Please note: This was not written by me!
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was born in Paris on February 2, 1754.
Claiming to be a descendant of Adalbert, Count of Périgord and a vassal of Hugues Capet in the year 990, he was born into a noble family which was confirmed by royal letters patent in 1613 and 1735. His parents held important positions at the court of Louis XV.
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 he often asserted.
At any rate, this handicap was of cardinal importance in his choice of a career.
Charles-Maurice was stripped of his birth rights by his parents. He thus lost his title, the major part of his inheritance and the possibility to pass on the family wealth to his children (in France this being a guaranteed legal right). In a word, he became a " déclassé ", a nobody. We thus understand better why Talleyrand read to the House gallery, the day of Mirabeau's death, the speech of the latter on the equal division of wealth in inheritances between siblings which entailed the suppression of the eldest son's former rights to the lion's share of the wealth involved.
TALLEYRAND AND THE CHURCH
From the age of 15 in 1769 he was encouraged to take holy orders, and the following year he entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He showed little enthusiasm for his studies and, furthermore, flaunted his first affair with an actress from the Comédie Française.
In 1774 Charles-Maurice nevertheless received minor orders. The following year he attended the coronation of Louis XVI where his uncle was the coadjutor to the officiating archbishop. He managed to receive his degree in theology from the Sorbonne, more because of his name that his scholastic record, and he was ordained in 1779 at the age of 25.
In 1780 Talleyrand was named Agent General of the Clergy, and, in his capacity as Secretary, in 1785, represented the church primarily in tax matters with the French government, especially defending its fiscal privileges against Louis XVI's efforts to extract money from it... From 1783 to 1792 Talleyrand had an affair with Countess Adelaïde de Flahaut. The couple had a child, born in 1785, and named him Charles after his father. Said Charles de Flahaut was later to become Queen Hortense' lover, the father of the Duke of Morny who was also a half-brother of Napoleon III.
THE REVOLUTIONARY YEARS
In 1788, on the eve of the breakout of the Revolution, the abbot of Périgord, further to his dying father's petition to Louix XVI, was named Bishop of Autun by the King. 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.
On July 14, 1789, the Bishop of Autun was named a member of the Committee of the Constitution of the National Assembly where he played an important role presenting a number of grievances. Talleyrand was one of the signatories of the French Constitution enacted by the National Assembly and accepted by the King on September 14, 1791.
On the Champs de Mars on July 14, 1790 Charles-Maurice celebrated mass during the Federation Festival commemorating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.
Also in 1790 our bishop was one of the major actors in the confiscation and nationalization of French church property, to the astonishment of his fellow bishops who remembered the zeal with which he had once defended church rights. He took the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and, although having resigned as bishop of Autun on January 13, 1791, in February of the same year he appointed the first two constitutional bishops who were to be called "Talleyrand bishops". In 1792 Talleyrand was sent on a diplomatic mission to London to explain French politics to the English monarchs and ease their anxieties regarding France's future ambitions.
After his return to France in July, Talleyrand succeeded in returning to England in September in possession of a passport signed by Danton because he was urging the advent of " the Reign of Terror ". Shortly thereafter, Talleyrand was committed for trial by the " National Convention " and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Thanks to his passport signed by Danton, he could, upon his return from the United States, affirm that he had not immigrated.
In 1794 Charles-Maurice was deported from England and left 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, following 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 with Barras, Talleyrand was named the Directory's Foreign Affairs Minister, replacing Charles Delacroix. Was our ex-bishop Madame Delacroix's lover and the father of Eugène Delacroix, the well-known painter? This paternity is contested by certain historians, but believed by others because of a physical resemblance between the two. Talleyrand met Bonaparte after he returned victorious from the Italian campaign. He launched Charles-Maurice on the political scene during a reception in the reception rooms of the Hôtel de Gallifet, headquarters of the ministry. Unfortunately, this reception signaled the beginning of the fall of the Directory. Talleyrand resigned from his ministerial post in July 1799.
THE RISE OF BONAPARTE AND THE CONSULATE
Talleyrand had an influential role in counseling Napoleon in the successful coup d'état of 18 Brumaire following the failure of the Egyptian expedition for which he was one of the instigators. Talleyrand was responsible for Barras' resignation from his post as Director and kept the three million pounds meant for Barras to persuade him to leave his post without protest. Charles-Maurice thus found himself again Foreign Affairs Minister of the Consulate.
Bonaparte, named First Consul, handled foreign affairs and left Talleyrand little to do. The treaty of Mortefontaine, the negotiations (1800) then the Treaty of Lunéville (1801) came about without his help. Charles-Maurice, much impressed by the First Consul, did not interfere , fawned over him, approving all he did even when serious errors were made. In his personal life, Madame Grand, née Worlée appeared on the scene for the first time in 1801. She became Talleyrand's wife the following year. Charles-Maurice had known the pretty Frenchwoman, born in the Indies, since 1798. This marriage puzzles historians : Why had Talleyrand married Madame Grand on Napoleon's order (the first consul had made it clear that he expected him to marry or leave her) when his contemporaries widely agreed that the beautiful Catherine was Beauty and the Beast all rolled into one.
In 1803 Charlotte appeared on the scene, a little girl of five years old, born of unknown parents. Talleyrand adored her, gave her the best education available and supplied her with an attractive dowry to ensure her a suitable marriage. Perhaps Charlotte was the child that Charles-Maurice had had with his wife in 1798 during their uninterrupted affair. The law at the time forbade the recognition of illegitimate children. Was Charlotte one of the reasons for Talleyrand's marriage? It is possible.
Also in 1803 Talleyrand bought, upon the order of the First Consul and with his financial aide, the château of Valençay, one of the largest private properties in France - 12 000 hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres) -. From 1803 Talleyrand stayed there periodically, before or after his yearly spa treatment at Bourbon-l'Archambault. Talleyrand took care of the property and its county seat which both prospered until his death in 1838.
THE DUKE OF ENGHIEN AFFAIR
On March 9, 1804 Cadoudal, the head of the Chouans (the name given to the group of royalist counter-revolutionaries), was arrested in Paris. Royalist plots against Napoleon multiplied.
The Duke of Enghien was arrested the night of 14 March in Ettenheim in the Baden territory by General Ordener and taken to Strasbourg, then transferred to Paris. He was tried on March 20, condemned to death and executed by Savary in the moats around Vincennes. This kidnapping on foreign soil and the assassination following were Talleyrand's work. He was the instigator, even if it was Napoleon who gave the order.
As Jean Orieux said, the ex-bishop of Autun wanted " to put a river of blood between the Bourbons and Napoleon " because he wanted to avoid any rapprochement between the First Consul and the future Louis XVIII, a rapprochement that would have had negative effects for him personally. It is thus out of personal interest that Talleyrand slipped in the blood of the last member of the Condé royal line. This was the biggest error of his entire career. The others (his treason, his interest in money and women) seem irrelevant compared to his part in the Duke's assassination.
On July 11, 1804 Talleyrand is named Grand Chamberlain.
On December 2, 1804 Talleyrand attended the coronation of Napoleon, some months after the publication of the Year XII Constitution which created the Empire.
In 1805 Talleyrand was at the height of his favor with Napoleon. He reaped the fruit of his obedience to Napoleon, but war started anew with Austria. It was the time of the overwhelming victory at Ulm followed two days later by the disaster at Trafalgar and then compensated by Austerlitz on December 2. Charles-Maurice searched for ways to an honorable peace with Austria and Russia, but the Emperor did not take his advice. Talleyrand unwillingly signed the Treaty of Presbourg.
In 1806 Charles-Maurice was named Prince de Bénévent, a small principality taken from the Pope. On July 12, the Prince de Bénévent signed in Paris the treaty creating the Confederation of the Rhine States. Talleyrand at this time disagreed more and more with Napoleon's views. Dalberg, a notorious spy, helped Talleyrand during this time to send information to Tsar Alexander I. Although the Prince de Bénévent continued to flatter Napoleon, he condemned the new war with Prussia. Since Presbourg he had become two-faced.
After the battle of Iéna and the capture of Berlin, the Continental Blockade was set in operation ; this blockade impoverished Europe and later plunged third countries like Spain into the war. This war in Spain would be the beginning of the end.
In 1807 the Prince de Bénévent, who had been living in Warsaw since December, signed in Tilsitt the Treaty with Russia and Prussia after the capture of Warsaw and the bloody battle of Eylau. In July Napoleon left Tilsitt and returned to France worried about the Spanish Affair. The Prince de Bénévent followed him and stopped off in Dresden at the residence of Frederick-Augustus, King of Saxony. It is probably there that he decided to resign his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs. As Emile Dard said " One cannot accuse Talleyrand of having abandoned the Emperor at the time of his fall, he left him at the height of his glory ". Charles-Maurice knew that he could no longer influence Napoleon who was leading France as a military dictator and would inevitably fail. He thus had himself appointed as Grand Vice Elector enabling him to justify his departure from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the two posts being incompatible.
THE SPANISH AFFAIR - THE SPANISH PRINCES AT VALENCAY
French troops had a difficult time entering and occupying Spain in 1808. Joseph Bonaparte was put on the Spanish throne. Spanish guerillas raged throughout Spain following a trick by Napoleon which made possible the capture of the Spanish princes at Bayonne. Napoleon ordered that the Spanish princes be imprisoned at the château de Valencay and that Talleyrand should serve as their jailer. Charles-Maurice accepted, but, under his diplomatic façade, he was seething. The Prince de Bénévent left Valençay for Erfurt and would not see his château again until 1816. During this period, events would have drastically changed the world.
THE CONGRESS OF ERFURT
Napoleon and Alexander I met at the Congress of Erfurt which began on September 27, 1808. 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. Relations between Francis II, the Emperor of Austria, and Napoleon were at their worst, and Napoleon desired an alliance with Russia which would divide Austria between them. The Corsican assigned Talleyrand the responsibility of convincing the Tsar to ally with him, but the Prince de Bénévent was for a rapprochement between the Tsar and Francis II, and succeeded in making it come about.
For Napoleon the Congress of Erfurt was a failure ; he obtained nothing from the Tsar because of Talleyrrand's interference. The Congress ended on October 14, 1808; the whole of Europe knew it had an ally in Talleyrand who continued to be in Napoleon's inner circle. Thus began the sabotage of the Empire.
THE " SCENE " OF JANUARY 28, 1809
Upon his return from Erfurt, Talleyrand met police minister Fouché several times. The two men detested each other. The Prince de Bénévent could not stand this ex-orator, king killer and author of the Lyons massacres. Everything opposed them, their way of thinking and acting. They came from two different worlds, but events threw them together. Together they would even contemplate the assassination of Napoleon.
Talleyrand gave a large reception on December 20, 1808. Fouché was the guest of honor. The whole of Europe knew that these two men were plotting against the Emperor. Napoleon, upon being informed of such, returned hastily from Spain and called a restricted council meeting. Talleyrand was present.
Napoleon accused the Prince de Bénévent of treason and insulted him crudely with what later became the well-known expression " You are a piece of shit in a silk stocking ". For this treasonous act, Napoleon merely dismissed Talleyrand from his post as Grand Chamberlain, thus withdrawing his right to enter the Emperor's private office at any time.
Talleyrand thus became overtly Austria's ally.
TALLEYRAND AWAITS HIS HOUR
In 1810, Joséphine de Beauharnais, no longer capable of bearing children, was repudiated by Napoleon. The Prince de Bénévent was instrumental in having Napoleon's marriage with Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria approved, but for all that does not manage to win back Napoleon's favor. At this point in time Talleyrand had major financial problems, asked Alexander I for help, but was rebuffed. Charles-Maurice was thus forced to sell again his personal library.
Time passes. The Emperor's snubs continue followed by attempts at rapprochement.
In 1812 the Russian campaign ends with a disastrous retreat.
1813: End of the war with Spain. The Spanish princes were formally liberated under the terms of the Treaty of Valençay of December 11, 1813. Talleyrand refused to take on once again the post as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
This offer showed the esteem Napoleon had for the Talleyrand's diplomatic talents despite his treason.
1814 : THE YEAR OF THE END
On January 10, 1814 Napoleon made a new scene in front of Talleyrand, criticizing him for his statements in several "salons" ; this however does not prevent the Emperor from endowing Talleyrand with full powers to negotiate with the Allies. During this time Charles-Maurice is reconciled with the Bourbons and becomes advisor of the future Louis XVIII.
In March 1814 enemy troops arrive at the outskirts of Paris ; On the 29th the Empress and the King of Rome (Napoleon's son) leave the capital. On the 31st the allies enter the city. Talleyrand meets with Tsar Alexander I in his residence, Saint-Florentin street and puts Louis XVIII on the throne.
TALLEYRAND GOVERNS IN SPITE OF LOUIS XVIII
On April 1, 1814 the Prince de Bénévent was elected President of the Provisional Government by the Senate.
On April 10 he puts the finishing touches on the Constitutional Charter which will be accepted by the King in spite of his reservations. Charles-Maurice met with Louis XVIII upon his return from Ghent. The King was very cold ; and those surrounding the King were very hostile toward the ex-bishop.
On April 23 an armistice was signed between France and the Allies. The country recovered its 1792 borders.
On May 13 Talleyrand was named Minister of Foreign Affairs for the third time since the Revolution.
On May 30 the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war. Surrounded by the horrible wreckage of the continent, negotiations for the reconstruction of Europe started in Vienna two months later.
On June 4, Charles-Maurice received the title of Prince de Talleyrand and was enobled with the title " Peer of France ".
TALLEYRAND SAVES FRANCE AT THE CONGRESS OF VIENNA
The Prince de Talleyrand left for Vienna on September 16, 1814. France's position at this time was very delicate. It did not have a seat at the negotiation table. Thanks to his savoir-faire Talleyrand succeeded in being made a part of the negotiations. In Vienna the Prince de Talleyrand was accompanied by Dorothée de Courlande, wife of his nephew Edmond de Périgord. Dorothée stayed with the Prince until his death as his mistress, official hostess, and head of his household. Dorothée gave birth to a baby girl named Pauline. Talleyrand cared for her as if she were his own, fuelling speculation of his paternity, no verifiable proof existed, however.
Prussia and Russia wanted to dismember Europe by annexing Saxony and Poland. This plan failed due to the opposition of Metternich and Charles-Maurice. Talleyrand's talents culminated in the signing on January 3, 1815 of a secret alliance between England, France and Austria against Prussia and Russia; but London permitted Prussia to annex the Rhineland which placed Prussians only 220 kilometers from Paris.
Napoleon left the island of Elbe on the Inconstant with 900 men to head for France on February 26, 1815. This "escape" took place with the probable, but unproven, help of England.
On June 4 Bénévent was returned to the Holy See.
Talleyrand signed on June 9 the final act of the Vienna Congress. On the 18th the battle of Waterloo took place and signaled the end of the 100 Days.
THE SECOND RESTORATION
Napoleon left Paris on June 29, and anger mounted in the city creating the danger of riots and civil war.
On July 9 the Prince of Talleyrand was named President of the Council of Ministers and again Minister of Foreign Affairs. He named Fouché Police Minister to maintain order in Paris.
But the situation became aggravated in France ; ultra-royalists terrorized the provinces ( " La Terreur Blanche " ), and the armies of occupation committed many atrocities. Talleyrand, the minister, was seen at this time as being disinterested in government affairs. The Allies' demands were enormous ; they wanted to make France pay for its support of Napoleon during the 100 Days. On September 24 Talleyrand, powerless, refused to negotiate on the terms imposed by the Allies, was forced to resign his ministerial post by Louis XVIII who thereafter named him Grand Chamberlain. Thus he did not sign the second Treaty of Paris.
THE POLITICAL RETREAT OF THE PRINCE OF TALLEYRAND
Richelieu replaced Talleyrand as President of the Council of Ministers.
Embittered, Charles-Maurice took the floor of the Senate several times to criticize the government. As Grand Chamberlain he attended the wedding of the Duke of Berry, second pretender to the throne of France who was assassinated a few years later.
In 1816 Talleyrand separated from his wife by exiling her to London. He continued to speak ill of Richelieu, in particular at a reception at the Embassy of England, whereafter Louis XVIII forbade him to show himself at the Tuileries palace for a long period of time.
On 31 August, 1817 Ferdinand, the King of Naples, granted Talleyrand the title of Duke of Dino, immediately transferable to his nephew Edmond which made Dorothée Duchess of Dino. It is under this name that she will be recorded in History.
The years pass. With each change of heads of ministries, Talleyrand hoped to regain favor with the King. The ultra-royalist Court, however, wanted nothing to do with him.
On July 24, 1821 Talleyrand spoke out for liberty of the press from the top of the gallery of the House of Lords and opposed censorship.
In 1823 Savary, Duke of Rovigo and former minister of Napoleon's police published a brochure accusing Talleyrand of the Assassination of the Duke of Enghien, but thanks to the intervention of Louis XVIII, Charles-Maurice had no need to worry.
In September 1824 Louis XVIII died. Charles X replaced him and was crowned on May 29, 1825 in Reims. Talleyrand's situation did not improve. He spent much time at Valençay and Bourbon-l'Archambault. Periods of mourning surrounded those close to the Prince.
Charles X was under the influence of the ultra-royalists. Minister Villèle multiplied reactionnary measures : laws forbidding sacrilegious acts, anti-immigration laws ; attempts to re-establish the rights of the eldest son to the family wealth in its entirety. Minister Martignac attempted to impose a more liberal government policy, but was replaced in 1829 by Minister Polignac : this is a triumph for the ultra-royalists. The government was very impopular.
THE REVOLUTION OF JULY 1830
The liberals looked toward the Duke of Orléans. Charles X, badly advised by Polignac, committed the error of publishing the four Royal Orders which set off the uprising of July 27,28 and 29. These were called " the three glorious days ". Paris revolted. The rebels won. Charles X left for England. Louis-Philippe took power from the balcony of the town hall while waving the tricolored flag to the cheering of the crowd. He thus became the " King of the French " and adopted a more liberal Charter.
THE PRINCE OF TALLEYRAND COMESOUT OF RETIREMENT AND RETURNS TO LONDON
The insurrection in the streets of Paris brought back bad memories to those in European capitals who were worried to see liberals take power by force. Louis-Philippe, being very intelligent, 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.
On September 25, 1830 the Prince of Talleyrand left for London where he was greeted favorably by the English Court.
TALLEYRAND AND THE INDEPENDENCE OF BELGIUM
Since the Vienna Congress, Belgium had been under the domination of Holland. Belgian independence destroyed the balance created at the Congress of 1815 and worried Prussia and England who dreaded Belgium's annexation by France, an annexation by the way desired by a certain percentage of the Belgian population.
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. This was in effect the recognition of Belgium as an independent state.
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg was elected King of the Belgians by the Congress of June 4, 1831 and, after some difficulty, the Treaty ratifying independence was signed on November 15, 1831 ; the King of Holland, Willem I, evacuated Antwerp on December 23, 1832.
Talleyrand endeavors to strengthen ties between England and France until the end of his term in August 1834 were rewarded by the signature of the treaty of the Quadruple Alliance between Spain, Portugal, England and France on April 22, 1834.
TALLEYRAND PERMANENTLY LEAVES THE POLITICAL SCENE
Talleyrand, upon his return to France, was overwhelmed by insults and abuse by ligitimists and republicans whereas during his four years in London his actions had strengthened France's position by obtaining England's support and the weakening of the Saint-Alliance between Prussia, Austria and Russia. He had been able to keep Louis-Philippe's confidence.
Talleyrand retired to Valençay, accompanied by the Duchess of Dino. Their last years were spent in their domain and among the 10,000 volumes of Talleyrand's private library. He finished the writing of his memoirs and spent every winter in his house on rue Saint-Florentin in Paris.
The Princess de Talleyrand died in Paris on December 10, 1835. Talleyrand was no longer married!
THE CONVERSION AND DEATH OF THE PRINCE DUKE OF TALLEYRAND
In 1837 Talleyrand wrote a new will and permanently left Valençay in the autumn.
On March 3, 1838, the Prince of Talleyrand appeared one last time in public at the Royal Institute of France and delivered the eulogy for the Count of Reinhard.
It was of the utmost importance to Charles-Maurice to finish his long life honorably. One remaining task was for him to become reconciled with the Church, since it still saw him as a renegade bishop, and would not grant him a religious burial if he did not make amends.
His niece Dorothée undertook with Monseigneur de Quélen and Father Dupanloup to obtain from Talleyrand a public letter of retraction in which he recognized his past errors. The last two months of his life were spent in negotiating and finalizing the content of such document. This effort was to be the final act of his life...
On May 17, 1838, Charles-Maurice was at death's door. At six o'clock in the morning, he finally signed his retraction letter, along with a letter to Pope Gregory XVI. At 8 a.m., Louis-Philippe, accompanied by his sister Madame Adélaïde, came to bid him adieu. The King knew that he owed his throne to Talleyrand and thus paid him a most respectful tribute. At the end of the morning, Father Dupanloup received his final confession. Talleyrand passed away at 3:35 p.m. the same day.
The official and religious funeral ceremonies took place on May 22. The burial took place in Valençay on September 5 in a chapel near the château.
And thus ended the life of the most illustrious diplomat France has ever known. This man, who never stopped fomenting hate and controversies, spent his life loving France and defending it with all his might in the most troubled period of its history. A European before his time, wishing to develop trade, peace and education, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, who cherished the mores of the old regime, was in fact a modern man always turned to the future. That is the least of his contradictions.