Sue Young Histories

Talleyrand 1754 - 1838

September 26, 2009

Talleyrand 1754 - 1838Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Perigord 1st Sovereign Prince of Beneventum 1754 - 1838 was a French diplomat. He worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and then under Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philippe.

Known since the turn of the 19th century simply by the name Talleyrand, he is widely regarded as one of the most versatile and influential diplomats in European history.

Talleyrand was a contemporary of Samuel Hahnemann, and Talleyrand would have been aware that the Bonaparte Family were close friends and benefactors of the Hahnemann’s.

Talleyrand was a patient of homeopathy, and his case of constipation is written up in The British homoeopathic review, Volume 33 in 1889,

Talleyrand knew Tsar Alexander I, Francois Rene Vicomte de Chateaubriand, Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix, Fanny Mendelssohn, Henry William Paget Marquess of Anglesey, James de Rothschild, and many of the high political movers and shakers of his age.

Tallyrand was also a frequent visitor at Holland House,

Talleyrand was born into an aristocratic family in Paris. A congenital leg limp left him unable to enter the anticipated military career.

Deprived of his rights of primogeniture by a family council, which judged his physical condition incompatible with the traditional military careers of the Talleyrand Counts of Perigord, he was instead directed to an ecclesiastic career. This was considerably assisted and encouraged by his uncle Alexandre Angelique de Talleyrand Perigord, then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Reims.

It would appear that the family, while prestigious and ancient, was not particularly prosperous, and saw church positions as a way to gain wealth. He attended the College d’Harcourt and seminary of Saint Sulpice until the age of 21. He was ordained a priest in 1779. In 1780, he became a Catholic church representative to the French Crown, the Agent General of the Clergy.

In this 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, due to the influence of his father and family, the already notably non believing Talleyrand was appointed Bishop of Autun. In the Estates General of 1789, he represented the clergy, the First Estate.

During the French Revolution, Talleyrand supported the revolutionary cause. He assisted Mirabeau in the secularisation of ecclesiastical 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.

Notably, he promoted the public education in full spirit of the Enlightenment. He celebrated the mass during the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790.

In 1792, he was sent twice, though not officially, to Britain to avert war. Besides an initial declaration of neutrality during the first campaigns of 1792, his mission ultimately failed. In September 1792, he left Paris for England just at the beginning of September Massacres, yet declined the émigré status. Because of incriminating papers found in the armoire de fer, the National Convention issued a warrant for his arrest in December 1792.

His stay in England was not uneventful either; in March 1794, he was forced to leave the country by Pitt’s expulsion order. He then arrived in the United States where he stayed until his return to France in 1796. During his stay, he supported himself by working as a bank agent, involved in commodity trading and real estate speculation.

He was the house guest of Senator Aaron Burr of New York. Talleyrand years later refused the same generosity to Aaron Burr because Talleyrand had been friends with Alexander Hamilton.

After 9 Thermidor, he mobilised his friends (most notably the abbé Martial Borye Desrenaudes and Germaine de Stael) to lobby in the National Convention and then the newly established Directoire for his return. His name was then suppressed from the émigré list and he returned to France on 25 September 1796.

In 1797, he became Foreign Minister. He was implicated in the XYZ Affair which escalated the Quasi War with America. Talleyrand saw a possible political career for Napoleon Bonaparte during the Italian campaigns of 1796 to 1797. He wrote many letters to Napoleon Bonaparte and the two became close allies.

Talleyrand was against the destruction of the Republic of Venice, but he complimented Napoleon Bonaparte when peace with Austria was concluded (Venice was given to Austria), probably because he wanted to reinforce his alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Together with Napoleon’s younger brother Lucien Bonaparte, he was instrumental in the 1799 coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, and soon after he was made Foreign Minister by Napoleon Bonaparte, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon Bonaparte’s foreign policy. The Pope also released him from the ban of excommunication.

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 was made later by Francois Rene Vicomte 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.

In May 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte made him Grand Chamberlain and Vice elector of the Empire. During this year, Talleyrand also bought the Château de Valençay. In 1806, he was made Sovereign Prince of Benevento (or Bénévent).

Talleyrand was opposed to the harsh treatment of Prussia in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. Afterward, the queen of Prussia wept and was consoled by Talleyrand. This gave him a good name among the elites of the European countries outside France. He resigned as minister of foreign affairs in 1807, over his opposition to the Franco Russian Alliance, and by 1809 he was even further from the Emperor. The break was completed in 1812, with the French attack on Russia.

Talleyrand had no responsible position between 1807 and 1812 apart from his appointment as representative of France at the Congress of Erfurt (September 1808). There, Tsar Alexander I wanted his advice in dealing with Napoleon Bonaparte, and they met regularly during the Congress, changing Tsar Alexander I’s attitude towards Napoleon Bonaparte.

Tsar Alexander I was afraid of Napoleon Bonaparte, because the Russians had been defeated twice, but he admired the modern institutions of France and wanted to reform his country. Talleyrand allegedly convinced him that Napoleon Bonaparte’s France was a threat to the other European nation states and that Russia should resist the will of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Talleyrand became a Russian secret agent from 1812 onwards, but his political career was over until the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. While serving under Napoleon Bonaparte, Talleyrand began to accept bribes from hostile countries, particularly Austria and Russia, to betray Napoleon Bonaparte’s secrets.

Typically of Talleyrand, it is hard to determine where his principles met his pecuniary interests. Growing weary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s endless ambitions, which he felt would ruin France, he became a paid agent of the opposing powers, most notably Austria and the United Kingdom.

His agitations against the Spanish campaign, which he considered unwise, produced a rapprochement with Joseph Fouche and convinced Napoleon Bonaparte that Talleyrand was plotting against him. This perception caused the famous dressing down of Talleyrand in front of Napoleon Bonaparte’s marshals, during which Napoleon Bonaparte famously claimed that he could “break him like a glass, but it’s not worth the trouble” and added with his usual scatologic tone that Talleyrand was “shit in a silk stocking,” to which the minister coldly retorted, once Napoleon Bonaparte had left, “Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!”

When Napoleon Bonaparte 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 XVIII’s 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 of Vienna 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 Gomez Labrador Marquis of Labrador.

Spain was excluded after a while (a result of both the Pedro Gomez Labrador 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 between the former anti-French coalition.

On 3 January 1815, a secret treaty was signed by France’s Talleyrand, Austria’s Klemens Wenzel Prince von Metternich and Britain’s Castlereagh. By this tract, officially a secret treaty of defensive alliance, 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.

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, Montbeliard (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 Duc d’Enghien” in the royal cabinet).

Napoleon Bonaparte’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 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.

Talleyrand had a reputation as a voluptuary and a womaniser. He left no legitimate children, though he is believed to have fathered illegitimate children. Four possible children of his have been identified: Charles Joseph Comte de Flahaut, generally accepted to be an illegitimate son of Talleyrand; the painter Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix, once rumored to be Talleyrand’s son, though this is doubted by historians who have examined the issue…; the “Mysterious Charlotte”, possibly his daughter by his future wife, Catherine Worlee Grand; and Pauline, ostensibly the daughter of the Duc and Duchess Dino. Of these four, only the first is given credence by historians.

Aristocratic women were a key component of Talleyrand’s political tactics, both for their influence and their ability to cross borders unhindered. His presumed lover Germaine de Stael was a major influence on him, and he on her. Though their personal philosophies were most different, (she, a romantic; he, very much a baroque sensibility), she assisted him greatly, most notably by lobbying Barras to permit Talleyrand to return to France from his American exile, and then to have him made foreign minister.

He lived with Catherine Worlee Grand, born in India and married there to Charles Grand. She had traveled about before settling in Paris, as a notorious courtesan in the 1780s, for several years before she divorced Grand and married Talleyrand in 1802. Talleyrand, largely indifferent, tried to prevent the marriage, but after repeated postponements, was obliged by Napoleon Bonaparte to carry it out to preserve his political career. Rumors about her stupidity, though unfounded, continue to circulate to this day.

Talleyrand’s venality was celebrated; in the tradition of the ancien régime, he expected to be paid for the state duties he performed - whether these can properly be called “bribes” is open to debate. For example, during the German Mediatisation, the consolidation of the small German states, a number of German rulers and elites paid him to save their possessions or enlarge their territories.

Less successfully, he solicited payments from the United States government to open negotiations, precipitating a diplomatic disaster (the “XYZ Affair”). The difference between his diplomatic success in Europe and failure with the United States illustrates his capacities and limitations — his manners, behavior, and tactics made sense in the context of the Old World, but were perceived as antiquated and corrupt by the more idealistic Americans.

After Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat, he ceased using his imperial title “Prince of Benevento”, referring to himself henceforth as the “Prince de Talleyrand”, in the same manner as his estranged wife.

Talleyrand was a great conversationalist, gourmet, and wine connoisseur. From 1801 to 1804, he owned Château Haut Brion in Bordeaux. He employed the renowned French chef Careme, one of the first celebrity chefs known as the “chef of kings and king of chefs.” His Paris residence on the Place de la Concorde, acquired in 1812 and sold to James de Rothschild in 1838, is now owned by the Embassy of the United States.

Near the end of his life, Talleyrand became interested in Catholicism again while teaching his young granddaughter simple prayers. The Abbe Felix Dupanloup came to Talleyrand in his last hours, and according to his account Talleyrand made confession and received extreme unction. When the abbe 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 abbe’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 at his Cheteau de Valencay. 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.

Of interest:

Dorothea von Biron Princess of Courland, self styled Dorothee de Courlande 1793 – 1862 was a Baltic German noblewoman, and also known as the Duchesse de Dino. Her mother was Dorothea von Medem, Duchess of Courland, and although her mother’s husband, Duke Peter von Biron, acknowledged her as his own, her true father was Alexander Batowski. She was a lover of the French statesman Talleyrand and the wife of his nephew, Edmond de Talleyrand Perigord.

The Duchesse de Dino was an advocate of homeopathy,


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