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|Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord [tal'E rand] was born at Paris on February 12 or 13, 1754, the son of Lieutenant General Charles Daniel de Talleyrand-Périgord. A childhood accident left him lame and unable to enter into a military career, so he was educated for a religious career instead. He became a priest in 1775, and was appointed Bishop of Autun in 1789.
Elected to the States-General in 1789, Talleyrand became a moderate leader of the French Revolution. He favored constitutional monarchy, and signed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. In 1790 he was elected president of the National Assembly, where he won popularity for proposing that the government take church property to pay its debts. Pope Pius VI excommunicated him in 1791 for his part in giving control of the French Catholic Church to the state, and for taking an oath to the Constitution.
In 1792, while Talleyrand was in England on a diplomatic mission, the French Revolution took a radical turn, which resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy and the execution of King Louis XVI. Talleyrand was labeled a royalist sympathizer and exiled to England, from which he was expelled in 1793. From England he went to America, where he remained until 1796.
Allowed to return to France in 1796, Talleyrand secured a position as Minister of Foreign Affairs. It was while serving in this capacity that he was accused of demanding bribes from American ministers sent to negotiate a peaceful settlement of disputes between the United States and France. The XYZ Affair of 1797, as the incident was called in the United States, led to an undeclared naval war between the two nations that lasted until 1800.
Resigning from the ministry in 1799, Talleyrand allied himself with Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he served as adviser and Foreign Minister. As Napoleon's adviser, Talleyrand attempted to dissuade Napoleon from selling Louisiana to the United States, but was unsuccessful. As foreign minister he conducted delicate negotiations which resulted in the Peace of Tilsit with Russia in 1807.
Napoleon depended on Talleyrand's diplomatic skills, but also distrusted him. In turn, Talleyrand came to oppose Napoleon's conquests as injurious to France and to European peace. After 1807, he resigned from office and became the center of the growing opposition to the self-proclaimed Emperor. Talleyrand's leadership was decisive in securing Napoleon's abdication and the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814, and his diplomatic skills at the Congress of Vienna of 1814 and 1815 gave a defeated France a powerful voice and insured that France would not be punished too harshly for Napoleon's actions.
Despite his service in restoring the Bourbons to power, the royal court excluded Talleyrand from public affairs. In 1830, however, when the Bourbons lost public confidence, he helped steer a revolution toward constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe. He then became Minister to Great Britain, in which capacity he played an important role in the negotiations that led to Belgium being made an independent kingdom. In 1834 he signed the treaty which brought together as allies France, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal.
Talleyrand died on May 17, 1838 and is buried at Valençy.
This page was last updated on February 12, 2017.