Talleyrand, The Prince of diplomats


Talleyrand, bearer as well of the ideas of the «Age of Enlightenment » as of the ideals of the Revolution, is the character of several periods and even several worlds. Shaped by the uses, the lifestyle and the thoughts of the « Ancien Régime » he is also largely open to liberal ideas. Political visionary, ignoring the judgments of his contemporaries, this illustrious person passionate about peace and freedom served, from the Revolution to the Restoration, political systems with contradictory destinies which disappeared in the fury of these times.

Taking an active and sometimes decisive share in the political business of these tormented periods it could be called an opportunist, a racketeer, a cynical, a weathercock and even a traitor to Napoleon but one must recognize that he remained faithful all his life to his convictions and France. This very talented and clever diplomat, considered as the patriarch of modern diplomacy and often said as « the son of his time” has contributed to the history of France and Europe. Marx noted that Talleyrand, Metternich and Bismark were three Gods who ruled Europe in the middle of the 19th century.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was born in Paris on February the 2nd 1754 in a noble family during Louis XV's reign. Talleyrand was born with a club foot which was caused by a congenital disorder called Marfan's syndrome, and not by an accidental fall as it is often written and asserted by Talleyrand himself.

From 1758 till 1760 Talleyrand who was still a little child was sent to the country of Chalais where he stayed, at the Princess de Chalais old castle, his great-grandmother whom he admired deeply. In 1770, he entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris where he was ordained in 1779 at the age of 25 and consacrated Bishop of Autun in 1789.

Charles-Maurice stayed only a little longer than three weeks in Autun, the time needed to be elected deputy of the clergy to the States General. The following year being deputy of the National Assembly, and for a while even its President, he celebrated offices on the Champs-de-Mars during the Federation Festival and takes the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. He was largely involved in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, subscribed to the new civil constitution of the clergy drawn up by the national constituent assembly.

He investigated on important items of the périod like the Metric System and wrote le Rapport sur l'Instruction publique. From 1783 to 1792, Talleyrand had an affair with Countess Adelaïde de Flahaut. The couple had a child, Charles de Flahaut, born in 1785.

In 1792, Talleyrand was sent on a diplomatic mission to London, to explain French politics to the English monarchs. After his return to France in July, Talleyrand succeeded in returning to England in September with a passport signed by Danton because he was urging the advent of " the Reign of Terror ". During his stay in England, he often visited a group of illustrious French emigrates who used to meet at Juniper Hall.

In 1794 Charles-Maurice was forced by an expulsion order to leave England for the United States where he became a commodities broker and a real-estate prospector in the forests of Massachusetts. Upon his return to France in 1796, after the lifting of the Convention's warrant for his arrest, he published an " Essay on the Advantages to be tapped in the New Colonies " which followed « Thesis on American Commercial Relations with England ".

In 1797, thanks to the help of Madame de Staël, he is named the Directory's Foreign Affairs Minister by Barras. He took a big importance in the rising of Napoleon. In the diplomatic relations with the United States he was present at the beginning of the negotiations concerning the purchase of Louisiana but was badly involved in the XYZ Affair. He kept his assignation till his resignation in 1807.

In his personal life, Madame Grand (born Worlée) appeared on the scene for the first time in 1801. She became Talleyrand's wife the following year and Princess of Talleyrand.

In 1803 Talleyrand bought Valençay estate.

In 1808, Spanish guerillas raged throughout Spain following a trick by Napoleon which made possible the capture of the Spanish princes at Bayonne.
Napoleon ordered to imprison the Spanish princes at the Chateau de Valencay and Talleyrand to be their jailer. The Prince de Bénévent left Valençay for Erfurt and would not see his château again until 1816. During this period, some events had drastically changed the world.

In 1808, Napoleon and Alexander I met at the Congress of Erfurt which began on September 27. The Emperor's main goal at the meeting was to impede the alliance between Russia and Austria by strengthening the Treaty of Tilsitt.

Actually, strained by the war in Spain, Napoleon could not afford an Austro-Russian coalition which would open up a second front. Desiring an alliance with Russia, he assigned to Talleyrand the responsibility of convincing the Tsar.

For Napoleon the Congress of Erfurt was a failure as he obtained nothing from the Tsar because of Talleyrand interference who fights against this alliance. The Congress ended on October 14, 1808; the whole Europe knew it had an ally in Talleyrand who continued to be in Napoleon's inner circle.

In 1810, Joséphine de Beauharnais, no longer capable of bearing children, was repudiated by Napoleon. The Prince de Bénévent played a major role in the approval of Napoleon's marriage with Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria.

1813: End of the war with Spain. The Spanish princes were formally freed under the terms of the Treaty of Valençay of December the 11th . Talleyrand refused to take over once again the seat of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In March 1814 allied troops arrived at the outskirts of Paris. Talleyrand received Tsar Alexander I in his Parisian residence, 2 rue Saint-Florentin.

At Napoleons's abdication, he was first elected President of the Provisional Government and then Foreign Affairs Minister and he signed the first Treaty of Paris. On April the 10th he puts the finishing touches on the Constitutional Charter. The constitutional Charter was accepted by the King in spite of his reservations.

On September 1814 Talleyrand sent by Louis XVIII attended the Congress of Vienna. France's position at this time was very delicate : France was only invited and Talleyrand did not have a seat at the negotiation table. Thanks to his diplomacy at the Congress, Talleyrand played a brilliant part and succeeded in being with the victorious decision makers.

In Vienna the Prince of Talleyrand was accompanied by Dorothée de Courlande, wife of his nephew Edmond de Périgord for whom he has bought the château de Bouges near Valençay. Dorothée stayed with the Prince until his death as official hostess, and head his household having bought during that time the Château de Rochecotte.

On June 1815 Talleyrand gave the report he has prepared to the King Louis XVIII returning from Ghent to Paris. On July the 9th 1815, the Prince of Talleyrand was named President of the Council of Ministers and again Minister of Foreign Affairs but the situation became aggravated in France and Talleyrand was forced to resign his ministerial post by Louis XVIII.
The years passed, and with each change Talleyrand hoped to regain favor of the King, but the ultra-royalist Court never accepted to deal with him.

End of July 1830, when Louis Philippe took the power, he managed to convince Prince Talleyrand, now aged 76, to accept the post of Ambassador to London. This nomination assured foreign capitals at the moment Belgians were revolting against the Dutch and demanding their independence.

Talleyrand convinced Wellington of the inadvisability of France's intervention. They organized the London Conference to resolve the Belgian problem. The Conference started on November 4, 1830 by the end of hostilities between the Dutch army and the rebels and after some difficulty, the Treaty ratifying independence was signed on November 15, 1831.

In 1834, Talleyrand resigned and spent the last years of his life mainly in his castle of Valençay writing his Memories, receiving liberal political figures and having friendly relationship with Royer-Collard, his neighbourg at Chateauvieux

On May 17 1838, in Paris, Charles-Maurice was at death's door in his residence of Saint Florention street. At six o'clock in the morning, he finally signed his retraction letter, along with a letter to Pope Gregory XVI reconciliating with the Church. He died at. 8 a.m and was buried in Valençay in the crypt of the "chapelle des Sœurs" a small chapel in the centre of the city and not in the chateau itself.

During the long political life of Talleyrand, France went from the Ancient Regime to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Born in the Age of Enlightment, for which he was a so perfect representative, he died with the triumphant arrival of the liberal industrial bourgeoisie. He went through these changes of political and social structures without giving up an inch of his liberal thoughts, but very often at the cost of compromises imposed by the different successive powers he was serving and it is not quite sure he was faithful to them.

No wonder that "The Limping Devil" who was often gibed at in the XIXth century continues to be the subject of many controversies but to-day It is about time the architect of the modern world received the credit he deserves despite the demonization of him by many years (not that he would care what "they" might say about him) and his admirers are becoming more numerous than his detractors
He was intelligent, tenacious, favoured diplomacy over war and violence, he was a true patriot of his country, met almost all of the great persons of his age, and knew how to effectively use power.

In addition, of course, he is to be admired for his “Ancien Regime” lifestyle,he was used to receive for dinner with ceremony. From 1808 to 1814, he commissioned Antonin Carême, known as "chef of kings and king of chefs," to be his cooking expert. He owned during some years the famous Bordeaux wine Chateau Haut Brion.

Talleyrand was a good European. He thinks sincerely that European balance depends on the combination of a whole of state organizations as harmonious as possible. In his ideas, the question of the territory and that the borders are not essential as such and his policy will lead, all its life, to the stability and consequently the preservation of peace within Europe

The interest shown in this illustrious person is always important; it doesn't fail even today.( Publications concerning Talleyrand since 1928 and list of recents books available on the Internet).

The aim of this site in English and the other one in French (www.talleyrand.org) is to gather progressively the research work and different documents in order to perpetuate the memory of a man who invited us to discuss his thoughts over centuries.”