Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord : biography
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent, then prince de Talleyrand ( 1754–1838) was a French diplomat. He worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and then under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe. Known since the turn of the 19th century simply by the name Talleyrand, he remains a figure that polarizes opinion. Some regard him as one of the most versatile, skilled and influential diplomats in European history, and some believe that he was a traitor, betraying in turn, the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration. He is also notorious for leaving the Catholic Church after ordination to the priesthood and consecration to the episcopacy.
Shorty after he was ordained as Bishop of Autun, Talleyrand attended the Estates-General of 1789, representing the clergy, the First Estate. During the French Revolution, Talleyrand strongly supported the anti-clericalism of the revolutionaries. He assisted Mirabeau in the appropriation of Church properties. He participated in the writing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and proposed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that nationalised the Church, and swore in the first four constitutional bishops, even though he had himself resigned as Bishop following his excommunication by Pope Pius VI in 1791. During the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790, Talleyrand celebrated Mass. Notably, he promoted public education in full spirit of the Enlightenment.
In May 1804, Napoleon bestowed upon him the title of Grand Chamberlain of the Empire. In 1806, he was made Sovereign Prince of Benevento (or Bénévent). Talleyrand was opposed to the harsh treatment of Austria in the 1805 Treaty of Pressburg and of Prussia in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. In 1806, after Pressburg and just as in 1803, he profited greatly from the reorganization of the German lands, this time into the Confederation of the Rhine. He was then shut out completely from the negotiations at Tilsit. After her famous failed imploring of Napoleon to spare her nation, Queen Louise of Prussia wept and was consoled by Talleyrand. This gave him a good name among the elites of the European countries outside France.
- Talleyrand had a morbid dread of falling out of bed in his sleep. To prevent this, he had his mattresses made with a depression in the centre. As a further safety measure, he wore fourteen cotton nightcaps at once, held together by ‘a sort of tiara’.André Castelot (1980), Talleyrand ou le cynisme, from the Mémoires (1880) of Claire de Rémusat, lady-in-waiting to Empress Marie-Louise.
- Following the arrival of the Allies, Talleyrand’s mansion hosted Tsar Alexander. Later, his bedroom became the center of government in the provisional government. It was actually quite common to hold important occurrences in one’s bedroom as it was warm for the host while the attendants had to stand in the cold night air.
- On hearing of the death of a Turkish ambassador, Talleyrand is supposed to have said: "I wonder what he meant by that?" More commonly, the quote is attributed to Metternich, the Austrian diplomat, upon Talleyrand’s death in 1838.
- During the occupation of Paris by the Allies, Prussian General Blücher wanted to destroy the Pont d’Iéna, which was named after a French victorious battle against Prussia. The Prefect of Paris tried everything to change the mind of Blücher, without success, and finally went to Talleyrand asking him whether he could write a letter to the General asking him not to destroy the bridge. Talleyrand instead wrote to Tsar Alexander, who was in person in Paris, asking him to grant to the people of Paris the favour of inaugurating himself the bridge under a new name (Pont de l’École militaire). The Tsar accepted, and Blücher could not then destroy a bridge inaugurated by an Ally. The name of the bridge was reverted to its original name under Louis-Philippe.