Talleyrand, The Prince of diplomats

Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard and Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

André BEAU
President of the association "Les Amis de Talleyrand".
Conference held in Chateauvieux (Loir et Cher), on March 5th 1999

"Vice and Virtue"


The meeting between Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard and Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord is usually set by historians in 1820.

In fact, it is only in 1821, at the earliest, that both men meet in Berry for the first time. But before going into details about this relationship, which was going to last 17 years and not more, by force of circumstances, let us have a look at their former life.

We are struck by a certain parallelism at the beginning of their respective careers.

When Pierre-Paul ROYER was born in Sompuis (Marne), on June 21st 1763, Charles-Maurice de TALLEYRAND is already 9 years old, since he was born in Paris on February 2nd 1754.

Pierre-Paul belongs to a rich landowner family who cultivates the cold eastern land at a place called "Le Meix-Thiercelin". Charles-Maurice born with a club foot, though he denies it, grows up

in the warm atmosphere of a noble family, of military and clergymen and incidentally quite pretentious.

Young Pierre-Paul is under the influence of his very religious mother and his uncle, a priest, teacher and Jansenist, school director in Chaumont (Haute-Marne), later in Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais). Naturally young Pierre-Paul, from 1775 on, learns with him and studies particularly mathematics. There was a question of orienting him towards an ecclesiastic career.

As for young Charles-Maurice, he is deeply influenced by the time spent at his grand-mother's, the Princess of Chalais, grand-daughter of the great Colbert. In 1762 he enters the Harcourt college, a famous parisian school. At the age of 15 he stays at his uncle's, the Reims archbishop, as our limping youngster's destiny is also ecclesiastic. Against his will, he enters the seminary at the age of 16 (1770) and has his first love affair at 18. In 1775, while Pierre-Paul seriously starts school, Charles-Maurice attends Louis XVI's coronation. After several years at the Sorbonne, Charles-Maurice is ordained in 1779. He is only 25 ; from 1780 to 1786 he is at the service of his Order as Agent General of the Clergy, then he intervenes in the approaches between Minister Calonne and Mirabeau.

At the same time, Pierre-Paul Royer becomes ROYER-COLLARD and teaches mathematics in Moulins. Then after his law studies in Paris, he pleads for the first time in 1787.

In 1788, Talleyrand is named Bishop of Autun, although he leads a very licentious life, with women and gambling ; he never fails to show his wit on every occasion.

As a clergy deputy, he takes an active part in the revolutionary debates and rises up against the mandates given to some deputies by their principals.

At the same time, young Royer-Collard, is enthusiastic about the new ideas which his severe and strict formation doesn't refute. He advocates equality in front of the law and he is against privileges, whatever they are.

He is elected secretary of the revolutionary committee of Saint-Louis-en l'Ile. Notice that in the neighbour section of the Cordeliers, Danton has his seat and Danton is from Arcis-sur-Aube, not far from Pierre-Paul's birthplace.

During the next three following years, the Autun bishop continues to work on the elimination of the advantages of the Catholic Clergy, especially the bishops', his peers. He even resigns in January 1791, which doesn't prevent him, although very scared, a few weeks later, from appointing two constitutional bishops. This is the time when he pronounces his important speech on public education, in favour of free schooling.

In 1792 he fulfills 2 diplomatic missions in England. On the 2nd one, due to the passport delivered by Danton, he forgets to come back to France. Forced to flee from London in February 1794, he sails for the USA. But the following year, he is crossed off the emigrés list. And even before coming back to France, he is named member of the Institute. He returns to Paris in September 1796.

Whereas Royer-Collard, after the Storming of the Tuileries (August 10th 1792) and the following September massacres, disgusted by the first revolution excess, goes back to Sompuis, family estate. Under the authority of his mother, like the other servants, he reads religious texts while pushing the plow. The revolutionary authorities are worried. They send the public prosecutor from Vitry-le- François, a certain Héry to make sure of Royer-Collard. Héry is surprised at seeing two catholic crosses on the wall of Mrs Royer's house. She justifies the presence of those crosses and after a talk which is more a conversation than a discussion, Héry returns just as he had come, and courageous Pierre-Paul is not worried. Despite the dislike for dishonest compromise, as it had always been taught in the Royer family, in this case, citizen Danton's beneficial influence could be felt.

In 1797, Talleyrand-Périgord, distinguishes himself with his speeches on economy and commerce whilst Royer-Collard is named deputy of the Marne at the Council of the Five Hundred, the precursor of our Senate. His election is soon cancelled, Royer-Collard escapes from deportation, contrary to many of his colleagues.

It is also the time when citizen Talleyrand-Périgord makes the acquaintance of the lovely Madame

Grand and becomes Directory Foreign Affairs Minister. In 1798 and 1799 he becomes very close to General Napoleon Bonaparte and works successfully at the Coup d'Etat of 18 Brumaire.

Royer-Collard, on his side, has a liking for the monarchy. For him Bourbons are and remain the uncontested family.

From this time on, the destiny of our two heroes differs totally.

In 1800, on October 21st, after many hesitations, Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard marries the Demoiselle Augustine de Forges de Chateaubrun, who comes from an old Berry family. He knows that she is the niece and heiress of the Chateauvieux Chatelaine, Madame de Cambre. It is to be noted that till 1790, Chateauvieux was in Berry.

Talleyrand-Périgord, still a great gambler and a schemer, marries, in 1802, Catherine Grand, a divorcee. For an oath bishop, it is yet another scandal.

The young couple Royer-Collard who comes in this same year 1802 to pay a visit to their aunt, Madame de Cambre, doesn't quite approve of this new situation.

The Consulate and Empire years see our two men in very different spheres. While Monsieur de Talleyrand, soon named Prince of Bénévent, is very often on the political scene, not always for the best, for or against the Emperor, Monsieur Royer-Collard devotes himself to more discrete tasks, and all in all, more conform to his morality. His secret contacts with the royalists remain without consequences. I humbly admit I couldn't make any comments about the philosophical lectures on feelings and perception he gives at the Sorbonne. I understand him better, I think, when he says : you shouldn't say "I think, therefore I am" but "I think because I am".

In short, Royer-Collard and Talleyrand's interest for the Bourbons' return to the throne of France after Napoleon's fall, explains their sudden unexpected reconciliation, by the heart as well as the mind : they both have the same conventional bourgeois conception.

Since he is the owner of Valençay, in 1803, Talleyrand is occasionally seen there until 1816. Except for the Spanish infants' stay which held him there for four months in 1808 his first stays never exceed a fortnight. Of course Valençay is a practical stopping place on the way to Bourbon-l'Archambault or to Cauterets.

Royer-Collard, senior member of the Council of State, and Marne deputy since 1815 arrives in Chateauvieux in September 1821, where, as he says, he had not been back since his wedding. He has to solve the problems due to Madame de Cambre's death as his wife inherites from her. We know in detail of the more or less critical comments made about this circumstance about which the philosopher writes to his wife in Paris ; the letters were copied out by abbot Bertin, a parish's priest.

In 1821, precisely, Prince of Talleyrand (Bénévent had been given back to its former owner : the Holy See), rid of his wife since 1814, but in the company of his niece, 39 years younger than himself, Dorothée, Duchess of Dino, spends September and October in Berry.

The more or less busy social princely life style of Monsieur de Talleyrand and his friends in Valençay is a big contrast with the bourgeois and strict life led in Chateauvieux.

Madame Royer-Collard, a discrete and submissive wife, of fragile health has nothing in common with Madame de Dino, a sparkling, restless and scheming, apparently nymphomaniac woman whose numerous affairs sometimes end with illegitimate pregnancies.

Thus aware of the useful neighbourhood of an accepted philosopher and agressive Member of Parliament such as Monsieur Royer-Collard, Monsieur de Talleyrand decides to go to great

expense : the great man attempts to contact the Bourgeois and asks him whether he could pay him a visit in Chateauvieux.

The logic which they both liked would have requested the contrary. But at that time, crowned with glory for his diplomatic success at the Vienna Congress, the old fox of Valençay is looking for new contacts which would set people talking in the circle around the King.

Surprised, Royer-Collard gives as a pretext his wife's bad health, saying he couldn't return the invitation His Highness honours him with. He is quite unaware of the Prince's determination. Royer-Collard finally gives in. In Madame de Dino's company Monsieur de Talleyrand appears in the Court of Honour of Chateauvieux "to chat" with the owner. "You have, Sir, a very difficult approach" exclaims apparently the visitor, alluding both to the steep castle access and to the known reputation of a man who seldom smiles ; without getting the least upset, Royer-Collard answers : "Chateauvieux is really not an island", subtle reference to Emperor Napoleon who has just died on the rock of Saint-Hélène.

The drive up to the castle through the park doesn't exist at that time. It will be open later on, on Monsieur Paul Andral's initiative, the philosopher's grandson.

Anyway, without knowing what the two women meeting for the first time said to each other, Royer-Collard doesn't take any offence after this first contact in the countryside. Very quickly, he forgets the moral grievance he held against his guest. Better, both men rapidly find common political ideas which lead, little by little, to a mutual trust.

Their common concern about more liberalism, their still very actual memories of the dark days of the Revolution, their obvious satisfaction about the return of the Monarchy with a charter more or less conform to their ideas, their identical appraisal on the difficult press liberty problem, everything, it seems, is calmly analysed, long talked about and correctly commentated on.

Maybe there is even, in Talleyrand's mind, the need of a useful support for his secret work in favour of the Orleanist clan. For the Duke ot Orléans, future Louis-Philippe, holds back with impatience behind the political scene.We don't know exactly. During this first meeting, even if the step has been tempted, it is a waste of time.

Royer-Collard, a convinced legitimist since long, as we said before, remains and will remain a legitimist. This strong personality, somewhat arrogant, is justly considered the father of parliamentary government in France. In the sense that, according to him, the elected representatives of the Nation have the responsibility of the government of the country. But in his mind it is a restricted representation, composed of elites because for him allowing the whole nation to take important decisions would be extremely dangerous.

Therefore Royer-Collard as well as Talleyrand are considered to be liberal but not democrats.

Besides, at that time, the Ultras Royalists have the habit of making fun of Royer-Collard. The Count of Salaberry, from Blois, even says that "Monsieur Royer-Collard is satisfied only with himself".

In fact, Royer-Collard is moderately resentful towards his sovereign, Charles X.

The speech at the tribune of the Chamber about his very elaborate ideas in the political field makes

of him an eloquent master, much superior to his neighbour of Valençay.

Convinced and wilful, he succeeds in ridding himself of a slight stammer to better demonstrate to his peers his just and solid words ; from his point of view, of course.

Once back in the capital, our two partners, Talleyrand in his vast mansion, rue de Saint-Florentin, Royer-Collard, more modest in his rue d'Enfer apartment, continue and deepen their contacts.

The philosopher enjoys going once in a while to his elder, to the famous mezzanine where the Prince welcomes his guests and with a splendid view over the Place de la Concorde. Quite a symbol ! Unless the visitor is introduced to the Duchess of Dino's salon on the first floor. For it is she who is the hostess and in every sense of the word.

And the ice being definitively broken, they decide that once in the country, they will travel from Valençay to Chateauvieux and also from Chateauvieux to Valençay. But always without Madame Royer-Collard, who is more preoccupied by the health of her children, her own and also by the

education to be given to their two daughters.

In 1825 Talleyrand brings to Chateauvieux Monsieur de Saint-Aulaire (1778-1854), liberal deputy and father-in-law of ex-minister Decazes (1780-1860).

In August 1826, the Prince invites his neighbour to Valençay. In September, he even invites the nephews from Chateauvieux to hunt deer ; unfortunately, a few weeks later, because of the bad weather, he is bitterly obliged to postpone a trip to Chateauvieux. Maybe more so because of his bad legs, which are becoming more and more painful than because of the bad weather.

At about the same time, it is Pierre-Louis Bertin de Veaux (1771-1842), the founder journalist of the "Journal des Débats" who accompanies Talleyrand and his niece on the route of Chateauvieux.

In 1827, young doctor Gabriel Andral, 30 years old, famous Doctor Guillaume Andral's son, marries the frail Augustine Royer-Collard, of fragile health like her mother and sister Rosalie.

It is supposed that Talleyrand negotiated the realization of this marriage. In fact, Doctor Guillaume Andral was the doctor attached to Prince of Talleyrand's service, while on a trip to the Cauterets Baths, a few years earlier. Besides inevitable Duchess of Dino, Gabriel Andral, Augustin Thierry and his brother Amédée take part in this trip; Amédée is at that time the private tutor of Madame de Dino's eldest son, Louis, who will be Duke of Valençay in 1829.

As a matter of interest the young couple Andral has a son, Paul (1828-1899) who is promised to a brilliant law career. His widow, born Blanche Délius (1837-1925), a jewess converted to catholicism

will take care of Chateauvieux till 1925, when the venerable Philanthropic Society takes up possession of the estate, to the satisfaction of everyone.

In 1830, the Revolution, more or less desired, but partly fomented by Talleyrand, sees the arrival of the Duke of Orléans on the throne under the new name of "King of the French".

Impossible not to remember the courageous attitude of Royer-Collard, president of the Chamber of Deputies, who reads to King Charles X the famous "message of the 221" expression of his colleagues' discontent about the Edicts of July, which are restrictive as far as liberty is concerned.

Soon, Louis-Philippe sends Talleyrand as extraordinary ambassador to London. An almost 4 years post, which will be the last of the diplomat's with the principal and happy result : Belgian independence and neutrality.

In 1832, the ambassador is on holiday. Once again, but it will be the last time, he goes to the Bourbon-l'Archambault baths to cure his more and more weakening legs. He then writes with a surprising familiarity to his old friend Royer-Collard, talking of course about his health but also about his return trip to London, about the Belgian and Holland problems, thus ending this letter : "I must end here if I don't want you to read 4 more pages of my bad handwriting".

It is also the time when Talleyrand, as well as Royer-Collard are the targets of the caricaturists, a budding art in the July Monarchy. Here are some remarkable notes written in autumn 1833:

"Valençay,October 10th 1833

"I'll believe to be in France once I have seen you ; and you'll be kind enough to feel that you are in Berry after you have seen Madame de Dino and myself. For this, you must (and I hope you do it with pleasure) direct your morning walk next Saturday 12th towards Valençay.

Thousands best wishes and compliments.


"Chateauvieux,(same day)

Seeing you again, Your Highness, seeing again the Duchess of Dino will be far more "than feeling myself in Berry", it will be living again. I'll be very happy again to take, Saturday morning, the

never forgotten road to Valençay. You know the feelings that will lead me there.

With kind regards,


Talleyrand approaches his 80th year. Again on holiday from his embassy towards the end of summer 1834, he realizes it's time for him to end his career.

In this case, the elderly man is frankly encouraged by his niece, herself strongly aided by the confidant from Chateauvieux. Madame de Dino, together with Royer-Collard prepares Talleyrand's resignation letter. The mail addressed to the King leaves Valençay on November 13th 1834.

From that time on, during the four last years of our Prince, there are never-ending exchanges : either direct or per letters, whether they are next to each other or further away than the 20 km between Valençay and Chateauvieux.

Progressively the Duchess of Dino has an ever greater hold over both men. In Paris, and even more in Berry, they discuss home policy, the Stock Exchange(the Bourse), health, philosophy, and religion, too. For it is time for the Prince of Talleyrand to get ready to return to the fold of the Church, despite the severe adversities he had with the Church during the Revolution. In Paris abbot Dupanloup, future Orléans bishop, Monseigneur de Quelen, the capital's archbishop, help Madame de Dino to make effective this conversion as surprising as late. In fact, the pressures on the elderly man by everyone are to be successful.

Incidentally on March 6th 1836, Royer-Collard meets for the first time the moralist and famous historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the busy salon of Madame de Dino. A long exchange of letters of high moral value will follow, excluding old Talleyrand.

In September 1837, Madame de Dino, always active, confides to one of her faithful admirers: Adolphe de Bacourt (1801-1865) :

"I have just arrived from a trip I made to Chateauvieux and to Saint-Aignan (why Saint-Aignan, because the castle owners are Talleyrand-Périgord, cousins of the Prince ; they even represent the eldest family branch, but never as famous as the other), journey which took all day yesterday and even to-day. I felt wonderfully well and in spirits at Monsieur Royer-Collard's". A common point of view about the sense of life and death, always growing between the former lutherian, converted to catholicism in 1811 and ever a jansenist. A series of letters found 40 years ago testify this and to cease only with Royer-Collard's death in 1845.

In October 1837, last great visit of an honourable guest in Valençay : Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877). Thiers is accompanied by his very young wife (21 years his younger), his mother-in-law, Madame Dosne and his sister-in-law. These very complicated ladies are very tiresome guests for the Valençay hosts. Well, the uncle and the niece escape from this hell and accompany Monsieur Thiers, alone, to the ermit of Chateauvieux. No doubt it was a lucky morning for our three characters.

Nevertheless Talleyrand is near his end. In May 1838 he is in his Parisian town house, 2, rue St-Florentin. Royer-Collard also in bad health does ever hesitate to go from the 20 rue d'Enfer to the house of the sick old man who is said to be in danger. He foresees he is going to be present at the christian end of the apostate bishop. An end so differently judged by the contemporaries of that time.

"Please, come very quickly", Madame de Dino scribbles to a great number of Parisian notabilities : the Duke of Poix, the Count of Saint-Aulaire, the Count Molé, the Baron of Barante and Royer-Collard. Thus among all those personalities Monsieur de Talleyrand commits his soul to God or the Devil?, in the afternoon of May 17th 1838.

Thereon, Royer-Collard writes to the Loir-et-Cher Prefect, Monsieur de Lezay-Marnésia : "I saw Monsieur de Talleyrand very ill, I saw him dying, I saw him dead ; this great spectacle will be a long time in front of my eyes. He was the last Lebanon Cedar Tree, and he was also the last example of savoir-faire, appropriate to great lords and great minds".

He also says to Monsieur de Constantin, estate manager of Chateauvieux : " Monsieur de Talleyrand died yesterday, Thursday, between 3 and 4 p.m.. I saw him dying, he has only been ill for four or five days during which time he was never out of my sight. He died reconciled with the Church and he died fortified with the last sacraments of the Church. His death leaves a great emptiness ; he had many friends. Valençay now belongs to his nephew, the Duke of Valençay".

In his brilliant study devoted to Royer-Collard, the famous historian Emile Dard precises :"One is surprised to find that Royer-Collard's austere personality accompanied 25 years Talleyrand and Madame de Dino and that he awakened in their souls, after so many distractions, the best sides they had. In the doctrinarian Talleyrand had found again the lost shadow of his youth, the love of the public good and the enthusiasm for liberty. Beside the "not too austere jansenist", Madame de Dino had found the religious emotions which soothed her soul and comforted her in her old age.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.

André Beau.