Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord : biography

2 February 1754 – 17 May 1838

Talleyrand, having managed to establish a middle position, received some favours from the other countries in exchange for his support: France returned to its 1792 boundaries without reparations, with French control over papal Avignon, Montbéliard (Mompelgard) and Salm, which had been independent at the start of the French Revolution in 1789. It would later be debated which outcome would have been better for France: allowing Prussia to annex all of Saxony (Talleyrand ensured that only part of the kingdom would be annexed) or the Rhine provinces. The first option would have kept Prussia farther away from France, but would have needed much more opposition as well. Some historians have argued that Talleyrand’s diplomacy wound up establishing the faultlines of World War I, especially as it allowed Prussia to engulf small German states west of the Rhine. This simultaneously placed Prussian armed forces at the French-German frontier, for the first time; made Prussia the largest German power in terms of territory, population and the industry of the Ruhr and Rhineland; and eventually helped pave the way to German unification under the Prussian throne. However, at the time Talleyrand’s diplomacy was regarded as successful, as it removed the threat of France being partitioned by the victors. Talleyrand also managed to strengthen his own position in France (ultraroyalists had disapproved of the presence of a former "revolutionary" and "murderer of the Duke d’Enghien" in the royal cabinet).

Napoleon’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 and it was fortunate for France that the business of the Congress had been concluded. Talleyrand resigned in September of that year, either over the second treaty or under pressure from opponents in France. For the next fifteen years he restricted himself to the role of "elder statesman", criticising—and intriguing—from the sidelines. However, when King Louis-Philippe came to power in the July Revolution of 1830, Talleyrand agreed to become ambassador to the United Kingdom, a post he held from 1830 to 1834. In this role, he strove to reinforce the legitimacy of Louis-Philippe’s regime, and proposed a partition plan for the newly independent Belgium.

In fiction

  • Talleyrand is portrayed in Dennis Wheatley’s series of novels featuring secret agent and gallant Roger Brook (also M.Chevalier de Breuc).
  • Talleyrand was featured in the two-character theatre piece by Jean-Claude Brisville Supping with the Devil, in which he is depicted dining with Joseph Fouché while deciding how to preserve their respective power under the coming regime. The drama was hugely successful and was turned into the movie Le Souper (1992), directed by Edouard Molinaro, starring Claude Rich and Claude Brasseur.
  • Talleyrand was also a major supporting character in Katherine Neville’s book The Eight, a quasi-mystical adventure novel about a centuries-long struggle for control of a chess set with mysterious powers.
  • Talleyrand plays a significant part in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story "How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio" (1895), part of the Brigadier Gerard series.
  • Talleyrand appears as a supporting character in Rudyard Kipling’s short story "A Priest in Spite of Himself", collected in Rewards and Fairies, 1910.
  • Talleyrand is the central figure in Roberto Calasso’s epic "The Ruin of Kasch". As Italo Calvino noted in ‘Panorama Mese’, the book "takes up two subjects: the first is Talleyrand, and the second is everything else."
  • Talleyrand appears as a character in the 1934 novel Captain Caution, by Kenneth Roberts.
  • Talleyrand is the subject of "The Third Lion" by author Floyd Kemske.
  • Talleyrand is an offstage but influential character near the end of The Surgeon’s Mate, one of the 20 books in the Aubrey-Maturin series of seafaring novels by Patrick O’Brian.