Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

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Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, portrait by François Gérard (1808). Talleyrand's signature:
Signature Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.PNG

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord [ ʃaʀlə mɔ'ʀis də talɛ'ʀɑ̃ peʀi'gɔʀ ] (born February 2, 1754 in Paris ; † May 17, 1838 ibid) was one of the most famous French statesmen and diplomat during the French Revolution , the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna . For his services he received several titles of nobility: 1806 Prince of Benevento , 1807 Duke of Talleyrand-Périgord and 1815 Duke of Dino (duc de Dino) . Since he held high offices in all regimes of his time, the name Talleyrand today stands for political opportunism and adaptability.

Live and act

Origin and youth

Talleyrand came to Paris on February 2, 1754 as the second-born son of Charles-Daniel, Count of Talleyrand-Périgord (1734–1788), and his wife Marie-Victoire-Eléonore de Talleyrand-Périgord, née de Damas d'Antigny (1728– 1809), on the world.


From early childhood on, Talleyrand was handicapped by a severe leg condition in his right foot that made him crippled. According to his own statements (which he also circulated in his memoirs) he suffered a complicated broken leg at the age of a few months - he spent the first four years of his life separated from his family in the care of a wet nurse in the Paris suburbs. Since he had only received inadequate medical care and treatment, his foot bones had grown together, so that he suffered from clubfoot (accidentally turned inside out) all his life . Furthermore, his left foot, which had to carry the weight of his body alone during his severe pain, was weakened considerably. The result of both (the untreated injury to the right foot and the prolonged excessive strain on the left) was that he became “a limp”.

It was not until 1988 that the historian Michel Poniatowski succeeded in proving Talleyrand's explanation of his crippling from an accident as fictitious. Recent research suggests that Talleyrand's clubfoot was either a hereditary condition - which also suffered from Talleyrand's uncle Gabriel-Marie des Talleyrand, Comte de Périgord - or, more likely, it was the result of polio - Infection was. Why Talleyrand gave an inaccurate reason for his ailment cannot be answered with absolute certainty. Most biographers, however, when dealing with this point point out that in the 18th and 19th centuries it was a practice practiced by many people who suffered from inherited ailments to pass them off as the consequences of accidents. They were trying to protect themselves from the suspicion of being insane by admitting that their physical problems were the result of a congenital error. The understanding of the origin and the mode of action of organic bodily harm, shared by most people of that time, was based on the assumption that such genetically-derived bodily harm was usually also associated with biologically caused mental disorders.

Talleyrand's handicap meant that he hobbled and had to use a crutch or cane to walk. He also wore special orthopedic shoes on his right foot, at least in his later years: these shoes, which were shaped like an elephant's foot, held his right leg in a metal rail that ran along the calf to the knee, where it was fastened with a leather strap. The creaking noise of this device, which acoustically announced its arrival from afar, earned him the nickname The Limping Devil . His biographer Jean Orieux called this device, which is painful for the wearer, a “true instrument of torture”.

Formation and spiritual career

Although Talleyrand was actually the firstborn son of his parents after the death of his eldest brother Alexandre († 1757), they transferred the firstborn right to his younger brother Archambaud de Talleyrand instead of him, which they considered unfit for this due to his disability. The young Talleyrand was instead selected for a spiritual career because of his physical handicap: As a teenager he was given to the St. Sulpice seminary in Paris.

After graduating in 1779, he was ordained a priest. His first benefice was that of the Abbé of the Convent of Saint-Denis . In 1780 he was made general agent of the French clergy and in 1788 - very late for a man of his origin - Bishop of Autun . As such, after a stay of less than four weeks at his bishopric, he was elected by the members of his clergy as a member of the recently convened General Estates of 1789 .

French Revolution and the Clergy

Portrait of Talleyrand by Pierre Paul Prud'hon

During the French Revolution of 1789 he moved from the clergy to the third estate . He represented this in the General Estates and thus integrated himself into the newly formed National Assembly . He had already become a member of the Society of Thirty . He was a reform-oriented politician, which increasingly removed him from the clergy. This became clear when he spoke out in favor of the nationalization of church property in order to pay off the national debt with the sales proceeds. In his application, he justified the confiscation by stating that the church only received its property for the exercise of offices, but not as personal property. Strictly speaking, there was no expropriation for Talleyrand. In his view there were two fundamental freedoms to be respected by the state: freedom and property. However, where property goes so far that it violates the law of nature , it has to be omitted, and also where the actual sense of the original acquisition of property has lapsed. He also advocated habeas corpus , freedom of expression , postal secrecy and the establishment of a central bank . However, he never shed a certain sense of class. So he wanted a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral system like in Great Britain. In 1791 he swore an oath on the new constitution in the name of the clergy and thus submitted to the state and the people. Thereupon Pope Pius VI excommunicated him . and removed him from his ecclesiastical offices. Nevertheless, Talleyrand continued to draw his income from the Abbey of Saint-Denis for a long time.

Foreign minister

The "turning neck" Talleyrand. Caricature from 1815. The character's six heads represent the six leading roles he has played in six different regimes.

Talleyrand left France on the eve of the Reign of Terror in 1792 - officially on a diplomatic mission with the help of Danton , who obtained the necessary exit documents for him. This enabled him to return to France later, as he was not afflicted with the odium of having been an “emigrant”. He first went to Great Britain, was expelled there in 1794 under Pitt under pressure from the early French exiles and fled to the USA . He did not return to France until 1796 and was appointed Foreign Minister in 1797 by the Directory under the leadership of Paul de Barras as "Citizen" to succeed Charles-François Delacroix . He owed this position largely to the intercession of Madame de Staël , who had been spiritually and politically connected to him for a long time.

In July 1799 he resigned, probably in order to no longer bind himself to the Directory, which was foreseeably coming to an end, and to recommend himself to the new force, Napoleon . He had become aware of this aspiring man and began to support him. Napoleon recognized Talleyrand's strengths in diplomatic affairs, so he reappointed Talleyrand as Foreign Minister after the coup d'état of the 18th Brumaire in the year VIII of the French Revolutionary Calendar (November 9, 1799). It was Talleyrand who was instrumental in the creation of the Napoleonic empire . He made sure that in 1804, the year it was founded, no foreign power seriously objected to it.

But Napoleon's and Talleyrand's views on the welfare of France diverged. Talleyrand repeatedly criticized the emperor's plans, e.g. B. to go to war against Prussia and Austria . The 1805/06 declaration of war revealed Talleyrand's waning influence. He believed that France had achieved more than enough with the Peace of Amiens in 1802. After the Peace of Tilsit he submitted his resignation, whereupon Napoleon appointed him Vice-Grand Electeur, the third highest honorific title that the Empire had to award. Even before that, on April 7, 1805, King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Awarded the Order of the Black Eagle by Prussia .

After Napoleon was overthrown in 1815, he was again for a short time Foreign Minister Louis XVIII. , Which he had helped to the throne, and represented by the first restoration of the Bourbons France while the loser power in the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, but he sent concerned only a say, then a major league position with Britain and Austria against Russia and Prussia from so that the former alliance was broken. In short: As a representative of the losing side, he managed to negotiate such favorable conditions that France did not have to suffer any territorial losses. His greatest coup was probably the restoration of the borders of 1792.

Prince of Benevento

From 1806 to 1815 Talleyrand was by Napoleon's grace sovereign Prince of Benevento in Italy; His biographer Cooper pays tribute to the administrative services he provided on the side.

Ambassador to Great Britain

When the July Revolution broke out in 1830 , Talleyrand was a staunch supporter of the kingship of Louis Philippe . He sent him from 1830 to 1834 as French ambassador to Great Britain . Here he brought about an improvement in the severely disturbed relations between the two states. His last major political appearance took place during the negotiations on the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium . Talleyrand's great negotiating skills enabled Prince Leopold Georg Christian Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld to be elected King Leopold I of Belgium on October 4, 1830 . Talleyrand also wrote the well-known quote that the Belgians are not a nation, because you cannot create a nation at your desk. Belgium could not exist as a country in the long term.


Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord died on May 17, 1838 in Paris and was buried at his own request in the crypt of the chapel of the école libre (private school) he founded in Valençay . Since a renovation, in the course of which his coffin was brought up and placed in place of the removed altar, the chapel can be visited again, but not the crypt with the coffins of other family members.

Coat of arms of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord


His longtime companion Dorothea von Sagan , the wife of his nephew Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord , who was divorced in 1824 and whom he also appointed some benefits, became universal heiress. The thesis that Dorothea, later called Dorothée, duchesse de Dino , was Talleyrand's lover is not shared in the biography written by Johannes Willms. Although Talleyrand's love for this attractive and intelligent woman was late, given the age difference of 39 years, the close relationship was probably not sexual, but only spiritual. Willms writes about Talleyrand's relationship with his niece in law: “Like others before, this love was a platonic one, one with the passion of the spirit, not of the body, but perhaps for that reason it was lived even more intensely and often suffered agonies of jealousy for which she gave him there was plenty of occasion. "


Talleyrand had no legitimate children, but some illegitimate children. The best known of these natural children was probably Charles-Joseph de Flahaut , an officer in Napoleon's army. Charles-Joseph was a lover of Napoleon's stepdaughter Hortense de Beauharnais and father of Charles Auguste de Morny , half-brother and important advisor to Napoleon III. Talleyrand's frequently cited paternity in the case of Eugène Delacroix is controversial. The thesis is represented by Talleyrand as the producer of the famous painter a. a. by Franz Blei and Alfred Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich and Orieux. These authors refer to the alleged physiognomic similarity of Talleyrand and Delacroix and the impossibility of biological paternity of his nominal father, who at the time of conception was incapable of procreation as a result of a testicular disorder that was only resolved several months after conception. In addition, the young Delacroix was promoted by an anonymous but powerful and financially strong benefactor, behind whom Talleyrand is believed to be the father.

Awards and honors

Attributed sayings and bon mots

Although he was actively involved in the French Revolution, Talleyrand was prone to a certain nostalgia for the Ancien Régime . This is confirmed in his often quoted remark:

«Ceux qui n'ont pas connu l'ancien régime ne pourront jamais savoir ce qu'était la douceur de vivre. »

"Anyone who did not know the Ancien Régime will never know how sweet life was."

Probably the most famous saying of Talleyrand:

“Smart and hardworking - there is no such thing;
smart and lazy - I am myself;
stupid and lazy - still quite good for representation purposes;
stupid and hardworking - Heaven protect us from that! "

The saying “Coffee has to be hot as hell, black as the devil, pure like an angel and sweet as love” is said to be from Talleyrand.

When the Spanish ambassador, Izquiero, reminded Talleyrand of a promise in 1807, Talleyrand replied to him in a modification of a saying by Voltaire : "  La parole a été donnée à l'homme pour déguiser sa pensée  " (German: "The language is given to man, to hide his thoughts ”), Voltaire says:“  Les hommes ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leur injustices et n'emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées.  »(German:" People only use their reason to justify their injustices, and language only serves them to hide their thoughts. ")

"Treason, Sire, is only a matter of the date." - on Tsar Alexander I, Congress of Vienna

Judgments from contemporaries

"On the other hand, he is always and first of all a politician, and as a politician he is a man of clear purpose."

- Metternich : in September 1808 via Talleyrand at the Erfurt Congress

«Vous mériteriez que je vous brisasse comme un verre, j'en ai le pouvoir mais je vous méprise trop pour en prendre la peine. Pourquoi ne vous ai-je pas fait pendre aux grilles du Carrousel  ? Mais il en est bien temps encore. Tenez, vous êtes de la merde dans un bas de soie  ! »

“You deserved me breaking you like a glass. I have the power to do that, but I despise you too much to bother. Why didn't I have you tied to the grille of the Carrousel? But there is still time for that. Look here, you are shit in a silk stocking! "

- Napoleon : to Talleyrand in the Privy Council on January 28, 1809, after Talleyrand had negotiated with Tsar Alexander I about the rejection of an alliance with the French Empire.

"We didn't always agree, but more than once the advice he gave me was good and sensible."

- Napoleon : via Talleyrand before the Congress of Vienna

“What convinces me that there is neither a punishing nor a rewarding God is the fact that the decent people are always unhappy and the villains are always happy. You will see that a Talleyrand will die in his bed. "

- Napoleon : via Talleyrand on December 17, 1817 on St. Helena

See also

Literature (selection)

Web links

Commons : Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Michel Poniatowski: Talleyrand et l'Ancienne France. Pp. 40-43.
  2. ^ Wilms: Talleyrand. Virtuoso of power. P. 22.
  3. Orieux: Talleyrand. P. 21.
  4. According to Orieux, the pious Louis XVI was reluctant to sign the deed of appointment.
  5. Duff Cooper: Talleyrand. Berlin 1950, p. 30.
  6. Duff Cooper: Talleyrand. P. 30.
  7. JF Bernard: Talleyrand. Munich 1989, p. 79.
  8. But once a bishop, always a bishop. According to Orieux, the dying person on his deathbed should be given to the specially dedicated to the provision with St. Abbé Dupanloup, who was still very young at the time, when he tried to anoint his palms as part of the Last Unction as a simple layman, made fists, showed the backs of his hands and said: «  N'oubliez pas, monsieur l'abbé, que je suis évêque  »(German:“ Do not forget your Reverend, that I am a bishop! ”) (in other words, that his palms had already been sacramentally anointed once and for all).
  9. List of the Knights of the Royal Prussian High Order of the Black Eagle. Decker 1851, p. 15.
  10. ^ Talleyrand: «  Les Belges? Ils ne dureront pas. Ce n'est pas une nation, deux cent protocoles n'en feront jamais une nation. Cette Belgique ne sera jamais un pays, cela ne peut tenir…  "(German:" The Belgians? They will not stay long. This is not a nation, two hundred protocols will not make a nation out of them. This Belgium will never become a country like that something cannot last. ")
  11. ^ Wilfried Hansmann: The Loire Valley. DuMont, p. 136.
  12. Johannes Willms: Talleyrand: Virtuoso of Power. CH Beck, Munich 2011, p. 225.
  13. ^ In a letter dated September 24, 1808 to Graf Stadion, the original in French: "  Il est ... éminemment politique, et comme politique, homme à systèmes.  »Printed in: Richard Metternich-Winneburg (Ed.): From Metternich's posthumous papers . Part 1, Volume 2: From the Birth of Metternich to the Congress of Vienna, 1773–1815. . Wilhelm Braumüller, Vienna 1880, p. 240-243 ( ).
  14. According to Orieux, Talleyrand bowed to it and on leaving said quietly, as if to himself: "  Il est dommage qu'un si grand homme soit si mal élevé  " (German: "It is a pity that such a great man was brought up so badly." . ")
predecessor Office successor
Jean Xavier Bureaux de Puzy President of the National Assembly
February 16, 1790 to February 28, 1790
François Xavier de Montesquiou-Fézensac

Hugues-Bernard Maret
Achille-Léon-Victor de Broglie
French Ambassador to the United Kingdom

Anne César de La Luzerne
Horace-François Sébastiani

Charles Delacroix
Karl Friedrich Reinhard
Antoine de Laforêt
Pierre-Edouard Bignon
French Foreign Minister
July 15, 1797 to July 20, 1799
November 22, 1799 to August 9, 1807
May 13, 1814 to March 20, 1815
  July 9, 1815 to September 26, 1815

Karl Friedrich Reinhard
Jean-Baptiste Nompère de Champagny
Armand de Caulaincourt
Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis de Richelieu
Louis Marie de Narbonne-Lara French ambassador to Austria
September 1814 to June 1815
Louis Charles Victor de Riquet de Caraman