Charles-Maurice Tallyrand Perigord

French Politician
Prince of Benavente
1754 - 1838

One of the most influential diplomats of the era, Talleyrand was described by Napoleon Bonaparte as "a piece of dung in a silk stocking''.

He was a friend of all and a friend of none and was in constant contact with all sides and factions during one of Europe's most tumultuous periods.

Throughout, his secret relations with the deposed Bourbons and Allies kept him well informed of the prevailing political winds on the Continent.

Born into old artistocracy, Talleyrand was to have had a military career but a foot injury as a child put paid to that and left him with a permanent limp.

Instead, he used his wit to make a mark in politics as a diplomat.

One of his first assignments was in Britain where he tried to keep that nation neutral.

After war between the two broke out, Talleyrand went to America before returning to his home city of Paris in 1796.

In 1797 he became Foreign Minister and was impressed enough with a young General called Napoleon Bonaparte to help him with the coup of Brumaire.

He helped repair revolutionary France's relations with the Pope, but then found himself at increasing odds with the directions Bonaparte was taking.

The major souring was the kidnap and execution of the Duc d'Enghien, which caused opposing nations to harden their attitudes towards France.

Increasingly, Bonaparte refused to be influenced by the politically savvy Talleyrand and, in 1806, he resigned and retired to his Valencay estate.

While on the political sidelines he made known his opposition to war with Spain, but had little internal influence in France.

After Bonaparte's first abdication, Talleyrand became head of the new government and lessened the harshness of terms that some nations wanted to impose on France.

At the Congress of Vienna he secretly allied France with Austria and Britain to oppose Russian and Prussian moves to incorporate Poland and Saxony as part of their own territories.

In 1830, he returned to Britain as ambassador for the final four years of his career.

As successful as he was in the double-dealing world of politics, Talleyrand was not well liked. He made a huge personal fortune out of his high positions and was always regarded with suspicion.

Nevertheless, he prospered in a time when just surviving in French politics was a major achievement.

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