Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord


Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord : biography

2 February 1754 – 17 May 1838
  • He appears in Naomi Novik’s fifth Temeraire novel, Victory of Eagles.
  • He is a supporting character in the BBC Books Doctor Who novel World Game.

Talleyrand breaks with Napoleon

He resigned as minister of foreign affairs in 1807, because of a myriad of suggested reasons, some genuine and others not. In essence, he traded his position as minister for the imperial title of Vice Grand Elector. The ill-fated Peninsula War, initiated in 1808, was the breaking point for Talleyrand concerning his loyalty to the Emperor.

His actions at the Congress of Erfurt, in September–October 1808, helped to thwart Napoleon’s plans. It was here that he counselled Tsar Alexander nightly on how to deal with Napoleon. The Tsar’s attitude towards Napoleon was one of apprehensive opposition. Talleyrand repaired the confidence of the Russian monarch and together they rebuked Napoleon’s attempts to form a direct anti-Austrian military alliance. Of course, this was not why Talleyrand had been brought to the conference. In fact, Napoleon had expected him to help convince the Tsar to accept all of his proposals, yet, somehow he never discovered the acts of treason committed by Talleyrand in Erfurt.

After his resignation in 1807 from the ministry, Talleyrand began to accept bribes from hostile countries, particularly Austria and Russia to betray Napoleon’s secrets. Talleyrand and Fouché, who were typically enemies in both politics and the salons, had a rapprochement in late 1808 and entered into discussions over the imperial line of succession. Napoleon had yet to address this matter and the two men knew that without a legitimate heir France would crumble into chaos in the wake of Napoleon’s possible death. Even Talleyrand, who believed that Napoleon’s policies were leading France to ruin, understood the necessity of peaceful transitions of power. However, Napoleon received word of their actions and deemed them treasonous. This perception caused the famous dressing down of Talleyrand in front of Napoleon’s marshals, during which Napoleon famously claimed that he could "break him like a glass, but it’s not worth the trouble" and added with a scatological tone that Talleyrand was "a turd in a silk stocking", to which the minister coldly retorted, once Napoleon had left, "Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!"

Talleyrand spent the last few years of the empire working as an informant for Austria and (sometimes) Russia. He opposed the further harsh treatment of Austria in 1809 after the War of the Fifth Coalition, also known as the War of 1809. He was also a critic of the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He was offered to resume his role in late 1813, but Talleyrand could see that Napoleon’s power was nearing its end. On 1 April 1814 he led the French Senate in establishing a provisional government in Paris, of which he was elected president. On 2 April the Senate officially deposed Napoleon with the Acte de déchéance de l’Empereur and by 11 April had created the Treaty of Fontainebleau and a new constitution to re-establish the Bourbons as monarchs of France.

Early life

Talleyrand was born into an aristocratic family in Paris. His father, Count Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord, was 20 years of age when Charles was born. A congenital leg limp left young Talleyrand unable to enter the expected military career and caused him to be called later ‘Royot, Daniel (2007). Divided Loyalties in a Doomed Empire. University of Delaware Press, ISBN 978-0-87413-968-6, p. : "Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was the essence of the metamorphic talent inherent in French aristocracy. The so-called Diable boiteux (lame devil), born in 1754 was not fit for armed service." (French for "the lame devil") among other nicknames. Deprived of his rights of primogeniture by a family council, which judged his physical condition incompatible with the traditional military careers of the Talleyrand. His own father had a long career in the Army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant general. He was instead directed to an ecclesiastic career. His uncle Alexandre Angélique de Talleyrand-Périgord, then Archbishop of Reims, considerably assisted and encouraged him in this endeavor. 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 seminary of Saint-Sulpice"il est admis, … en 1770, au grand séminaire de Saint-Sulpice": until the age of 21. He was ordained a priest in 1779, when he was 25. In 1780, he became Agent-General of the Clergy, a representative of the Catholic Church to the French Crown. In this important 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, through the influence of his father and family, the already notably non-believing Talleyrand was appointed Bishop of Autun. In 1801, Pope Pius VII laicized Talleyrand, an event most uncommon at the time in the history of the Church.