Talleyrand, Charles Maurice de

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Talleyrand, Charles Maurice de

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (tăl´ērănd´, Fr. shärl mōrēs´ də tälāräN´-pārēgôr´), 1754–1838, French statesman and diplomat. Born into the high nobility, he was early destined for the Roman Catholic Church because of a childhood accident that left him partially lame. Despite Talleyrand's notorious impiety, he was made (1789) bishop of Autun by King Louis XVI.

Talleyrand and the French Revolution

A representative of the clergy in the States-General of 1789, Talleyrand sided with the revolutionists. He proposed the appropriation of church lands by the state, endorsed the civil constitution of the clergy, and was excommunicated (1791) by the pope after consecrating two "constitutional" bishops. In 1792 he was sent by the National Assembly on a mission to London to secure Great Britain's neutrality, but the radical turn of the French Revolution nullified his success. A lifelong advocate of constitutional monarchy and peace, Talleyrand sought refuge in England in Sept., 1792, following the fall of the monarchy. In 1794 he went to the United States, where he stayed until after the establishment (Nov., 1795) of the Directory in France, when he returned (Sept., 1796) to Paris.

Talleyrand and Napoleon

Made foreign minister in 1797, Talleyrand hitched his career to the rising fortune of Napoleon Bonaparte (see Napoleon I. His part in the XYZ Affair and his endorsement of Napoleon's plan for seizing Egypt in 1798 had unfortunate consequences for France. In July, 1799, he resigned his post, only to resume it after helping Napoleon gain power under the Consulate (Nov., 1799). He helped to bring about the Concordat of 1801 with the Vatican, shortly after which the ban of excommunication against him was lifted (1802). The following year he was appointed to the lucrative position of grand chamberlain under Napoleon, now emperor, who in 1806 created him prince of Benevento.

Napoleon tended more and more to ignore Talleyrand's cautious advice, and the split between the two widened as Talleyrand tried unsuccessfully to restrain Napoleon's ambitions. Despite the accusations of Talleyrand's enemies (especially Joseph Fouché), he apparently played only a passive role in the abduction of the duke of Enghien. Napoleon's moves to gain Spain triggered Talleyrand's resignation (1807), although he remained in the imperial council and continued as grand chamberlain until early 1809. Ironically, Talleyrand was assigned the distasteful duty of keeping the three Spanish princes seized at Bayonne captive in his château.

Convinced of the necessity of a strong Austria to maintain European stability, Talleyrand, who accompanied Napoleon to the Congress of Erfurt (1808), secretly worked in Austria's rather than Napoleon's interest by persuading the Russian Czar Alexander I to oppose Napoleon's designs against Austria. He also had a hand in bringing about Napoleon's marriage to Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I in 1810. Napoleon's attack on Russia (1812) completed Talleyrand's alienation from the French emperor.

Talleyrand and the Restoration

When the allies entered Paris in 1814, Talleyrand persuaded them to restore the Bourbons in the person of Louis XVIII, who made him foreign minister. He negotiated the first Treaty of Paris of May, 1814, by which France, despite the defeat, was granted the French borders of 1792. He represented France at the Congress of Vienna (see Vienna, Congress of) of 1814–15, where he scored his greatest diplomatic triumphs. Winning the European powers to his principle of "legitimacy," namely, the restoration of Europe to its prerevolutionary status, and shrewdly exploiting the dissension among the allies, he succeeded in taking part in the negotiations on equal terms with the principal victorious powers.

Talleyrand remained in Vienna during the Hundred Days but resigned in Sept., 1815, shortly after the second Bourbon Restoration—according to his memoirs because of his opposition to the second Treaty of Paris of Nov., 1815, but in all probability because of pressure from the ultraroyalist chamber on Louis XVIII to dismiss him. In 1830, Louis Philippe, whom he had helped to power, offered him the portfolio of foreign affairs, but Talleyrand preferred to serve as ambassador to London. He resigned in 1834, after having achieved the recognition of Belgium (1831) and signed the Quadruple Alliance of 1834.

Assessment

The prototype of the witty, cynical diplomat, Talleyrand has been either exalted as the savior of Europe in 1815 or damned as an opportunist or even a traitor. His corruption was undeniable, and his pliability enabled him to hold power under the ancien régime, the Revolution, Napoleon, the Restoration, and the July Monarchy. Yet Talleyrand was a good European, and his policy was aimed consistently—and often courageously—at the peace and stability of Europe as a whole.

Bibliography

See his memoirs (1891–92; tr., 5 vol., 1891–92). The standard biography is by G. Lacour-Gayet (4 vol., 1928–30, in French). See also biographies by D. Cooper (1932, repr. 1958), E. Dard (tr. 1937), C. C. Brinton (1936, repr. 1963), J. F. Bernard (1973), J. Orieux (tr. 1974), and D. Lawday (2007).

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