Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord : biography

2 February 1754 – 17 May 1838

Talleyrand has been regarded as a traitor because of his support for successive regimes, some of which were mutually hostile. According to French philosopher Simone Weil, criticism of his loyalty is unfounded, as Talleyrand served not every regime as had been said, but in reality "France behind every regime"

Near the end of his life, Talleyrand became interested in Catholicism again while teaching his young granddaughter simple prayers. The Abbé Félix Dupanloup came to Talleyrand in his last hours, and according to his account Talleyrand made confession and received extreme unction. When the abbé tried to anoint Talleyrand’s palms, as prescribed by the rite, he turned his hands over to make the priest anoint him on the back of the hands, since he was a bishop. He also signed, in the abbé’s presence, a solemn declaration in which he openly disavowed "the great errors which . . . had troubled and afflicted the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, and in which he himself had had the misfortune to fall." Many, however, have doubted the sincerity of the conversion given Talleyrand’s history. He died on 17 May 1838 and was buried in Notre-Dame Chapel, in Napoleon & Empire website, displaying photographs of his castle of Valençay and of his tomb near his Castle of Valençay.

Today, when speaking of the art of diplomacy, the phrase "he is a Talleyrand" is used to denote a statesman of great resource and skill.

  • Gérard Robichaud, Papa Martel, University of Maine Press, 2003, p.125.
  • Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), H.M. Stationery Off., 1964, p.1391

Notes

Consulate

Together with Napoleon’s younger brother, Lucien Bonaparte, he was instrumental in the 1799 coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, establishing the French Consulate government. Soon after he was made Foreign Minister by Napoleon, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon’s foreign policy. The Pope also released him from the ban of excommunication in the Concordat of 1801, which also revoked the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Talleyrand was instrumental in the completion of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.

In March 1804, he may have been involved in the kidnapping and execution of the Duke of Enghien, which was a cause célèbre in Europe, as an echo of the execution of Louis XVI: a charge made later by François-René de Chateaubriand. Talleyrand advocated against violence, most notably speaking out against the guillotine, and during the coup of 18 Brumaire he ensured that Barras could leave Paris safely.

Talleyrand was also an integral player in the German Mediatisation, or Reichsdeputationshauptschluss. While the Treaty of Campo Formio had, on paper, stripped German princes of their lands beyond the left bank of the Rhine, it was not until the Treaty of Lunéville that this was enforced. The French annexed these lands and it was deemed proper that the deposed sovereigns receive new territories on the Right Bank of the Rhine. As many of these rulers gave out bribes in order to secure new lands Talleyrand became quite wealthy. He gained an estimated 10 million francs in the process. This was the first blow in the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire.

Napoleon forced his hand into marriage in September 1802 to longtime mistress Catherine Grand (née Worlée). Talleyrand purchased the Château de Valençay in May 1803, upon the urging of Napoleon. This would later be the site of the imprisonment of the Spanish Royalty after Napoleon’s invasion from 1808–1813.

Restoration

When Napoleon was succeeded by Louis XVIII in April 1814, Talleyrand was one of the key agents of the restoration of the House of Bourbon, while opposing the new legislation of Louis’ rule. Talleyrand was the chief French negotiator at the Congress of Vienna, and, in that same year, he signed the Treaty of Paris. It was due in part to his skills that the terms of the treaty were remarkably lenient towards France. As the Congress opened, the right to make decisions was restricted to four countries: Austria, the United Kingdom, Prussia, and Russia. France and other European countries were invited to attend, but were not allowed to influence the process. Talleyrand promptly became the champion of the small countries and demanded admission into the ranks of the decision-making process. The four powers admitted France and Spain to the decision-making backrooms of the conference after a good deal of diplomatic maneuvering by Talleyrand, who had the support of the Spanish representative, Pedro Gómez Labrador, Marquis of Labrador. Spain was excluded after a while (a result of both the Marquis of Labrador’s incompetence as well as the quixotic nature of Spain’s agenda), but France (Talleyrand) was allowed to participate until the end. Russia and Prussia sought to enlarge their territory at the Congress. Russia demanded annexation of Poland (already occupied by Russian troops), and this demand was finally satisfied, despite protests by France, Austria and the United Kingdom. Austria was afraid of future conflicts with Russia or Prussia and the United Kingdom was opposed to their expansion as well – and Talleyrand managed to take advantage of these contradictions within the former anti-French coalition. On 3 January 1815, a secret treaty was signed by France’s Talleyrand, Austria’s Metternich and Britain’s Castlereagh. By this tract, officially a secret treaty of defensive alliance,Traité sécret d’alliance défensive, conclu à Vienne entre Autriche, la Grande bretagne et la France, contre la Russie et la Prussie, le 3 janvier 1815 the three powers agreed to use force if necessary to "repulse aggression" (of Russia and Prussia) and to protect the "state of security and independence". This agreement effectively spelled the end of the anti-France coalition.