Talleyrand-Périgord, Charles Maurice de
TALLEYRAND-PÉRIGORD, CHARLES MAURICE DE
French statesman; b. Paris, Feb. 2, 1754; d. Paris, May 17, 1838. He was the second son of Charles Daniel and Alexandrine Eléonore de Damas d'Antigny. Since his family belonged to the highest aristocracy and his elder brother died during childhood, Charles Maurice should normally have pursued a career in the army or at court. But when in his fourth year an accident left him permanently disabled by a clubfoot, his parents decided on a clerical future for him. Charles Maurice studied for five years at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris (1770–75) and was ordained on December 18, 1779, by his uncle, the archbishop of Reims, later cardinal. In 1780 he was appointed agent-general of the clergy, a most influential position involving political and financial activities.
Relation to the French Revolution. Although Talleyrand was already known as a freethinker and a Freemason, and as a man notorious for moral laxity, Louis XVI named him bishop of Autun in November of 1788. He was consecrated on January 16, 1789 and took possession of his see on March 15, but a few weeks later he was back in Versailles for the opening of the Estates-General, where he was one of the clergy's representatives. In this assemblage at the outbreak of the french revolution, he soon identified himself with the "patriot" majority led by his friends Mirabeau and Lafayette. He proposed in the Constituent Assembly the confiscation of Church property for the use of the nation. When the assembly decreed the civil constitution of the clergy, Talleyrand was one of the seven bishops who took the oath of allegiance to it demanded of the clergy. He also made possible the formation of the schismatic Constitutional Church by consecrating the first batch of newly elected bishops. This was his last act as a clergyman, for soon afterwards he adopted a secular status. When the revolution took a more radical turn, Talleyrand sought safety by going first to England, under the guise of a diplomatic mission (January of 1792) and from there to the United States (March of 1794). The fall of the robespierre regime made possible his return to France in September of 1796. His friend Mme. de Staël persuaded the director, Vicomte de Barras, to appoint him minister of foreign affairs (July 18, 1797). While in this capacity, he had little more to do than to execute policies dictated by the Director Jean Reubell, but he used his position to amass himself a fortune through unscrupulous dealings.
Napoleonic Period. Talleyrand also recognized the potential value of friendship with Napoleon, whose ambitions he strove successfully to serve. He persuaded the government to let Bonaparte lead the French expedition in Egypt. Sensing the inevitable collapse of the Directory Régime, Talleyrand resigned his portfolio (July 20, 1799). When Bonaparte returned to France soon afterward, Talleyrand helped him prepare the Coup d'Etat of Brumaire. As a reward, the first consul named him minister of foreign affairs (November 22, 1799). Though Talleyrand had little influence over the main decisions of his imperious master, he was most useful in translating them into the forms of traditional diplomacy and cloaking usurpations and arbitrary acts in fine language. Occasionally, he was able to prevent misdeeds by delaying execution of orders long enough to give Napoleon time to reconsider. Though he was one of the most highly paid officials, he continued assiduously to acquire money from all his transactions, notably those by which the German states were reorganized after each phase of the wars. He also took advantage of the French concordat of 1801, which he had helped frame, to wrest from Pope Pius VII his laicization (1802). Prodded by Bonaparte but without papal dispensation, he went through a civil marriage ceremony (1803) to his mistress Mrs. Grand, divorced wife of an official in the British East India Company.
When napoleon i inaugurated the First Empire (1804), Talleyrand became grand-chamberlain, and in June of 1806, prince of Benevento. While serving the emperor well, he became increasingly uneasy with Napoleon's outsized undertakings. The emperor, on the other hand, became impatient with Talleyrand's counsels of moderation. After the Treaty of Tilsit (August of 1807) Talleyrand was allowed to resign as minister, becoming vice-grand-elector ("the only vice he did not yet have," quipped Fouché). Napoleon still consulted him occasionally and had him accompany him to Erfurt for the famous interview with Czar alexander i in September of 1808. There Talleyrand startled the Russian autocrat with the revelation of the widening breach between Napoleon and French high officialdom. While Napoleon was critically involved in the conquest of Spain, Talleyrand plotted almost openly with his old rival Fouché, the minister of police. Napoleon, on his unexpected return in January of 1809, vented his wrath upon him. Thereafter, Talleyrand played no role in state affairs under Napoleon; he prepared quietly for his master's inevitable end.
Career, 1814 to 1838. When the victorious allies entered Paris on March 30, 1814, Talleyrand, who had been made by his fellow senators head of a provisional government, received Alexander I in his house and persuaded him that the only solution was to restore the Bourbon monarchy. As minister of foreign affairs for Louis XVIII, he negotiated with the allies the first Treaty of Paris (May of 1814) and took an outstanding part in the Congress of Vienna. After the Hundred Days, he returned with the king and was made president of the council (July 9,1815), but he was soon compelled to resign (September 25). Throughout the Restoration period he remained aloof, though always hoping for a comeback. He secretly favored the Orléanist intrigue that finally brought Louis-Philippe to the throne. He served the new king as ambassador to London (1830–34), retiring finally from public service in November of 1834. On his deathbed he was reconciled with the Church.
Bibliography: Mémoires, ed. p. lÉon (Paris 1953—); Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand, tr. r. ledos de beaufort and a. hall, 5 v. (New York 1891–92). g. lacour-gayet, Talleyrand. 4 v. (Paris 1928–34). a. d. cooper, Talleyrand (London 1932). l. madelin, Talleyrand, tr. r. feltenstein (New York 1948). c. brinton, The Lives of Talleyrand (New York 1936; pa. 1963).
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