Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Summary

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, commonly known as Talleyrand, was a French statesman and diplomat, born on February 2, 1754 in Paris and died on May 17, 1838 in the same city.

Coming from a family of high nobility, suffering from a club foot, he was oriented by his family towards an ecclesiastical career in order to allow him to succeed his uncle, the archbishop of Rheims: ordained priest in 1779, he was appointed in 1788 bishop of Autun. He renounced the priesthood and left the clergy during the Revolution to lead a lay life.

Talleyrand held positions of political power throughout most of his life and under most of the successive regimes that France experienced at the time: he was notably agent general of the clergy (1780), then deputy to the Estates General under the Ancien Régime, president of the National Assembly and ambassador during the French Revolution, minister of foreign relations under the Directory, the Consulate and then the First Empire, president of the provisional government, ambassador, minister of foreign affairs and president of the Council of Ministers under the Restoration, ambassador under the July Monarchy. He attended the coronations of Louis XVI (1775), Napoleon I (1804) and Charles X (1825).

He frequently intervenes in economic and financial matters, for which his most famous act is the proposal to nationalize the property of the clergy. However, his fame comes mainly from his exceptional diplomatic career, which culminated in the Congress of Vienna. A man of the Enlightenment, a convinced liberal, both politically and institutionally as well as socially and economically, Talleyrand theorized and sought to apply a “European balance” between the great powers.

Renowned for his conversation, wit and intelligence, he lived a life between the Ancien Régime and the 19th century. Nicknamed the “lame devil” and described as a cynical traitor full of vices and corruption or, on the contrary, as a pragmatic and visionary ruler, concerned with harmony and reason, admired or hated by his contemporaries, he arouses numerous historical and artistic studies.

Charles-Maurice”s father, Charles-Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord (1734-1788), knight of Saint-Michel in 1776, lieutenant general in 1784, belonged to a younger branch of the house of Talleyrand-Périgord, a family of high nobility, even if his filiation with the counts of Périgord is disputed. He lived at the court of Versailles, penniless, with his wife born Alexandrine de Damas d”Antigny (1728-1809). Talleyrand”s uncle was Alexandre Angélique de Talleyrand-Périgord (1736-1821), archbishop of Reims, then cardinal and archbishop of Paris. His ancestors include Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Étienne Marcel.

Born on February 2, 1754 at number 4 rue Garancière in Paris, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was baptized the same day.

Before the publication of his memoirs, several versions were already circulating about Talleyrand”s childhood, in particular about the origin of his club foot. Since their disclosure in 1889, these memoirs are the most exploited source of information on this part of his life; the version given by Talleyrand is however disputed by some historians.

According to the version given in his memoirs, he was immediately given to a nurse who kept him for four years at her home in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques, which was not the case for his brothers. According to the author, he fell from a chest of drawers at the age of four, hence his club foot. This infirmity prevented him from entering the military service and led to his parents stripping him of his birthright, so that he could pursue a career in the church. His younger brother, Archambaud, took his place (the elder son having died in infancy).

According to Franz Blei, in his memoirs, Talleyrand “evokes his parents with a surprising antipathy”:

“This accident influenced all the rest of my life; it was he who, having persuaded my parents that I could not be a soldier, or at least not without disadvantage, led them to direct me towards another profession. This seemed to them more favorable to the advancement of the family. For in the big houses, it was the family that was loved, much more than the individuals, and especially than the young individuals whom one did not know yet. I do not like to dwell on this idea… I leave it.”

– Memoirs of Talleyrand

Some biographers, such as Jean Orieux, agree with Talleyrand, suggesting that his parents did not like him, not tolerating that he was “simultaneously clubfoot and Talleyrand”. For their part, his two younger brothers, Archambaud (1762-1838) and Boson (1764-1830), married rich heiresses of the nobility of finance.

From 1758 to 1761 he stayed with his great-grandmother and “delightful woman”, Marie-Françoise de Mortemart de Rochechouart, at the Château de Chalais, a period of which he has fond memories. He was then sent to the college of Harcourt (the future Lycée Saint-Louis) from 1762 to 1769, then to his uncle the archbishop, where he was encouraged to embrace the ecclesiastical career; he obeyed.

This version of his childhood is disputed by several biographers. If Michel Poniatowski speaks of a clubfoot from birth, Emmanuel de Waresquiel goes further and affirms that Talleyrand suffers from a hereditary disease (one of his uncles being affected), the Marfan syndrome. According to Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Talleyrand became a priest not because of a lack of affection from his parents, but because of the desire to place him in the succession of the rich and powerful archbishopric of Rheims promised to his uncle, a prospect that was likely to overcome his reluctance, as his age made him the only one in a position to do so among his siblings. Thus, Talleyrand would have blamed his parents only in the context of writing his memoirs, where he was to make his priesthood appear to have been forced.

This is what leads Georges Lacour-Gayet to speak of an “alleged abandonment”. For Franz Blei, if it is true that he “did not have a paternal home full of security and affection”, he shows himself to be unjust towards his mother, who only followed the educational customs of the time, before the fashion of Jean-Jacques Rousseau”s Emile; his parents also had very important positions at court.

In 1770, at the age of sixteen, he entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, where, according to his memoirs, he displayed a bad temper and retreated into solitude.

On May 28, 1774, he received minor orders. On September 22, he obtained a bachelor”s degree in theology from the Sorbonne. His thesis was acquired thanks to his birth rather than to his work: it was written at least in part by his thesis director at the Sorbonne, Charles Mannay, and he obtained an age dispensation that allowed him to present it at 20 years old instead of the required 22. At the age of 21, on April 1, 1775, he received the sub-diaconate in the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, his first major order, despite his warnings: “I am being forced to be a clergyman, and I will be repented of it,” he said. He was subsequently granted a dispensation from the diaconate. Shortly thereafter, on May 3, he became a canon of the cathedral of Rheims, then, on October 3, commendatory abbot of Saint-Denis of Rheims, which assured him a comfortable income.

On June 11, 1775, he attended the coronation of Louis XVI, in which his uncle participated as coadjutor of the consecrating bishop and his father as hostage of the Holy Ampoule. That year, despite his young age, he was a deputy of the clergy or first order, and especially a promoter of the clergy assembly.

Still the same year, he enrolled at the Sorbonne and obtained a license in theology on March 2, 1778. The young graduate visited Voltaire, who blessed him in front of the audience. The day before his ordination, Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier tells that he discovered him prostrate and crying. His friend insisted that he give up but Talleyrand replied: “No, it is too late, there is no turning back”; this anecdote is an invention, according to Emmanuel de Waresquiel. He was ordained a priest the next day, December 18, 1779. The next day, he celebrated his first mass in front of his family, and his uncle appointed him vicar general of the bishopric of Rheims.

The following year, in the spring of 1780, he became, again thanks to his uncle, the general agent of the clergy of France, a position that led him to defend the property of the Church in the face of Louis XVI”s need for money. In 1782, he accepted a “free gift” to the king of more than 15 million pounds to cut short the threats of confiscation from the crown. He also intervened in the crisis of the Caisse d”escompte in 1783 and had to manage the anger of the lower clergy by using the carrot and the stick. All this work allowed him to learn about finance, real estate and diplomacy; he became aware of the extent of the clergy”s wealth and made many connections among the influential men of the time. Elected secretary of the General Assembly in 1785-1786, he was congratulated by his peers on the occasion of his final report.

He frequents and animates the liberal salons close to the Orléans family and makes many connections in this milieu. He lived in the rue de Bellechasse and his neighbor was Mirabeau. The two men became friends, both in politics and in business. He was then close to Calonne, unpopular minister of Louis XVI; he participated in the negotiation of the trade treaty with Great Britain concluded in 1786. He was one of the drafters of Calonne”s plan to completely reform the kingdom”s finances, which remained in draft form because of the financial crisis and the minister”s departure.

His status as a former general agent of the clergy should in principle propel him quickly to the episcopate as his need for money grew; yet the appointment was slow in coming. The explanation generally given by historians is his dissolute life, with his taste for gambling, for luxury, and his mistresses, which indisposes Alexandre de Marbeuf, bishop of Autun and responsible for the appointments, and which shocks Louis XVI. Emmanuel de Waresquiel contests this analysis, explaining this expectation by the notoriety of his Orleanist friendships hostile to the queen”s clan and by the loss of influence of his family.

On November 2, 1788, he was finally appointed bishop of Autun, thanks to the request that his dying father sent to Louis XVI. “This will correct him,” the king is said to have declared when signing the appointment. On December 3, he also received the benefit of the royal abbey of Celles-sur-Belle. He was consecrated on January 16, 1789 by Mgr de Grimaldi, bishop of Noyon. Ernest Renan says, speaking of one of his teachers at Saint-Sulpice:

“Mr. Hugon had served as an acolyte at the coronation of Mr. de Talleyrand in the chapel of Issy, in 1788. It seems that, during the ceremony, the dress of the abbot of Périgord was most inappropriate. M. Hugon recounted that he accused himself, the following Saturday, in confession, “of having formed rash judgments about the piety of a holy bishop.”

– Ernest Renan, Memories of childhood and youth

After a short and effective campaign, he was elected deputy of the clergy of Autun to the Estates General of 1789 on April 2. On the morning of April 12, one month after his arrival and after having avoided Easter mass, Talleyrand left Autun for good and returned to Paris for the opening of the Estates General on May 5, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution.

Member of the Constituent Assembly

During the Estates General, Talleyrand rallied to the Third State on June 26, with the majority of the clergy and the day before Louis XVI invited the orders to meet: as he wrote in his Memoirs, it was preferable to “give in before being forced to do so and when one could still make a merit of it.” On July 7, he asked for the abolition of imperative mandates; on July 14, 1789 (renewed on September 15), he was the first member appointed to the Constitution Committee of the National Assembly. He was a signatory of the Constitution presented to the King and accepted by him on September 14, 1791 and was the author of Article VI of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which served as a preamble:

“The law is the expression of the general will. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes.”

– Declaration of the rights of man and citizen of 1789

On October 10, 1789, he submitted a motion to the Constituent Assembly, which proposed to use “the great means” to replenish the state coffers: the nationalization of the Church”s property. According to him:

“The clergy are not owners like other owners since the goods they enjoy and cannot dispose of were given not for the interest of persons but for the service of the functions.”

Defended by Mirabeau, the project was voted on November 2. Celebrated by Le Moniteur, covered with insults in pamphlets, “making the horror and the scandal of all his family”, Talleyrand becomes for a part of the clergy the one who betrayed his order, his former position of brilliant Agent General making him all the more detestable to those for whom he is “the apostate”. On January 28, 1790, he proposed to grant the status of citizen to the Jews, which gave new arguments to the pamphleteers. On February 16, he was elected president of the Assembly with 373 votes against 125 to Sieyès, for twelve days. While the Constitution was being adopted, Talleyrand and the constitutional royalists were at the height of their influence on the Revolution.

Talleyrand proposed to the Constituent Assembly on June 7, 1790 the principle of a festival celebrating the unity of the French people, where the National Guards would serve as representatives: the Festival of the Federation, on the Champ-de-Mars. Appointed to this office by the king, he celebrated mass in front of 300,000 people on July 14, 1790, even though he was unfamiliar with the exercise; climbing onto the platform supporting the altar, he is said to have said to La Fayette: “Please, don”t make me laugh.

In March 1790, he proposed the adoption of the system of unification of measures.

On December 28, 1790, Talleyrand took the oath to the civil constitution of the clergy, then resigned his episcopal office in the middle of January 1791, under the pretext of his election as administrator of the department of Paris. However, as the first two constitutional bishops (Louis-Alexandre Expilly de La Poipe, bishop of Finistère, and Claude Marolles, bishop of Aisne) could not find a bishop to consecrate them, Talleyrand was obliged to devote himself. He maneuvered two bishops (the prelates in partibus of Lydda, Jean-Baptiste Gobel and of Babylon, Jean-Baptiste Miroudot du Bourg) to assist him: the coronation took place on February 24, 1791, followed by fourteen others, the new bishops being sometimes called “Talleyrandists. Shortly thereafter, in the brief Quod aliquantum of March 10, 1791, then Caritas of April 13, 1791, Pope Pius VI expressed his sorrow at this schismatic act and took into account Talleyrand”s resignation from his office, threatening him with excommunication within forty days if he did not come to resipiscence.

During the year 1791, when his friend Mirabeau died, he directed the writing of an important report on public education, which he presented to the Constituent Assembly just before its dissolution, on September 10, 11 and 19, and which provoked the creation of the Institut de France.

While he was no longer a deputy, from January 24 to March 10, 1792, Talleyrand was sent on a diplomatic mission to London, to buy horses and to take the temperature on a possible neutrality of the British, while discreetly conducting negotiations on the retrocession of Tobago. He returned on April 29 with François Bernard Chauvelin. In spite of the hostile atmosphere, they obtained neutrality on May 25. Talleyrand returned to Paris on July 5 and, on July 28, resigned as administrator of the department of Paris.

Exile

Following the day of August 10, 1792, anticipating the Terror, he asked to be sent back to London. On September 7, he obtained a mission order from Danton, in the middle of the September massacres, under the pretext of working on the extension of the system of weights and measures. This allowed him to claim that he had not emigrated: “My real goal was to get out of France, where it seemed useless and even dangerous for me to stay, but from which I wanted to leave only with a regular passport, so as not to close the doors forever.

On December 5, a decree of indictment was issued against the “ci-devant évêque d”Autun” after the opening of the iron cabinet which revealed the links between him, Mirabeau and the royal family.

Claiming to be there to sell his library, he lived peacefully in Kensington “throughout the dreadful year of 1793”, socializing with the constitutional emigrants, making connections with influential Englishmen, and suffering from both the lack of money and the hatred of the original emigrants. At the end of January 1794, he was told that King George III had ordered his expulsion under the Aliens Act. He left in March 1794 and took refuge in the United States for two years, living in Philadelphia. There, with letters of mission from European banks, he sought to make a fortune through land speculation, prospecting in the forests of Massachusetts. He even equipped a ship to trade with India, but above all thought of returning to France.

Just after the Terror, he addressed to the Thermidorian Convention, on June 15, 1795, a petition pleading his cause; at the same time, Germaine de Staël, with whom Talleyrand corresponded, made Marie-Joseph Chénier ask for his return to the Assembly. By a speech of September 4, 1795, the latter obtains the lifting of the decree of accusation against Talleyrand. He was removed from the list of emigrants and, after a stopover in Hamburg and Amsterdam, returned to the France of the young Directory on September 20, 1796.

Minister of the Directory

Shortly after his arrival, Talleyrand entered the Institute of France, where he was elected on December 14, 1795 to the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences even before his departure from the United States; he published two essays on the new international situation, based on his travels outside France. He participated in the foundation of the Constitutional Circle, a republican organization, in spite of his Orleanist friendships and the hostility of the Conventionalists, who saw in him a counter-revolutionary.

Unable to get himself appointed Minister of Foreign Relations in place of Charles Delacroix, who was sent as ambassador to the Batave Republic, he used the influence of several women, especially his friend Germaine de Staël. The latter laid siege to Barras, the most influential of the directors, whom she begged in fiery scenes, finally obtaining his agreement. Talleyrand prefers to tell in his memoirs that arriving for dinner at Barras”, he discovers him collapsed by the drowning of his aide-de-camp and consoles him for a long time, hence the benevolence of the director towards him. In the game of appointments of the reshuffle of July 16, 1797, which took place in the early stages of the coup d”état of 18 fructidor, Barras obtained the agreement of the other directors, who were nevertheless hostile to the former bishop.

At the time of his appointment, Talleyrand is said to have said to Benjamin Constant: “We hold the place, it is necessary to make an immense fortune there, an immense fortune”. In fact, and from that moment, this “man of infinite spirit, who was always short of money” took the habit of receiving large sums of money from all the foreign states with which he dealt. At the end of 1797, he even provoked a diplomatic incident by asking three American envoys for bribes: this was the XYZ affair, which provoked the “quasi-war”.

“M. de Talleyrand himself estimated at sixty millions what he could have received in total from great or small powers in his diplomatic career.

– Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, New Mondays

As soon as he was appointed, Talleyrand wrote to Napoleon Bonaparte:

“I have the honor of announcing to you, general, that the Executive Directory has named me Minister of Foreign Relations. Justly afraid of the functions of which I feel the perilous importance, I need to reassure myself by the feeling of what your glory must bring of means and facility in the negotiations. The name of Bonaparte alone is an auxiliary which must smooth out everything. I will hasten to send you all the views which the Directory will charge me to transmit to you, and fame, which is your ordinary organ, will often delight me to learn the way in which you will have fulfilled them.”

– Letter from Talleyrand to Napoleon Bonaparte

Seduced by the character, Bonaparte wrote to the Directory to say that the choice of Talleyrand “honors his discernment”. An important correspondence followed; in it, Bonaparte expressed very early the need to reinforce the executive. He did as he pleased in Italy: the treaty of Campo-Formio was signed on 17 October 1797 and Talleyrand congratulated him in spite of everything. On December 6, the two men met for the first time, while Bonaparte returned covered with glory from the Italian campaign. On January 3, 1798, Talleyrand gave a sumptuous party in his honor at the Hôtel de Galliffet, where the ministry was located. He encouraged Bonaparte to attempt the Egyptian expedition and favored his departure, while refusing to get actively involved, not going to Constantinople as agreed with Bonaparte, and thus provoking the anger of the general.

The Directory, in particular Jean-François Reubell, who hated Talleyrand, handled the important affairs himself and used him as an executor. Talleyrand”s policy, which sometimes went against even that of the directors, was to reassure the European states and to obtain balance and peace. He also expressed his reservations about the policy of “liberation” of conquered countries: on July 2, 1799 (14 Messidor, Year VII), he wrote to Lacuée, a member of the Council of Five Hundred, “that the system which tends to bring freedom by open force to neighboring nations is the most likely to make them hate it and to prevent its triumph.” He takes possession of the administration of Foreign Affairs, which he fills with hard-working, efficient, discreet and faithful men, even if it is the Directory that chooses the ambassadors, without even consulting him.

He made contact with Sieyès and with the generals Joubert, who died shortly afterwards, Brune, and then Bonaparte when he returned from Egypt, with a view to overthrowing the Directory. On July 13, 1799, taking as a pretext the attacks carried out against him by the press and by an obscure adjutant-general who brought a lawsuit against him and won it, he left on July 20. He devoted himself to the preparation of the coup d”état of November 9, 1799 by conspiring against the Directory with Bonaparte and Sieyès. On that day, he was in charge of asking Barras for his resignation: he succeeded so well that he kept the financial compensation that was intended for Barras.

Minister of the Consulate

After the coup d”état, he returned to his role as minister in front of the European courts, which were not very dissatisfied with the end of the Directory. Bonaparte and Talleyrand agreed that foreign affairs were the exclusive domain of the First Consul: the minister reported only to Bonaparte. For François Furet, Talleyrand was “for almost eight years”.

Bonaparte agreed with Talleyrand”s views and wrote amicably to the King of Great Britain, then to the Emperor of Austria, who predictably refused the proposals for reconciliation, without even acknowledging receipt of the letters. The Russian Tsar Paul I was more favorable: a treaty was negotiated and signed. However, Paul I was assassinated in 1801 by a group of ex-officials. His son Alexander I succeeded him.

The treaties of Mortefontaine of September 30, 1800 for the pacification of the relations with the United States, and of Lunéville of February 9, 1801 for the peace with Austria defeated at Marengo, as well as the peace of Amiens of March 25, 1802 with the United Kingdom and Spain, were negotiated mainly by Napoleon and Joseph Bonaparte: according to Mrs. Grand, “the First Consul did everything, drafted everything. Even if he disapproved of the brutal method of negotiation, Talleyrand approved of the general peace, whose negotiations allowed him to make a lot of money, thanks to various tricks and bribes. He maneuvered the Italians to elect Bonaparte president of the Italian Republic. He also continued to reform the administration of Foreign Affairs. The hopes of the minister are however disappointed:

“The peace of Amiens was hardly concluded, that moderation began to abandon Bonaparte; this peace had not yet received its complete execution, that he already threw the seeds of new wars which were to after having overwhelmed Europe and France, to lead him himself to his ruin.

– Memoirs of Talleyrand

He thus disapproved of the annexation of Piedmont, the excessive rapprochement between the French and Cisalpine republics and the hostility towards the English presence in Malta. The First Consul also annexed the Island of Elba and occupied Switzerland; from May 16, 1803, the rupture with the English was consummated.

In 1800, he bought the castle of Valençay, again at the behest of Bonaparte and with his financial help. The estate covers about 200 km2, which makes it one of the largest private properties of the time. Talleyrand stayed there regularly, especially before and after his thermal cures in Bourbon-l”Archambault.

In 1804, faced with the increasing number of attacks perpetrated by royalists against Bonaparte, Talleyrand played the role of instigator or advisor in the execution of the Duc d”Enghien, a role whose importance would give rise to debate during the Restoration following Savary”s accusations: according to Barras, Talleyrand advised Bonaparte to “put a river of blood between the Bourbons and himself”; according to Chateaubriand, he “inspired the crime”. On March 21, whereas the arrest of the duke is not yet known, Talleyrand declares to the assistance, at two o”clock in the morning: “The last Condé ceased to exist”. In his memoirs, Bonaparte indicates that “it was Talleyrand who decided to arrest the Duke of Enghien”, but claims the execution as his personal decision. At the Restoration, in 1814, Talleyrand made disappear all the documents relating to this affair; he denies having taken part in this execution, in an appendix of his memoirs.

Minister of the Empire

Appointed Grand Chamberlain on July 11, 1804, Talleyrand, who had pushed Bonaparte to institute the heredity of power, attended the coronation of Napoleon I on December 2. He was also named Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor on February 1, 1805, in the first promotion.

In 1805, the German campaign begins. Talleyrand followed the emperor on his travels through Europe. Upon his arrival in Strasbourg, he witnessed a violent seizure of the emperor, which for Georges Lacour-Gayet was similar to an epileptic fit. The day after the victory of Ulm, he sent a report from Strasbourg to the emperor on the need for moderation towards Austria in order to establish a balance between the four (France, United Kingdom, Austria, Russia – to which he added Prussia). After the brilliant victory of Austerlitz and the crushing defeat of Trafalgar, Talleyrand, who had once again pleaded in vain for a European rebalancing, reluctantly signed the treaty of Presburg (December 26, 1805), announcing the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine and which he drafted on the orders of the emperor. According to Metternich, he begins to consider his resignation. He tried to soften the conditions imposed on Austria; by granting ten percent rebates and delays on the financial sanctions, he displeased Napoleon, who suspected him of having been corrupted:

“Austria, in the state of distress in which it was reduced, could only undergo the conditions imposed by the victor. They were hard, and the treaty made with M. d”Haugwitz made it impossible for me to soften them on other articles than that of contributions.

– Memoirs of Talleyrand

Following the Haitian revolution, he intervened with the United States to ask them to cease all commercial activities with Haiti. On February 28, 1806, the United States decreed a blockade against the young state. In 1806, he received the title of “Prince of Benevento”, a state confiscated from the Pope, where he did not visit once, but only sent a governor. On July 12 of the same year, he signed the treaty creating the Confederation of the Rhine, prolonging Napoleon”s will through his numerous negotiations. Criticizing Napoleon”s war policy without daring to challenge him, he was always disappointed in his advice of moderation, in particular by the proclamation of the continental blockade, on November 21, 1806. Being in permanent contact with Austria in the hope of a rapprochement, he began to communicate information to the tsar Alexander I via his friend the duke of Dalberg. In 1807, after a series of victories by Napoleon (Eylau, Danzig, Heilsberg, Guttstadt, Friedland), he drafted (was “satisfied”) and signed the Treaty of Tilsit, which went against his views and advice to Napoleon: offensive alliance with Russia, weakening of Austria “by the treatment reserved for the vanquished, in particular the Queen of Prussia, and displeased to be a “Minister of Foreign Relations without a job. He certainly took on this occasion the decision to resign from his post of minister on his return from Warsaw, and even announced it to Napoleon at that moment. This did not prevent him from encouraging the rapprochement between the latter and Marie Walewska. His resignation was effective on August 10, 1807. On the 14th, he was named vice-grand elector of the Empire.

In September 1808, Napoleon asked him to assist him at the Erfurt interview with the Russian tsar, without ignoring the fact that Talleyrand was hostile to the alliance he was seeking, preferring the Austrian route. During the discussions on the bangs of the interviews between the two emperors, Talleyrand went so far as to advise Alexander against allying himself with Napoleon, declaring to him: “Sire, what have you come to do here? It is up to you to save Europe, and you will succeed only by standing up to Napoleon. The French people are civilized, their sovereign is not; the sovereign of Russia is civilized, his people is not; it is therefore up to the sovereign of Russia to be the ally of the French people”, then “the Rhine, the Alps, the Pyrenees are the conquest of France; the rest is the conquest of the Emperor; France does not hold on to them”. It is the “treason of Erfurt”, “deceit” (for Georges Lacour-Gayet) that he details at length in his memoirs, affirming to have maneuvered both emperors to preserve the European balance (“in Erfurt, I saved Europe from a complete upheaval”) and which will earn him later the enmity of the Bonapartists. For the time being, Napoleon, who was unaware of the sabotage, was surprised by the lack of success of his discussions with Alexander, and the alliance was not made, the convention having become “insignificant”. According to André Castelot, “the sending of Talleyrand to Erfurt, as a diplomatic bagman, is certainly [of all the errors committed in 1808 by the emperor] the fault which will weigh most heavily on the future of the Empire”.

While there was no news of the emperor from Spain, where the guerrilla war was raging, and rumors of his death were spreading, Talleyrand plotted in broad daylight with Joseph Fouché to offer the regency to the Empress Josephine, seeking the support of Joachim Murat. On January 17, 1809, in Spain, Napoleon learns of the conspiracy and rushes to Paris, arriving on 23, he abuses Talleyrand with filthy insults at the end of a restricted council of circumstance:

“You are a thief, a coward, a man without faith; you do not believe in God; you have failed in all your duties all your life, you have deceived and betrayed everyone; there is nothing sacred for you; you would sell your father. I have filled you with good things and there is nothing that you are not capable of doing against me.

He accused him of having incited him to arrest the duke of Enghien and to start the expedition of Spain; the famous sentence “you are shit in a silk stocking” was perhaps not pronounced in this circumstance. He took away his position of grand chamberlain.

Talleyrand was convinced that he had been arrested, but he remained impassive: he would have said at the exit of the aforementioned council: “What a pity, Gentlemen, that such a great man was so badly brought up”. On the contrary of Fouché who plays low profile, he always presents himself at the court and this from the day after the famous scene, makes play the women near Napoleon but does not dissimulate his opposition:

“Napoleon had had the clumsiness (and one will see later the consequence of it) to water down with disgust this character so deft, of a spirit so brilliant, of a taste so exercised and so delicate, who, moreover, in politics had rendered him as many services for the least as I had been able to render him myself in the high affairs of the State which interested the safety of his person. But Napoleon could not forgive Talleyrand for having always spoken of the Spanish war with disapproving freedom. Soon the salons and boudoirs of Paris became the scene of a muted war between Napoleon”s adherents on the one hand, and Talleyrand and his friends on the other, a war in which epigrams and bon mots were the artillery, and in which the ruler of Europe was almost always defeated.”

– Memoirs of Joseph Fouché

Threatened with exile with his colleague, even in his own life, he was finally not worried, kept his other posts and the emperor always consulted him. According to Jean Orieux, he was for Napoleon “unbearable, indispensable and irreplaceable”: Talleyrand worked on his divorce and his remarriage, by suggesting the “Austrian marriage”, which he pleaded during the extraordinary council of January 28, 1810. He is then financially embarrassed, because of the loss of his charges and the cost of the lodging of the infants of Spain, which the endowment of Napoleon does not cover completely. The bankruptcy of the Simons bank, in which he lost a million and a half, put him in such a delicate position that he solicited in vain a loan from the tsar. However, he still received bribes and sold his library again. In 1811, Napoleon finally got him out of his financial troubles by buying him the Hotel Matignon; two years later, Talleyrand moved to the Hotel de Saint-Florentin.

In 1812, in preparation for the Russian campaign, Napoleon thought of imprisoning Fouché and Talleyrand preventively, while considering sending the latter as ambassador to Poland. Talleyrand welcomed the news of the retreat from Russia by declaring: “it is the beginning of the end”; he intensified his intriguing relations. In December 1812, Talleyrand unsuccessfully urged Napoleon to negotiate peace and to grant important concessions; he refused the post of Minister of Foreign Relations that the Emperor again offered him. He wrote to Louis XVIII via his uncle, the beginning of a correspondence that lasted throughout 1813; the imperial police intercepted some of his letters and the emperor thought of exiling him and prosecuting him. However, Napoleon always followed his advice: in December 1813, he accepted the return of the Bourbons to the throne of Spain, and offered him again the post of Minister of Foreign Relations, but he refused again. On January 16, 1814, Napoleon, during a new scene, is on the point of making him arrest; on January 23, it names him however to the council of regency. They saw each other for the last time the day after, on the eve of the emperor”s departure for a desperate military campaign.

On March 28, 1814, while the Allies threatened Paris, the council of regency decided the evacuation of the court, which took place the following two days. On the evening of March 30, Talleyrand carried out a clever maneuver to remain in Paris: he prevented them from passing the barrier of Passy and then, during the night, negotiated the surrender of Marshal Marmont, who was leading the defense of the city. The next day, March 31, Talleyrand unveiled his “18 Brumaire in reverse”, as the Allies entered Paris: that evening, the King of Prussia and the Czar arrived at his private hotel, and the latter was staying there. He pleads with them for the return of the Bourbons in these terms: “The Republic is an impossibility; the Regency, Bernadotte, are an intrigue; the Bourbons alone are a principle.” He also answers their doubts by proposing to consult the Senate:

“The tsar nodded; the Restoration was done.

– Georges Lacour-Gayet, Talleyrand

President of the Provisional Government

On April 1, 1814, the conservative Senate elected Talleyrand at the head of a “provisional government” which made Chateaubriand say that “he placed there the partners of his whist”. The next day, the Senate removed the emperor from his throne, the latter still negotiating with the Allies for an abdication in favor of his son and a regency of Marie-Louise. Napoleon Bonaparte is finally lost by the defection of Marmont and abdicates on April 6. Talleyrand had all his correspondence with the emperor seized.

He immediately applied his liberal ideas and restored normal life to the country:

“He had the conscripts of the last Napoleonic levies returned to their families, freed the political prisoners and hostages, exchanged the prisoners of war, re-established the freedom of circulation of letters, facilitated the return of the Pope to Rome and that of the Spanish princes to Madrid, and attached the agents of the general police force of the Empire, who had become obnoxious, to the authority of the prefects. Above all, he tried to reassure everyone and kept all the civil servants in their posts as much as possible. Only two prefects are replaced.”

– Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Talleyrand, the immobile prince.

His position was difficult, especially in Paris: the Allies occupied the city, and the royalists and Bonapartists did not recognize the provisional government. He used expedients to finance the latter.

During the first days of April, he, his government and the Senate hurriedly drafted a new constitution, which established a bicameral parliamentary monarchy, organized the balance of power, respected public liberties and declared the continuity of the commitments made under the Empire.

On April 12, the count d”Artois enters Paris and settles, at the same time as the government, in Tuileries (on this occasion, Talleyrand makes him attribute the declaration according to which there is “only one more Frenchman”). On the 14, the Senate defers the formal authority on the provisional government to the count of Artois, who accepts for his brother “the bases” of the Constitution, but with certain restrictions.

After the treaty of Fontainebleau of April 11, Talleyrand signed the armistice agreement with the Allies on April 23, whose conditions he judged “painful and humiliating” (France returned to the natural borders of 1792 and gave up fifty-three strongholds), but with no alternative, in a France “exhausted of men, money and resources.

The provisional government lasted only one month. On May 1, Talleyrand joined Louis XVIII at Compiègne, where the latter made him wait for several hours, then declared to him during an icy conversation: “I am very happy to see you; our houses date from the same period. My ancestors were the most skilful; if yours had been more skilful than mine, you would say to me today: take a chair, approach me, let”s talk about our business; today, it is I who say to you: sit down and let”s talk. In the same conversation, Louis XVIII would have asked him how he could see the end of so many regimes, to which Talleyrand would have replied:

“My God, Sire, I really didn”t do anything for this, it”s something inexplicable that I have in me that brings bad luck to governments that neglect me.”

– Charles-Maxime Villemarest, M. de Talleyrand

Minister of the First Restoration

Louis XVIII did not accept the senatorial Constitution: he preferred to grant his subjects the Constitutional Charter which took up the liberal ideas proposed but rejected the balance of powers, the king granting them to both chambers. On May 13, Talleyrand, disappointed in his ambition to preside over the ministry, was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.

On May 30, he signed the Treaty of Paris that he had negotiated: peace between France and the Allies, the end of the occupation, no war indemnities, the return to the borders of 1792 (plus a few cities, a part of Savoy and the former Papal States) and the announcement of the Congress of Vienna, the foundations of which were laid. Among the provisions, France, which kept its colonies (except the island of France, Tobago and Saint Lucia), undertook to abolish the slave trade within five years (thus taking up the law of March 29, 1815 that Napoleon had promulgated on his return from the island of Elba) and kept the works of art plundered by Bonaparte.

Talleyrand was made a knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece (no 868). The principality of Benevento was returned to the Pope. The king finally made him “Prince of Talleyrand” and peer of France.

On September 8, he defended the budget before the Chamber of Peers. For the first time, as in England, the State was obliged to pay all the debts it incurred.

Ambassador to the Congress of Vienna

Louis XVIII logically charged him with representing France at the Congress of Vienna and approved the “instructions” that Talleyrand had proposed. The diplomat leaves with four objectives, the provisions concerning France having already been regulated by the Treaty of Paris:

On September 16, 1814 begin the informal negotiations of the congress of Vienna. Talleyrand, who was assisted by the duke of Dalberg, the marquis de la Tour du Pin and the count of Noailles, the opening being planned for October 1. Kept away from the main meetings that took place between the four countries (United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, Russia) that had already approved a protocol on September 22, he was however invited to a discussion on September 30 where Metternich and Hardenberg used the words “allied powers”. He then reacted:

“Allied…, I said, and against whom? It is no longer against Napoleon: he is on the island of Elba…; it is no longer against France: the peace is made…; it is certainly not against the king of France: he is the guarantor of the duration of this peace. Gentlemen, let us speak frankly, if there are still allied powers, I am too much here. And yet, if I were not here, you would essentially miss me. Gentlemen, I am perhaps the only one who does not ask for anything. Great respect, that is all I want for France. She is great enough by her resources, by her extent, by the number and spirit of her inhabitants, by the contiguity of her provinces, by the unity of her administration, by the defenses with which nature and art have guaranteed her borders. I do not want anything, I repeat it to you; and I bring you immensely. The presence of a minister of Louis XVIII consecrates here the principle on which rests the whole social order. If, as is already being spread, some privileged powers wanted to exercise a dictatorial power over the Congress, I must say that, confining myself to the terms of the Treaty of Paris, I could not consent to recognize in this meeting any supreme power in matters which are within the competence of the Congress, and that I would not deal with a proposal which would come from it.”

– Memoirs of Talleyrand

Talleyrand provoked the anger of the four (Metternich declared: “we would have done better to treat our business between us!) On October 3, he threatened not to attend any more conferences, posed as the defender of the small nations which attended the deliberations from that moment on and exploited the divisions which were emerging between the four. Supported by the United Kingdom and Spain, he obtained the cancellation of the minutes of the previous meetings. The congress finally opened on November 1. For Jean Orieux, no important subject was discussed in the official meetings (the small nations got tired and ended up not attending anymore. Talleyrand remained while the real deliberations began (he joined the committee of the great powers on January 8): “That is how the Committee of Four became the Committee of Five.

He allied himself with Austria and the United Kingdom: a secret treaty was signed on January 3, 1815, which allowed him to write, triumphantly, to Louis XVIII: “Now, Sire, the coalition is dissolved, and it is dissolved for ever. France is no longer isolated in Europe…”. By this, he opposes Prussia and Russia: the former gets only a piece of Saxony and the latter only a part of Poland, which they share. Indeed, Talleyrand was in favor of a federal Germany that would be the center of balance between the different powers, in particular Prussia and Austria. Prussia and France end up with a common border, which is reproached by some biographers as the source of future Franco-German wars; it is defended by others. Talleyrand signed the final act of the congress on June 9, 1815.

In exchange for the restitution of the principality of Benevento, Talleyrand also obtains a financial compensation and the title of duke of Dino (of the restored king Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies), which he transmits to his nephew, and thus to his niece Dorothea, who shone during the congress.

President of the Council of the Second Restoration

At the end of the Congress, France retained its conquests of 1792, but Napoleon I returned from Elba in triumph, which ruined the Allies” opinion of them and led them to question Talleyrand”s intentions. Lord Castlereagh wrote to Lord Clancarty, now head of the British delegation: “I agree with you that Talleyrand cannot be relied upon. However, I do not know who His Majesty can trust more. The truth is that France is a den of thieves and brigands and that only criminals of their kind can govern them.” Talleyrand is approached by Montrond, pleading the cause of Napoleon (in any case, he refuses, although he is on very bad terms with Louis XVIII, now in exile. Waiting for Napoleon”s defeat (“it”s a matter of weeks, he will soon be worn out”), he delayed joining the king in Ghent.

After the battle of Waterloo, on June 23, he arrived at Mons where the king was. According to Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Talleyrand urged the king, during a stormy meeting, to dismiss his adviser Blacas, to accept a more liberal constitution and to distinguish himself from the Allies, but only obtained Blacas”s departure; according to Georges Lacour-Gayet, he refused to go to the king”s house, with Chateaubriand playing the intermediary. Taking Talleyrand by surprise, whom he disgraced (in anger, the latter lost his usual calm), Louis XVIII joined the baggage of the allied army and drafted a reactionary proclamation. This tendency provoked the concern of the British who forced the king to recall Talleyrand as head of the council of ministers. At the end of the session of June 27, marked by verbal confrontations, the minister prevailed over the Count of Artois and the Duke of Berry (leaders of the ultra party) and a liberal proclamation was adopted.

Fouché, president of the provisional government, held Paris, supported by the Republicans. For Georges Lacour-Gayet and Franz Blei, Talleyrand convinced Louis XVIII to appoint Fouché (who had voted for the death of his brother) as minister of police. According to the Memoirs of Talleyrand and for Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Louis XVIII”s reluctance gave way to political necessity, and it was Talleyrand who did not wish to burden himself with a man like Fouché. In any case, Talleyrand negotiates with Fouché who delivers Paris to the king, and he organizes a meeting. In a famous passage of his memoirs, Chateaubriand tells the scene:

“Then, I went to His Majesty”s house: introduced in one of the rooms which preceded that of the king, I found nobody; I sat down in a corner and I waited. Suddenly a door opened: in walked silently the vice leaning on the arm of the crime, M. de Talleyrand walking supported by M. Fouché; the infernal vision passed slowly in front of me, penetrated in the cabinet of the king and disappeared. Fouché had come to swear faith and homage to his lord; the feal regicide, on his knees, put the hands that made the head of Louis XVI fall into the hands of the brother of the martyred king; the apostate bishop was surety of the oath.”

– François-René de Chateaubriand, Mémoires d”Outre-tombe

Talleyrand kept his position, and, the day after the arrival of the king in the Tuileries, on July 9, 1815, he was appointed in addition president of the Council of Ministers, in spite of the opposition of the ultras. Unlike in 1814, he succeeded in forming a government which he directed and which was in solidarity with the chosen liberal policy. He began a revision of the Charter by an ordinance of July 13 to organize the sharing of power between the king and the chambers (the chamber of peers becoming hereditary, Talleyrand composing the list of peers), a liberalization of the elections (lowering of the cens, of the minimum age), a liberalization of the press, etc.

The government also tried in vain to prevent the allied armies, which were still occupying the country, from taking back the works of art plundered throughout Europe by Napoleon. It tried to send these armies out of the kingdom; the European sovereigns demanded exorbitant conditions to sign the peace, which Talleyrand managed to reduce by lowering, for example, the reparations from 100 to 8 million francs. France loses however its conquests of 1792.

Talleyrand came into conflict with Fouché (who needed to give pledges to the royalists) over the beginnings of the White Terror in the South (Talleyrand was forced to re-establish censorship) and over the lists of Bonapartists (Ney, Huchet de la Bédoyère, etc.) to be tried. The Minister of Police paid for this difference of opinion with his post, which pleased the king and the ultras. This was not enough: after the elections that brought the “Chambre introuvable”, won by the latter, Talleyrand presented his resignation on September 19 in order to obtain a refusal and the support of the king. The latter, under the pressure of the ultras and of the tsar Alexander (who reproached Talleyrand for having opposed him in Vienna), accepted it on September 23 and changed the ministry, calling a government led by the duke of Richelieu.

In the Liberal opposition

Talleyrand was appointed Grand Chamberlain of France on September 28, 1815. For the first time since his return from the United States, he was not in power, spreading against his successor, the duke of Richelieu (who nevertheless made sure that Talleyrand”s titles, who had no legitimate son, were transmissible to his brother), certain to be recalled to power. In the spring of 1816, he withdrew to Valençay, where he had not been for eight years, then returned for a time to Paris when the dissolution of the House of Representatives was announced. On November 18, 1816, his criticism of Élie Decazes, Minister of Police, exasperated the king (he called him a “pimp”): he was forbidden to appear at court, a disgrace that lasted until February 28, 1817. His opposition to the government even led to an approach of the ultras, opposed to Richelieu and Decazes, who continued in part the liberal policies of Talleyrand. In 1818, he had an opportunity to return to power, but the king, who did not “like” him, preferred Jean Dessolle, then Decazes, then again Richelieu in 1820. He was now convinced that the king did not want him anymore.

While the ultras were becoming more and more influential, Talleyrand, who was now close to the doctrinaires, in particular Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard, whom he had as a neighbor in Valençay, placed himself in the liberal opposition for the rest of the Restoration: he made speeches in the Chamber of Peers on July 24, 1821, and again in February 1822, in defense of freedom of the press, and then on February 3, 1823, in opposition to the expedition to Spain, which had been requested by Chateaubriand. He was then even more hated by the ultras that his role in the assassination of the duke of Enghien was revealed by Savary, who was then exiled by Louis XVIII, who wished to protect the honor of his great chamberlain.

In September 1824, while the weight of his 70 years is felt, his position makes that he attends for a long time the agony of Louis XVIII and the coronation of his successor. The advent of Charles X, leader of the ultra party, took away his last hopes of returning to power. During a ceremony, on January 20, 1827 in the church of Saint-Denis, a man named Maubreuil attacked him and hit him several times. He gets closer to the Duke of Orleans and his sister, Madame Adélaïde. In a few years, the young journalist Adolphe Thiers became a familiar figure: Talleyrand helped him to set up his newspaper, Le National, which was liberal and offensive against the government. Le National found itself at the heart of the protest against the July Ordinances which provoked the Three Glorious Years and the fall of Charles X. He also took advantage of the advice of the banker Gabriel-Julien Ouvrard, on a fall of the Paris stock exchange on the occasion of these events.

Ambassador to London

In July 1830, while uncertainty reigned, Talleyrand sent a bill to Adélaïde d”Orléans for her brother Louis-Philippe on July 29, advising him to go to Paris:

“This bill, which brought to the lips of Madame Adélaïde a sudden exclamation: “Ah! this good prince, I was quite sure that he would not forget us!” must have contributed to fixing the indecisions of the future king. Since M. de Talleyrand had made up his mind, Louis-Philippe could take the risk.

– Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, New Mondays

Louis-Philippe returns to Paris the following day, goes to Talleyrand for a meeting and takes his side. The latter helps him through Adolphe Thiers. Having become king, Louis-Philippe, after having wished to make Talleyrand his Minister of Foreign Affairs, quickly appointed him, at his request, as Ambassador Extraordinary to London, in order to guarantee the neutrality of the United Kingdom with regard to the new regime. The decision was criticized in Paris, but approved in London, where Wellington and Aberdeen had long been his friends. His appointment reassured the courts of Europe, frightened by this new French revolution, while the Belgian revolution broke out. He himself explains that he was at the time “animated by the hope, especially the desire, to establish this alliance of France and England, which I have always considered as the most solid guarantee of the happiness of the two nations and the peace of the world.

Talleyrand opposed the minister Louis-Mathieu Molé: the two men tried to conduct a policy without taking into account each other, the minister threatening to resign. Talleyrand advocated, for example, against Molé the evacuation of Algeria, which the British wanted; Louis-Philippe chose to remain there. Molé was however replaced by Horace Sébastiani, who did not bother Talleyrand.

Talleyrand argued with the British for a concept that he forged of “non-intervention” in Belgium, while the Dutch army was pushed back. Conferences between the Big Five opened on November 4, 1830. After having refused the idea of a partition of Belgium, and then having considered such an idea for a time, he pleaded for the creation of a neutral federated state on the model of Switzerland: he signed the protocols of June 1831, and then the treaty of November 15, 1831, which made it official. He went so far as to overrule his instructions by accepting, and even negotiating, the preservation of the country”s borders and the choice of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as sovereign of the new neutral country. He approved the decision of the new Prime Minister, Casimir Perier, to support militarily this neutrality, threatened by the Netherlands. The new country dismantled the fortresses on the French border.

Talleyrand worked on the project that had been close to his heart for a long time: the rapprochement of the United Kingdom and France, the basis of the Entente Cordiale. The two countries intervene jointly to force the king of the Netherlands to respect the new independence of Belgium. He regularly received Alphonse de Lamartine and maintained good relations with his friend Wellington and the entire cabinet. His name was applauded in the British Parliament, his refinement and his skill became famous in London; he frequently received Prosper Mérimée. The English opposition even accused the government of being too much influenced by him, the Marquis of Londonderry declaring in the gallery: “I see France dominating us all, thanks to the clever politician who represents her here, and I fear that she has in her hands the power of decision and that she exercises what I would call a dominating influence on European affairs.”

During this time, in France, if Talleyrand benefits from an important esteem among the political elites and with the king (the latter constantly consults him, proposes him the post of Prime Minister, proposal which he dodges), his reputation is at the lowest: “The prince avoided to France the dismemberment, one owes him crowns, one throws him mud”. It is indeed at this time that the generalized hatred of the parties against him is exacerbated. He became the “lame devil”, the one who betrayed everyone.

“He was called “Protée au pied boite”, “Satan of the Tuileries”, “Republic, emperor, king: he sold everything”, one read in this fashionable poem of the day, written with a feather plucked from the eagle of the exterminating angel, entitled Némésis (“Vengeance”). Its only merit was to provoke an admirable response from Lamartine.”

– Jean Orieux, Talleyrand or the misunderstood sphinx

Talleyrand remained in office until 1834 and the conclusion of the treaty of the Quadruple Alliance, signed on April 22. Tired of the difficulties of negotiation with Lord Palmerston, he left his post, after having signed an additional convention to the treaty on August 18. He arrived in Paris on the 22nd; there was talk of completing the alliances by sending him to Vienna. He gave up the presidency of the council, which was entrusted to Thiers (Talleyrand took part in the formation of the government), then to the public scene.

Retirement and death

Talleyrand retired to his castle in Valençay. He had already been appointed mayor of this commune from 1826 to 1831, then general councillor of Indre. He always advised Louis-Philippe, in particular in 1836 on the neutrality to be adopted in the problem of the Spanish succession, against the opinion of Thiers, who lost his position.

His political activity decreases however. He received, in addition to many political personalities, Alfred de Musset and George Sand (the latter thanking him with an insulting article that she regrets in her memoirs and puts the final touches to her memoirs. In 1837, he left Valençay and returned to his hotel in Saint-Florentin in Paris.

As his death approached, he had to negotiate a return to religion in order to avoid the scandal of his family being denied the sacraments and burial as Sieyès had been. After a farewell speech at the Institute on March 3, his relatives entrusted Abbé Dupanloup with the task of convincing him to sign his recantation and to negotiate its content. Talleyrand, who once again played for time, signed only on the day of his death, which allowed him to receive extreme unction. At the moment when the priest had to anoint his hands with the oil of the infirm, in accordance with the rite, he declared: “Do not forget that I am a bishop”, thus acknowledging his reintegration into the Church. The event, followed by the whole of Paris, made Ernest Renan say that he succeeded “in deceiving the world and Heaven”.

When he learns that Talleyrand is dying, King Louis-Philippe decides, contrary to etiquette, to visit him. “Sire,” murmured the dying man, “it is a great honor that the king does to my House.” He died on May 17, 1838, at 3:35 p.m., according to sources, after naming Adolphe Fourier de Bacourt his executor.

Until 1990, a glass window shows his mummified face. The marble plaque covering one side of the black marble sarcophagus placed in a tomb reads: “Here lies the body of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince duc de Talleyrand, duc de Dino, born in Paris on February 2, 1754, died in the same city on May 17, 1838.

In 2004, the sarcophagus was brought up from the crypt to be displayed in the choir of the chapel.

– Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas

“People always say either too much bad or too much good about me; I enjoy the honors of exaggeration.”

– Talleyrand

“I want, for centuries to come, to continue to discuss what I have been, what I have thought and what I have wanted.”

– Talleyrand

Talleyrand was nicknamed the “lame devil” because of his infirmity and the hatred that some of his enemies had for him, especially among the factions: “ultras” (for whom he was a revolutionary), Catholic Church (remembering the confiscation of church property), Jacobins (for whom he was a traitor to the Revolution), Bonapartists (who blamed him for the “treason of Erfurt”), etc.

Napoleon expressed contrasting opinions about Talleyrand. According to the Emperor”s judgments on St. Helena, as transcribed by Las Cases, the deposed Emperor held in deep contempt “the vilest and most corrupt of men”, using “odious means”, a “rascal” who “treats his enemies as if he were to be reconciled with them one day, and his friends as if they were to become his enemies”. On the other hand, he recognized in him “an eminent mind” with “superior talents” and a “man of spirit”.

“These historical facts, the most curious in the world, have been generally ignored, it is still in the same way that one has formed a confused opinion of the treaties of Vienna, in relation to France: one has believed them to be the iniquitous work of a troop of victorious sovereigns bent on our ruin; unfortunately, if they are harsh, they have been poisoned by a French hand: when M. de Talleyrand is not conspiring, he is scheming.

Charles de Rémusat, who frequented Talleyrand”s salon, a great friend of his mother, Mme de Rémusat, writes in his Memoirs:

“I have never had a taste for M. de Talleyrand. I flouted much of the conventional admiration that one had for the features of his conversation. His grand airs seemed to me worthy of the theater; his graces were full of affettery. I do not look at it less as one of the superior men of my time, the only one perhaps of the French my contemporaries, to whom must remain the title of statesman. His famous immorality did not exceed much the practice of the philosophy of Helvetius, reinforced by the traditions of the Old Regime. It did not exclude in him some of the great qualities of the character, a certain morality in the spirit, the taste of the great things, the feeling of the public good, the desire to make a name. All this is rare, even in many more honest than him. It was the vices and habits of his private life that corrupted his political life, the general direction of which was commendable. What will harm his historical memory is that he founded nothing. Nothing remains that comes from him.”

– Charles de Rémusat, Memoirs of my life.

Victor Hugo, whose political journey was a path from legitimism to republicanism, wrote on the occasion of his death:

– Victor Hugo, Choses vues.

“Certain prince who is one-armed only in the foot, whom I regard as a politician of genius and whose name will grow in history.”

– Honoré de Balzac, The Marriage Contract

However, apart from the strong opinions (for Goethe, he is the “first diplomat of the century”), the complexity of the character intrigues very early:

“The moral problem raised by the character of Talleyrand, in what it has of extraordinary and original, consists entirely in the assembly, certainly singular and unique to this degree, of a superior spirit, a clear common sense, an exquisite taste and a consummate corruption, covered with disdain, carelessness and nonchalance.”

– Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve

For François Furet and Denis Richet (1965), Talleyrand was “criticized too much after having been praised too much”: the twentieth century saw, on the whole, a new analysis of Talleyrand that made him leave behind the garb of the perjured traitor and the “lame devil”, in particular by his many biographers who, in general, saw a political continuity in his life.

– Political will

– Emmanuel de Waresquiel, Talleyrand, the immobile prince

“Who could have believed that this aristocrat among aristocrats, who led the most intact seigneurial life in Valencay in the middle of the 19th century, taught with the deepest conviction that “the great changes in modern life” dated from 14 July 1789? Changes that he had wanted to realize in 1789 and to which he remained attached in 1830? He maintained the “Old Regime” of morals and civility but he refused that of the institutions. In him, France, without a crack, passed from Hugues Capet to democratic times.”

– Jean Orieux, Talleyrand or the misunderstood sphinx

According to Emmanuel de Waresquiel, this military peace must be coupled with a Mediterranean expansion and a commercial war with the English, in order to reduce the economic imbalance between France and England. He thus wished that it is put an end to the British hegemony on the seas, as well military as commercial, necessary condition for this alliance.

“In these four years, the general peace maintained has enabled all our relations to become simpler: our policy, from being isolated as it was, has become mixed with that of other nations; it has been accepted, appreciated, honored by honest people and by the good minds of all countries.”

– Letter from Talleyrand to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, November 13, 1834

“Whoever has not lived in the years around 1789 does not know what it is to enjoy life.

– Talleyrand

Talleyrand was renowned for his conversation, his wit, his refinement and the finesse of his table, always keeping his Ancien Régime manners. For Germaine de Staël, “if his conversation could be bought, I would ruin myself”. To talk about literature, he received guests in his rich library, which he had to sell several times for lack of money.

It has the reputation of having the best cellar and the best table in Paris. At the Saint-Florentin Hotel, the kitchen occupied an entire neighborhood, including, in addition to Marie-Antoine Carême (“the king of chefs and the chef of kings”, whom he made famous), four chefs, a roaster, a saucier, a pastry chef, occupying ten to twenty people depending on the time. For a few years, he was also the owner of Château Haut-Brion.

Talleyrand and women

Being a student at the seminary does not prevent Talleyrand from consorting ostensibly with an actress of the Comédie-Française, Dorothée Dorinville (Dorothée Luzy for the stage), with whom he walks under the seminary windows. This relationship lasts “for two years, from eighteen to twenty years”:

From 1783 to 1792, Talleyrand had for mistress (among others) the countess Adélaïde de Flahaut, with whom he lived almost maritally and who gave him a child in 1785, the famous Charles de Flahaut.

Madame de Staël had a brief affair with him; Talleyrand would later say that “she made all the advances to him”. Solicited from the United States by Talleyrand (who scandalized the society of Philadelphia by walking on the arm of “a beautiful negro”) to help him return to France, it is she who obtains, thanks to Marie-Joseph Chénier, that he is removed from the list of emigrants, then who, in 1797, after having lent him 25 000 pounds, makes him appointed by Barras as Minister of Foreign Relations. When Madame de Staël fell out with Bonaparte, who exiled her, Talleyrand stopped seeing her and did not support her. She will always consider this attitude as a surprising ingratitude.

Some historians, such as Jean Orieux, claim that Eugène Delacroix is the son of Talleyrand. They argue that Talleyrand was the lover of Victoire Delacroix, that Charles Delacroix (the minister whose place he took in 1797) suffered, until six or seven months before his birth, from a testicular tumor, that Eugène Delacroix bears a certain physical resemblance to Talleyrand and that the latter protected him during his career. While Georges Lacour-Gayet considers it “impossible” that Charles Delacroix was his father and “possible” that Talleyrand was, and Maurice Sérullaz does not agree, another part of the painter”s biographers contest this theory, affirming that the relationship never took place, and that the birth, premature, intervenes logically following the recovery of Charles Delacroix. Finally, their main argument is that there is only one source on this paternity, the Memoirs of Madame Jaubert, which makes Emmanuel de Waresquiel say:

“All those who have liked to force their character”s features, starting with Jean Orieux, have allowed themselves to be tempted, without worrying about the rest, nor especially about the sources, or rather the absence of sources. Once and for all, Talleyrand is not the father of Eugène Delacroix. In July 1797, he is a minister of the Republic, which is not so bad.

In 1808, during the interview of Erfurt, if Napoleon does not succeed in seducing the tsar, Talleyrand obtains from the latter the marriage of his nephew Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord with Dorothée de Courlande, 15 years old, “one of the best parties in Europe”. Her mother, the Duchess of Courlande, moved to Paris and became one of Talleyrand”s intimates and mistresses, joining the “little globe” of his friends.

An adaptation by Sacha Guitry puts him on stage in Le Diable boiteux.

The play Le Souper, by Jean-Claude Brisville, relates a dinner between Joseph Fouché and Talleyrand, the day before the return of Louis XVIII to the throne. The interest of this work, which mixes elements dating from 1814 and others from 1815, is not in the historicity but in the confrontation of the two characters (note that the Fouché of the play is not the historical character either, Fouché being neither an uneducated man nor coming from a popular background).

Sources

  1. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
  2. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
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