Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Birthplace: 4, rue Garancière, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: May 17, 1838 (84)
Hôtel de Talleyrand, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Place of Burial: Valençay, Centre, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord and Alexandrine Victoire Eleonore de Talleyrand-Périgord
Ex-husband of Noël Catherine Verlée, princesse de Bénévent
Partner of Dorothea Herzogin von Biron and Teresa Tiškevičienė
Ex-partner of Adélaïde Marie Émilie de Souza Botelho Mourão e Vasconcelos
Father of Julie Zulme and Auguste Charles Joseph Comte Flahaut de la Billarderie
Brother of Archambaud de Talleyrand-Périgord, I. duc de Talleyrand and Comte Boson Jacques de Talleyrand-Périgord

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About Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 1st Sovereign Prince of Beneventum (2 February 1754 – 17 May 1838) was a French diplomat. He worked successfully from the regime of Louis XVI, through the French Revolution and then under Napoleon I, 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.

  • He was nicknamed the Prince of Diplomats,[1].

Early life

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 Angélique de Talleyrand-Périgord, 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 Collège d'Harcourt and seminary of Saint-Sulpice[2] 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.

French Revolution

  • 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 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 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 Staël) 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 during the Italian campaigns of 1796 to 1797. He wrote many letters to Napoleon and the two became close allies. Talleyrand was against the destruction of the Republic of Venice, but he complimented Napoleon when peace with Austria was concluded (Venice was given to Austria), probably because he wanted to reinforce his alliance with Napoleon. 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, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon's foreign policy. The Pope also released him from the ban of excommunication.

French Empire

  • 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 made later by François-René 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 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, when Napoleon appointed him as representative of France at the Congress of Erfurt. There, Tsar Alexander wanted his advice in dealing with Napoleon, and they met regularly during the Congress, changing Tsar Alexander's attitude towards Napoleon. Alexander was afraid of Napoleon, 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's France was a threat to the other European nation-states and that Russia should resist the will of Emperor Napoleon. Talleyrand became a Russian secret agent from 1812 onwards, but his political career was over until the fall of Napoleon. While serving under Napoleon, Talleyrand began to accept bribes from hostile countries, particularly Austria and Russia[citation needed], to betray Napoleon's secrets. Typically of Talleyrand, it is hard to determine where his principles met his pecuniary interests. Growing weary of Napoleon'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[citation needed]. His agitations against the Spanish campaign, which he considered unwise, produced a rapprochement with Joseph Fouché and convinced Napoleon that Talleyrand was plotting against him. 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 his usual scatologic tone that Talleyrand was "shit in a silk stocking," [3] to which the minister coldly retorted, once Napoleon had left, "Pity that so great a man should have been so badly brought up!"


  • When Napoleon 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'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 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 Gómez Labrador, Marquis of Labrador. Spain was excluded after a while (a result of both the 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 Metternich and Britain's Castlereagh. By this tract, officially a secret treaty of defensive alliance[4], 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, Montbéliard (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'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 King 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.

Character traits

  • Catherine (Worlée) Grand, princesse de Talleyrand-Périgord, painted by François Gerard 1805–6Talleyrand 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 Eugène Delacroix, once rumored to be Talleyrand's son, though this is doubted by historians who have examined the issue (for example, Leon Noel); the "Mysterious Charlotte", possibly his daughter by his future wife, Catherine Worlée 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 Staël 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 Worlée, 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 to carry it out to preserve his political career. Rumors about her stupidity, though unfounded,[citation needed] 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'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.
  • Château de ValençayTalleyrand 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 Carême, 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 Mayer 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 Abbé Félix Dupanloup came to Talleyrand in his last hours, and according to his account Talleyrand made confession and received extreme unction. When the abbé 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 abbé'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 Château de Valençay. 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.


  • Though Talleyrand was active in the French Revolution, he always carried some nostalgia for the Ancien Régime. Such sentiment is best expressed in his famous quip:

"Celui qui n'a pas vécu au dix-huitième siècle avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre" [7]: ("Those who haven't lived in the eighteenth century before the Revolution do not know the sweetness of living")
"The only thing you cannot do with a bayonet is sit on it."
"La parole nous a été donnée pour déguiser notre pensée." We were given speech to hide our thoughts.

  • At the Congress of Vienna, Tsar Alexander I of Russia tried to justify his actions with regards to the proposed annexation of the - formerly French-aligned - Kingdom of Saxony by Prussia by calling King Frederick Augustus of Saxony 'a traitor to the cause of Europe', to which Talleyrand replied:

"Treason is a matter of dates.", referring to Alexander's rapprochement with Napoleon in 1807, when the former had signed the collaborative Treaty of Tilsit.

  • His advice to his company, a motto which accompanied his household:

"Surtout, pas trop de zèle.": ("Above all, not too much zeal.") Talleyrand knew that Napoleon could change his mind overnight. The emperor often reversed decisions and ordered that letters were not to be sent. Therefore the civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to work slowly [8].
* While describing a possible Napoleonic regency:

"Napoleon would always be listening with his ear to the door."

  • Describing himself:

"Regimes may fall and fail, but I do not."
"I am more afraid of an army of one hundred sheep led by a lion than an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep."
"Tout ce qui est exagéré est insignifiant.": ("All that is exaggerated is insignificant.")
* While the 1830 revolutions going on and the tricolour raised over Notre Dame, he said, "We are triumphing!"

  • He was asked,

"Who are we?"
"Quiet! Not a word. I will tell you tomorrow," was the reply.
"We have learned, a little late no doubt, that for states as for individuals real wealth consists not in acquiring or invading the domains of others, but in developing one's own. We have learned that all extensions of territory, all usurpations, by force or by fraud, which have long been connected by prejudice with the idea of 'rank,' of 'hegemony,' of 'political stability,' of 'superiority' in the order of the Powers, are only the cruel jests of political lunacy, false estimates of power, and that their real effect is to increase the difficulty of administration and to diminish the happiness and security of the governed for the passing interest or for the vanity of those who govern..."

  • At the Congress of Vienna Talleyrand attacked the use of the phrase "Allied powers," in a protocol. He asked them:

" ...allied, and against whom? It is no longer against Napoleon, he is on the isle of Elba . . . it is no longer against France; for peace has been made . . . it is surely not against the King of France; he is a guarantee of the duration of that peace. If there are still allied powers, I am one too many here."
* Referring to the killing of the Duc D'Enghien:

"C'est pire qu'un crime; c'est une faute. (It's worse than a crime; it's a mistake.)

Unusual actions

  • As the Allies were entering Paris in 1814, Talleyrand knew the Napoleonic regime was all but finished, but still had to find a way to legally remove the government. He convened the Paris Senate (which was used to represent the general will of France, though its actual power was limited). However, he only invited members who he knew would not object to establishing a provisional government with himself at its head. To fill the seats of those not invited, Talleyrand hired actors and dressed them in Senate costumes.[citation needed]
  • Following the arrival of the Allies, Talleyrand's mansion hosted Tsar Alexander. Later, his bedroom became the center of government in the provisional government. It was actually quite common to hold important occurrences in one's bedroom as it was warm for the host while the attendants had to stand in the cold night air.
  • On hearing of the death of a Turkish ambassador, Talleyrand is supposed to have said: “I wonder what he meant by that?” Others say that this was a response by Metternich, the Austrian diplomat, to the death of Talleyrand.[9]
Talleyrand in fiction

Talleyrand was featured in the two-character theatre piece by Jean-Claude Brisville Supping with the Devil, in which he is depicted dining with Joseph Fouché while deciding how to preserve their respective power under the coming regime. The drama was hugely successful and was turned into the movie Le Souper (1992), directed by Edouard Molinaro, starring Claude Rich and Claude Brasseur.

Talleyrand was also a major supporting character in Katherine Neville's book The Eight, a quasi-mystical adventure novel about a centuries-long struggle for control of a chess set with mysterious powers.

Talleyrand appears as a supporting character in Rudyard Kipling's short story "A Priest in Spite of Himself", collected in Rewards and Fairies, 1910.

Talleyrand is the central figure in Roberto Calasso's epic "The Ruin of Kasch". As Calvino noted, the book takes up two subjects, the first being Talleyrand and the second being everything else.[citation needed]

Talleyrand appears as a character in the 1934 novel Captain Caution, by Kenneth Roberts.

Talleyrand is the subject of "The Third Lion" by author Floyd Kemske.

"Talleyrand" is the pen-name of a satirical columnist in The University Observer.

Talleyrand is an offstage but influential character near the end of The Surgeon's Mate, one of the 20 books in the Aubrey-Maturin series of seafaring novels by Patrick O'Brian.

In 1995 Paul Keating compared John Howard gaining the liberal leadership to the Talleyrand.

" ..... Here he is (John Howard) politically limping in like the Bishop of Autun, the Talleyrand of the Liberal Party, scraping his way back into Australian history, seeking to put his miserable politics. 02 February 1995

Sacha Guitry played Talleyrand in his 1948 film Le Diable boîteux (The limping Devil), a fictionalized account of Talleyrand's life. He later reprised the role in Napoléon.

Talleyrand was played by John Malkovich in the 2002 mini-series Napoléon.

In the strategic game "Rise of Nations", Talleyrand is featured as a bonus card for the French nation. He has the ability to force an alliance or declare war for one turn.

In 1993 film The Three Musketeers, Cardinal de Richelieu says to Queen Anne: Remember, Kings come and Kings go but one thing remains the same. And that is me., a sentence inspired on "Regimes may fall and fail, but I do not."

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Bénévent's Timeline

February 13, 1754
4, rue Garancière, Paris, Île-de-France, France
April 21, 1785
Paris, Île-de-France, France
January 23, 1826
Toulon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
May 17, 1838
Age 84
Hôtel de Talleyrand, Paris, Île-de-France, France
September 5, 1838
Age 84
Chapelle Notre Dame de la 'Maison de Charité', Valençay, Centre, France