napoleon with the Acte de déchéance de l'Empereur; by 11 April it had approved the Treaty of Fontainebleau and adopted a new constitution to re-establish the Bourbon monarchy.
When Napoleon was succeeded by Louis XVIII in April 1814, Talleyrand was one of the key agents of the restoration of the House of Bourbon, although he opposed the new legislation of Louis' rule. Talleyrand was the chief French negotiator at the Congress of Vienna, and, in that same year, he signed the Treaty of Paris. It was due in part to his skills that the terms of the treaty were remarkably lenient towards France. As the Congress opened, the right to make decisions was restricted to four countries: Austria, the United Kingdom, Prussia, and Russia. France and other European countries were invited to attend, but were not allowed to influence the process. Talleyrand promptly became the champion of the small countries and demanded admission into the ranks of the decision-making process. The four powers admitted France and Spain to the decision-making backrooms of the conference after a good deal of diplomatic maneuvering by Talleyrand, who had the support of the Spanish representative, Pedro Gómez Labrador, Marquis of Labrador. Spain was excluded after a while (a result of both the Marquis of Labrador's incompetence as well as the quixotic nature of Spain's agenda), but France (Talleyrand) was allowed to participate until the end. Russia and Prussia sought to enlarge their territory at the Congress. Russia demanded annexation of Poland (already occupied by Russian troops), and this demand was finally satisfied, despite protests by France, Austria and the United Kingdom. Austria was afraid of future conflicts with Russia or Prussia and the United Kingdom was opposed to their expansion as well - and Talleyrand managed to take advantage of these contradictions within the former anti-French coalition. On 3 January 1815, a secret treaty was signed by France's Talleyrand, Austria's Metternich and Britain's Castlereagh. By this tract, officially a secret treaty of defensive alliance, the three powers agreed to use force if necessary to "repulse aggression" (of Russia and Prussia) and to protect the "state of security and independence."
Talleyrand, having managed to establish a middle position, received some favours from the other countries in exchange for his support: France returned to its 1792 boundaries without reparations, with French control over papal Avignon, Montbéliard (Mompelgard) and Salm, which had been independent at the start of the French Revolution in 1789. It would later be debated which outcome would have been better for France: allowing Prussia to annex all of Saxony (Talleyrand ensured that only part of the kingdom would be annexed) or the Rhine provinces. The first option would have kept Prussia farther away from France, but would have needed much more opposition as well. Some historians have argued that Talleyrand's diplomacy wound up establishing the faultlines of World War I, especially as it allowed Prussia to engulf small German states west of the Rhine. This simultaneously placed Prussian armed forces at the French-German frontier, for the first time; made Prussia the largest German power in terms of territory, population and the industry of the Ruhr and Rhineland; and eventually helped pave the way to German unification under the Prussian throne. However, at the time Talleyrand's diplomacy was regarded as successful, as it removed the threat of France being partitioned by the victors. Talleyrand also managed to strengthen his own position in France (ultraroyalists had disapproved of the presence of a former "revolutionary" and "murderer of the Duke d'Enghien" in the royal cabinet).
Napoleon's return to France in 1815 and his subsequent defeat, the Hundred Days, was a reverse for the diplomatic victories of Talleyrand (who remained in Vienna the whole time). The second peace settlement was markedly less lenient and it was fortunate for France that the business of the Congress had been concluded. Talleyrand resigned in September of that year, over his objections to sign the second treaty. Louis XVIII appointed him as the Grand Chamberlain of France, a mostly ceremonial role which provided Talleyrand with a steady income. For the next fifteen years he restricted himself to the role of "elder statesman", criticising and intriguing against Minister of Police Élie, duc Decazes, Prime Minister Duc de Richelieu and other political opponents from the sidelines. In celebration of the birth of Duc de Bordeaux, Louis XVIII made Talleyrand a knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit.
In December 1829, Talleyrand funded the foundation of the National newspaper. The newspaper was run by his personal friend Adolphe Thiers, alongside Armand Carrel, François Mignet and Stendhal, its first issue appeared on 3 January 1830. It quickly became the mouthpiece of the Orléanist cause, gaining popularity among the French liberal bourgeoisie. Following the ascension of King Louis-Philippe to the throne in the aftermath of the July Revolution of 1830, Talleyrand reluctantly agreed to become ambassador to the United Kingdom. A post he held from 1830 to 1834. In this role, he strove to reinforce the legitimacy of Louis-Philippe's regime, and proposed a partition plan for the newly independent Belgium.
Talleyrand had a reputation as a voluptuary and a womaniser. He left no legitimate children, though he possibly fathered over two dozen illegitimate ones. Four possible children of his have been identified: Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut, generally accepted to be an illegitimate son of Talleyrand; the painter Eugène Delacroix, once rumoured to be Talleyrand's son, though this is doubted by historians who have examined the issue (for example, Léon Noël, French ambassador); the "Mysterious Charlotte", possibly his daughter by his future wife, Catherine Worlée Grand; and Pauline, ostensibly the daughter of the Duke and Duchess Dino. Of these four, only the first is given credence by historians. However, the French historian Emmanuel de Waresquiel has lately given much credibility to father-daughter link between Talleyrand and Pauline whom he referred to as "my dear Minette".
Aristocratic women were a key component of Talleyrand's political tactics, both for their influence and their ability to cross borders unhindered. His presumed lover Germaine de Staël was a major influence on him, and he on her. Though their personal philosophies were most different (she a romantic, he very much unsentimental), she assisted him greatly, most notably by lobbying Barras to permit Talleyrand to return to France from his American exile, and then to have him made foreign minister. He lived with Catherine Worlée, born in India and married there to Charles Grand. She had traveled about before settling in Paris in the 1780s, where she lived as a notorious courtesan for several years before divorcing Grand to marry Talleyrand. Talleyrand was in no hurry to marry, and it was after repeated postponements that Napoleon obliged him in 1802 to formalize the relationship or risk his political career. While serving as a high level negotiator at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), Talleyrand entered into an arrangement with Dorothea von Biron, the wife of his nephew, the Duke of Dino. Shortly after, he separated from Catherine.
Talleyrand's venality was notorious; in the tradition of the ancien régime, he expected to be paid for the state duties he performed--whether these can properly be called "bribes" is open to debate. For example, during the German Mediatisation, the consolidation of the small German states, a number of German rulers and elites paid him to save their possessions or enlarge their territories. Less successfully, he solicited payments from the United States government to open negotiations, precipitating a diplomatic disaster (the "XYZ Affair"). The difference between his diplomatic success in Europe and failure with the United States illustrates that his diplomacy rested firmly on the power of the French army that was a terrible threat to the German states within reach, but lacked the logistics to threaten the USA not the least because of the Royal Navy domination of the seas. After Napoleon's defeat, he withdrew claims to the title "Prince of Benevento", but was created Duke of Talleyrand with the style "Prince de Talleyrand" for life, in the same manner as his estranged wife.
Described by biographer Philip Ziegler as a "pattern of subtlety and finesse" and a "creature of grandeur and guile", Talleyrand was a great conversationalist, gourmet, and wine connoisseur. From 1801 to 1804, he owned Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. He employed the renowned French chef Carême, one of the first celebrity chefs known as the "chef of kings and king of chefs", and was said to have spent an hour every day with him. His Paris residence on the Place de la Concorde, acquired in 1812 and sold to James Mayer de Rothschild in 1838, is now owned by the Embassy of the United States.
Talleyrand has been regarded as a traitor because of his support for successive regimes, some of which were mutually hostile. According to French philosopher Simone Weil, criticism of his loyalty is unfounded, as Talleyrand served not every regime as had been said, but in reality "France behind every regime".
Near the end of his life, Talleyrand became interested in Catholicism again while teaching his young granddaughter simple prayers. The Abbé Félix Dupanloup came to Talleyrand in his last hours, and according to his account Talleyrand made confession and received extreme unction. When the abbé tried to anoint Talleyrand's palms, as prescribed by the rite, he turned his hands over to make the priest anoint him on the back of the hands, since he was a bishop. He also signed, in the abbé's presence, a solemn declaration in which he openly disavowed "the great errors which . . . had troubled and afflicted the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, and in which he himself had had the misfortune to fall." He died on 17 May 1838 and was buried in Notre-Dame Chapel, near his Castle of Valençay.
Today, when speaking of the art of diplomacy, the phrase "he is a Talleyrand" is used to describe a statesman of great resourcefulness and craft.
Arms of Talleyrand under the Napoleonic Empire
Arms of Talleyrand under the Bourbon Restoration
Inscription at the Hôtel de Saint-Florentin
Empire style state bed (lit de parade) made for Talleyrand, c. 1805
|Catholic Church titles|
Pierre-Louis de La Rochefoucauld
| Agent-General of the French Clergy
Served alongside: Thomas de Boisgelin
François-Xavier-Marc-Antoine de Montesquiou-Fézensac
Louis de Jarente de Sénas d'Orgeval
Yves-Alexandre de Marbeuf
| Bishop of Autun
Jean-Xavier Bureau de Pusy
| President of the National Assembly of France
François-Xavier-Marc-Antoine de Montesquiou-Fézensac
Étienne Eustache Bruix
| Ministers of Marine and the Colonies
Marc Antoine Bourdon de Vatry
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jean-Baptiste de Nompère de Champagny
|New office|| Grand Chamberlain of France
Antoine René Charles Mathurin
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt
Louis Pierre Edouard
| Minister of Foreign Affairs
Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis
|New office|| Prime Minister of France|
| Duke of Talleyrand
1815 - 1838
Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord
| Prince of Benevento
|New office|| Representative to the Congress of Erfurt
| Representative to the Congress of Vienna|