Talleyrand, The Prince of diplomats

Napoleon's Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand

by David Lawday

A new and unusual book on Talleyrand* is published by an English author, David Lawday, Paris correspondent of the New Statesman magazine who previously wrote for The Economist from France, the USA, Germany and elsewhere in Europe .Lawday now lives in France.

His approach to Talleyrand is more empirical than historical, and as a political visionary Talleyrand understood that a country needed to build economic strength to compete at its best in a system of political balance that he saw ultimately leading towards " a kind of an European unity " .

As Talleyrand used his intelligence and charm to persuade monarchs, ministers and diplomats to embrace his concepts, so the author " uses" Talleyrand to unearth the roots of today's European Union .

Like Duff Cooper, Talleyrand's previous English biographer**, Lawday has the wit (or the international experience) to hold Talleyrand's "human frailties" within the larger perspective of his liberal statesmanship and his undying efforts to rein in Napoleon. Very few people, be they kings or statesmen, ever refused to sit at Talleyrand's  table and listen to him . He knew how to choose his battlefield: rather than deploy armies to win his way, he mobilised sumptuous dinners, sophisticated conversations and the many women of renown who were entranced by him.

His methods to achieve his goals were thus less bloody and less costly. Should we blame him for that?

That the title of Lawday's biography may appear a shade provocative, what matter ? In history as we all know, there is no absolute truth there are only facts and these the author does not hide.

To Talleyrand's credit and despite all his flattery, he never submits to the Lion, as many others do ! He never conceals the fact that his policy is to give peace its chance, in contrast with the yes-men who prefer the sword.

Alexandre Belonoschkin, alex.belo@noos.fr


* Lawday David. Napoleon´s master. A life of Prince Talleyrand. Jonathan Cape, London 2006
** Cooper Duff (1932). Talleyrand. Harpers, 1932