Talleyrand biography, hero or villain?

Talleyrand biography, hero or villain?

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was one of the brightest politicians in France and Europe. Considered by some a traitor and by others a hero, he was able to be present during the different French governments that existed since Louis XVI to Louis Philip I. Faithful advisor of Napoleon, was one of the main promoters of its downfall. However, Talleyrand achieved great diplomatic successes that ensured peace, as well as political successes in France that benefited liberalism.

He was born on February 2, 1754 in Paris into one of the most powerful and prestigious families in the Gallic country. The young Talleyrand learned the customs and the most refined forms of French high society, among which we must highlight calm and sophistication, concepts that he applied throughout his life. Although he was expected to be a prominent military man, his illness eventually led him to the ecclesiastical path. It was a fairly quiet life, but he lost most of his rights and the noble titles he was supposed to inherit.

In 1779 he was ordained as a priest and obtained a degree in theology from the Sorbonne. Just a year later, Talleyrand was appointed General Agent of the Clergy of France, a position comparable to that of minister in civil life. His task was to defend and administer the goods of the church against the interests of Louis XVI. That is why in 1789 they appointed him bishop of Autun and deputy of the clergy for the States General. Talleyrand enjoyed a great reputation that he had achieved thanks to the excellent and brilliant management he carried out in ecclesiastical offices.

As he held public office, was molding his mentality towards liberal ideals. So much so that he supported the revolutionary sector of the Third Estate and in the Constituent Assembly he advocated the delivery of ecclesiastical goods to the nation. Throughout the French Revolution, supported the civil constitution of the clergy and ended up leaving the ecclesiastical state to focus on his career as a politician and diplomat.

This is what led him to be Ambassador of France in London in 1792. Its mission was to inform the British monarchy of the revolutionary news of the French government. In July of that same year, he returned to the Gallic country but, anticipating the Terror of Robespierre, left again for Great Britain. However, in 1794 he was expelled, so he moved to the United States. There he made a considerable fortune thanks to the financial and real estate sector.

The fall of Robespierre and the Terror regime that he had established, made it possible for Talleyrand to return to France in 1796. He took advantage of the chaotic political situation in the country to become Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Board between 1797 and 1799. Seeing the decline in which the government was, he contributed to the Brumaire coup and obtained, again, the foreign portfolio.

Talleyrand was a faithful servant of Napoleon, who appointed him Grand Chamberlain, Prince of Benevento and Vice-Elector. However, a series of events, such as the breakdown of relations with Austria or the Russian campaign, caused him to resign, although he continued to retain the titles, concessions and recognitions of the Empire.

After the Erfurt Conference in 1809, in which it was intended to change the European political order, he played a double game that cost him disgrace. On the one hand, informed Alexander I of all the movements of the emperor, but on the other he advised him on political tasks. The result was that Napoleon discovered him and made a public trial against him. Talleyrand defended himself in a sublime way and exposed the French president.

On the eve of the Napoleon's abdication, to whose fall he contributed intensely, Talleyrand became head of the provisional government in April 1814 until the return of Louis XVIII. This appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs and French plenipotentiary in the Congress of Vienna, where he took advantage of the differences between the allies in favor of France. It was assumed that the Gauls were going to be sanctioned in a very powerful way by the European powers, but the truth is that Talleyrand's manipulative and political prowess avoided sanctions against France and, in fact, raised it as power.

After Waterloo and again as head of government in July 1815, Talleyrand had to resign on September 23. At the end of the Restoration, he passed into the liberal opposition and intervened in the establishment of the July monarchy. Luis-Felipe appointed him ambassador to London between 1830 and 1834, a position in which Talleyrand achieved the greatest success of European diplomacy: aligning Spain, Portugal, France and Great Britain in the same alliance.

Thereafter, he withdrew to reconcile with the church and remained in its castle until his death on May 17, 1838. He left behind a legacy that was much discussed by the French. Some think that he was a hero who only worked for the benefit of the country, while others see him as a treacherous politician, who did everything to achieve his goals.

Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was little he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.

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