On this day: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was born le 2 Février 1754
Known since the turn of the XIX ème siecle simply by the name Talleyrand, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was widely regarded as one of the most versatile and influential diplomats in European history. Talleyrand was born into an aristocratic family in Paris on le 2 février 1754. He was a French diplomat who worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and then under Napoléon I, Louis XVIII and Louis-Philippe.
By his own account, a foot injury in childhood left him unable to enter the anticipated military career; it is more probable that this deformity was congenital. Deprived of his rights of primogentiture by a family council, which judged his physical condition incompatible with the traditional military careers of the Talleyrand Dukes, he was instead directed to an ecclesiastic career. This was considerably assisted and encouraged by his uncle, then Archévêque de Reims. It would appear that the family, while prestigious and ancient, was not particularly prosperous, and saw church positions as a way to gain wealth.
Talleyrand attended the Collège d'Harcourt and Saint-Sulpice College until the age of 21. He was ordained in 1779. In 1780, he became a Church representative to the French Crown, as the Agent-General of the Clergy. In this 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 church", a stance he was to deny later. In 1789, due to the influence of his father and family, the already notoriously non-believing Talleyrand was appointed évêque de Autun, Bishop of Autun, by Louis XVI.
In the Estates-General of 1789, he represented the clergy, the First Estate. During the French Revolution, he supported the revolutionary cause. He assisted Mirabeau in the secularization of ecclesiastical properties. He participated in the writing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and proposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that nationalized the Church, and was the person to swear in the first two constitutional bishops, though he had himself resigned as Bishop following his excommunication by Pope Pius VI. Notably, he promoted the public education in full spirit of Enlightenment. He celebrated the mass during the Fête de la Fédération on le 14 juillet 1790.
In 1792, he was sent twice, though not officially, to Britain to seek British neutrality with France. Besides an initial declaration of neutrality during the first campaigns of 1792, it ultimately failed. In septembre 1792, he left Paris for England just at the beginning of les Tueries de Septembre, September Massacres, yet declined the émigré status. Because of his aristocratic background, Convention issued a warrant for his arrest in décember 1792. His stay in England was turbulent as well; in mars 1794, he was forced to leave the country by Prime Minister Pitt's expulsion order. Talleyrand then went to 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, involving in commodity trading and real-estate speculation.
After the 9 Thermidor and execution of Robespierre, Talleyrand mobilized his friends (most notably the abbé Desrenaudes and Germaine de Staël) to lobby the Convention and newly established Directoire to allow his return. His name was then suppressed from the émigré list and he returned to France on le 25 septembre 1796.
The Thermidorian Reaction was a revolt in the French Revolution against the excesses of the Reign of Terror, leading to the arrest and execution of Robespierre and several other leading members of the Committee of Public Safety. The name Thermidorian refers to 9 Thermidor, Year II (le 27 juillet 1794), the date according to the French Revolutionary Calendar when Robespierre and Saint-Just came under concerted attack in the National Convention.
In 1797, Talleyrand became Foreign Minister. He saw a possible political career for Napoléon during the Italian campaigns of 1796/1797. He wrote many letters to Napoléon and the two became close allies. Talleyrand was against the destruction of the Republic of Venice, but he complimented Napoléon when peace with Austria was concluded and Venice was finished, probably because he wanted to reinforce his alliance with Napoléon. Together with Napoléon's younger brother, Lucien Bonaparte, Talleyrand was instrumental in the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, 1799 and soon after he was made Foreign Minister by Napoléon, although he rarely agreed with Napoléon's foreign policy. He helped to bring about the Concordat of 1801 with the Vatican, shortly after which the ban of excommunication against him was lifted (1802).
The coup of 18 Brumaire or sometimes simply Brumaire refers to the coup d'état by which Napoléon Bonaparte overthrew the government of the Directory to replace it with the Consulate. This occurred on le 9 Novembre 1799, which was 18 Brumaire, Year VIII under the French Revolutionary Calendar.
Talleyrand was accused by Napoléon (and later by Châteaubriand) of involvement In the mars 1804 kidnapping and execution of le duc d'Enghien. Whether or not he really was involved remains one of history's great mysteries. The charge is out of character. Talleyrand consistently advocated against violence, most notably speaking out against the guillotine, and and during the Coup Brumaire. The question remains: Why would he advocate such a measure? While the killing of the duc d'Enghien was a cause celebré in Europe, a sort of echo of the execution of Louis XVI, and tended to delegitimize the Napoléonic regime, the specifics remain a mystery.
In mai 1804, Napoléon made Talleyrand Grand Chamberlain and Vice-elector of the Empire. During this year, Talleyrand also bought the Chateau Valençay. In 1806, he was made Sovereign Prince de Bénévent. Talleyrand was against the crude treatment of Prussia in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. The queen of Prussia wept and was consoled by Talleyrand. This gave him a good name among the elite of the European countries outside France. He resigned as minister of foreign affairs in 1807 over his opposition to the Franco-Russian Alliance and, by 1809, he was even further from the Emperor, a break completed in 1812 with the attack on Russia. Talleyrand had no responsible position between 1807 and 1812, when Napoléon appointed him as representative of France at the Congress of Erfurt. Tsar Alexander I of Russia wanted his advice in dealing with Napoléon and they met regularly during the Congress. Thanks to Talleyrand Tsar Alexander changed his attitude towards Napoléon. Alexander was afraid of Napoléon, because the Russians had been defeated twice. He admired the modern institutions of France and wanted to reform his country. Talleyrand allegedly convinced him that Napoléon's France was a threat to European nation states and that Russia should resist the will of emperor Napoléon. Talleyrand became a Russian secret agent from 1812 onwards. His political career was over until the fall of Napoléon.
While serving under Napoléon, Talleyrand began to accept bribes from hostile countries to betray Napoléon's secrets. Typically of Talleyrand, it is hard to determine where his principles met his pecuniary interests. Growing weary of Napoléon's endless ambitions, which he felt would ruin France, Talleyrand became a paid agent of the opposing powers, most notably Austria, Russia and England. His agitations against the Spanish campaign, which he considered unwise, convinced Napoléon that Talleyrand was plotting against him. This perception caused the famous dressing down in front of his marshals, where Napoléon famously claimed that he could "break him like a glass, but its not worth the trouble" and added with his usual scatologic tone that Talleyrand was "shit in a silk stocking," to which the minister coldly retorted, once Napoléon had left, "Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!"
Napoléon’s moves to gain Spain triggered Talleyrand’s resignation in 1807, although he remained in the imperial council and continued as grand chamberlain until early 1809. Ironically, Talleyrand was assigned the distasteful duty of keeping the three Spanish princes seized at Bayonne captive in his château.
He also had a hand in bringing about Napoléon’s marriage to Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I in 1810.
When Napoléon was succeeded by Louis XVIII in avril 1814, Talleyrand was one of the key creators of the restoration of the Bourbons while opposing the new legislation of Louis's 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. At the start, only four countries made the decisions: Austria, the United Kingdom, Prussia, and Russia. France and other European countries were invited, but had no influence on the decision making. Talleyrand became the champion of the small countries and demanded admission with the decision makers. The big four admitted France and Spain to the decision making back rooms of the conference after a good deal of diplomatic maneuvering by Talleyrand. Spain was excluded after a while, but France, represented by Talleyrand was allowed to participate until the end. Russia and Prussia wanted to enlarge their territory during the Congress. Austria was afraid of losing territories to them and the United Kingdom was against their expansion as well.
Talleyrand managed to establish a middle position and received some favors from the other countries in exchange for his support. France even returned to its 1792 boundaries with no reparations, with French control over papal Avignon and Salm, which had been independent at the start of the French Revolution in 1789. Some historians blame Talleyrand's diplomacy for establishing the faultlines of World War I, especially for allowing Prussia to engulf small German states west of Rhine. This simultaneously placed Prussian armed forces at the French-German frontier, which had never happened before; made Prussia the largest power in Germany in terms of territorial extent, population and the industry (the Ruhr and Rhineland); and eventually paved the way to German unification under Prussian throne.
Napoléon's return to France in 1815 and his subsequent defeat, the Hundred Days, was a reverse for the diplomatic victories of Talleyrand; the second peace settlement was markedly less lenient. Talleyrand resigned in septembre of that year under pressure from opponents in France. He thereafter restricted himself to the role of 'elder statesman', criticising - and intriguing - from the sidelines. When King Louis-Philippe came to power in the Revolution of juillet 1830, Talleyrand was made ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1830-34. In this role he strived to reinforce the legitimacy of Louis-Philippe's regime. He resigned in 1834, after having achieved the recognition of Belgium and signed the Quadruple Alliance of 1834.
Talleyrand had a reputation as a voluptuary and a womanizer. In the style of l'Ancienne Regime, aristrocratic women were very much part of his political tactics, both for their influence and their ability to cross borders unhindered. His presumed lover, Germaine de Stael was a major influence on him, and he on her. Though their personal philosophies were most different (she a romantic, he very much a baroque sensibility) she assisted him greatly. He lived with Catherine Worlée, born in India and married there to Charles Grand. She had adventured about before settling in Paris as a notorious courtesan in the 1780s for several years before she divorced Grand and married Talleyrand in 1802.
Talleyrand's venality was celebrated; in the tradition of the l'Ancienne Regime, he expected to be paid for the State duties he performed-- whether these can properly be called "bribes" is open to debate. For instance, during the German Mediatization (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss), the consolidation of the small German states, German rulers and elites paid him to save their possesions, or to enlarge their territories. Less successfully, he solicited payments from the United States, precipitating a diplomatic disaster (the "XYZ Affair"). The difference between his effective diplomacy in Europe and the American faux pas illustrates his capacities and limitations as a diplomat. His manners, behaviors, and tactics made sense in the context of the Old World, but were perceived as antique and corrupt by the New.
Talleyrand was said to be vain: he kept on using his title, Prince de Bénévent, after Napoléon was defeated, despite his principality being reincorporated into Italy. This irritated King Louis XVIII and his court.
Talleyrand was a great conversationalist, gourmand, and wine connoisseur. From 1801 to 1804, he owned Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. Then as now, this Château was renowned for its wines - it remains in the very top tier of Bordeaux producers.
Talleyrand employed the renowned French chef Carême, one of the first celebrity chefs, known as the "chef of kings and king of chefs."
Talleyrand died on le 17 mai 1838 and was buried at his Château of Valençay.
The prototype of the witty, cynical diplomat, Talleyrand has been either exalted as the savior of Europe in 1815 or damned as an opportunist or even a traitor. His corruption was undeniable, and his pliability enabled him to hold power under the ancien régime, the Revolution, Napoleon, the Restoration, and the July Monarchy. Yet Talleyrand was a good European, and his policy was aimed consistently—and often courageously—at the peace and stability of Europe as a whole. Today, when speaking of the art of diplomacy, the phrase "he is a Talleyrand" denotes a statesman of great resource and skill.
My Beloved Talleyrand: The Diary of a Scoundrel by His Last Mistress