Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
Birthday: February 2, 1754
Died At Age: 84
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Born Country: France
Born in: Paris, France
Famous as: Diplomat
Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Grand
father: Daniel Talleyrand
mother: Alexandrine de Damas d'Antigny
children: Adelaide Filleul, Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut, Marquise de Souza-Botelho, Mysterious Charlotte, Pauline de Talleyrand-Périgord
Died on: May 17, 1838
place of death: Paris, France
education: Église Saint-Sulpice
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 1st Prince of Benevento, then 1st Duke of Talleyrand, was a French statesman and diplomat who served during the reigns of Louis XVI, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe, and the years of the French Revolution. After completing theology studies, he was appointed agent-general of the clergy in 1780 and served as a representative of the Catholic Church to the French Crown. During his tenure at the highest levels of successive governments, he was often made the foreign minister. Although he garnered little trust from the people under whom he served, they all acknowledged his competence and efficiency. During the reign of Napoleon, he served as the chief diplomat and utilized peaceful, diplomatic methods to consolidate French hegemony in Europe. Eventually, he turned against the emperor and sought to negotiate peace with Russia and Austria. After Napoleon’s fall, Talleyrand successfully brokered a treaty at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 that was beneficial to France. Talleyrand inspires contradictory scholarly opinions. Some consider him as one of the most resourceful, talented, and prolific diplomats in European history, while others dub him a traitor who deceived, in turn, the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on February 2, 1754, in Paris, Kingdom of France, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was the son of Count Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord and Alexandrine de Damas d'Antigny.
Since he was a child, he had a limp. In his memoirs, he associated his infirmity to an accident he had when he was four years old. This rendered him unfit for a military career and garnered him nicknames like le diableboiteux ("the lame devil").
A career in the clergy was selected for Talleyrand so he could become a successor to his wealthy uncle, Alexandre Angélique de Talleyrand-Périgord, then Archbishop of Reims. Talleyrand was educated in theology at Sorbonne until he was 21 years old. He also studied at the Collège d'Harcourt, the seminary of Saint-Sulpice.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
On December 19, 1779, when Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was 25 years old, he became a priest. A year later, he was appointed the agent-general of the clergy, a representative of the Catholic Church to the French Crown.
While serving in that position, he helped create a general inventory of church properties in France as of 1785, as well as came up with the defence of "inalienable rights of the Church", a view that he later rejected. In January 1789, his consecration as the bishop of Autun took place.
In his initial years in politics, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord demonstrated at least an outward reverence towards religion, though he always had been a free thinker and an ideal representative of the Enlightenment period.
It was not until the advent of the French Revolution that his cynicism revealed itself, and he gave up all orthodox Catholic practices. On April 13, 1791, he quit his position as the bishop of Autun. On June 29, 1802, Pius VII conducted Talleyrand’s laicization.
During the revolution, Talleyrand was an ardent supporter of anti-clericalism of the revolutionaries. He advocated for the appropriation of church properties and was involved in the drafting of the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man.’ He also suggested the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that turned the church into a nationalised enterprise.
In 1792, he went to two unofficial and ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic missions to Britain in order to prevent war between the two nations. In December that year, the National Convention approved the order of his arrest. He was still in Britain at the time.
Later, he travelled to the neutral country of the United States of America before returning to France in 1796. In July 1797, he was appointed the foreign minister for the first time and served for the ensuing two years until July 1799.
In the Napoleonic Administration
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, along with Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother, played a vital role in the 1799 coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, setting up the French Consulate government. Napoleon reinstated him as the foreign minister in November 1799, though they almost always disagreed on foreign policies. He was instrumental in German mediatization.
Napoleon made him grand chamberlain of the empire in May 1804 and sovereign prince of Benevento (or Bénévent) in 1806. He voiced dissenting opinions on the ill-treatment of Austria in the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and Prussia in the 1807 Peace of Tilsit.
Continue Reading Below
Talleyrand had become a sceptic of Napoleon’s abilities and quit from his position as the foreign minister in May 1807. However, Napoleon was still confident about Talleyrand’s capabilities and kept him in the Council of State as vice-grand elector of the empire.
During this period, he started taking bribes from Austria and Russia in exchange for Napoleon’s secrets. In 1812, he opposed the Russian invasion.
Serving the Bourbons
The French Senate, under Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, set up a provisional government in Paris on April 1, 1814, with Talleyrand serving as its elected president. On the following day, Napoleon was overthrown by the French Senate, with the Acte de déchéance de l'Empereur.
In the next few weeks, the senate accepted the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau and introduced a new constitution to restore the Bourbon monarchy.
Louis XVIII installed him once more as the foreign minister in May 1814. A year later, in July 1815, he was appointed as the 1st prime minister of France.
In the Congress of Vienna, which lasted from November 1814 to June 1815, Talleyrand was able to convince the other European powers to arrive at a settlement which was moderately favourable for France, considering that they had lost the war. He had an important role in France losing all the territories it gained under Napoleon.
After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, things became much more hostile for France. In September, Talleyrand submitted his resignation, either because of the second treaty of Paris or the influence of his opponents in Paris. During Louis Philippe I’s reign, he served as the French ambassador to Britain between 1830 and 1834.
Family & Personal Life
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord garnered a reputation for his liaisons with numerous women. He likely had several children but did not legitimise any of them. Four probable offspring have been recognised: Charles Joseph, comte de Flahaut; the painter Eugène Delacroix; the "Mysterious Charlotte", whose mother was likely Catherine Worlée Grand, Talleyrand’s mistress and later wife; and Pauline, the supposed daughter of Duke and Duchess Dino. However, historians believe only the first among these four was truly a child of Talleyrand.
The three most significant women in his life were Germaine de Staël, Catherine Worlée Grand, and Dorothea von Biron. During his relationship with the first woman, they deeply influenced each other. Catherine was his mistress before Napoleon pressured him to marry her in 1802. They divorced when Talleyrand began living together with Dorothea, the estranged wife of his nephew, Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord.
Death & Legacy
In the final years of his life, Talleyrand’s interest in Catholicism was renewed. He passed away on May 17, 1838, in Paris. He is interred in Notre-Dame Chapel, near his Castle of Valençay. After his death, Dorothea inherited most of his wealth.
The name “Talleyrand” has become synonymous with crafty, cynical diplomacy. He also accumulated notoriety for his venality. He demanded payments in various forms for the state duties he accomplished.
As a diplomat, he was extremely successful in the European matters but failed in his negotiations with US, which ultimately led to the disaster that was the XYZ Affair. This was probably due to the fact that in his dealings with the German states, he could threaten them with the military might of France. That was not the case with US.