Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand

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Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, sometime Bishop of Autun and (from 1806) sovereign Prince of Benevento, was a French diplomat, goverment minister and political manipulator. Born to a noble but somewhat impoverished family in February 1754, he was disqualified by a club-foot (the result of an accident in babyhood) for a military career), and his parents - keeping him at a distance - destined him for the Church. He was ordained in 1779 and rose to the Bishopric of Autun ten years later; but his ready adherence to the revolutionary party, on whose behalf he took a lead in the confiscation of Church property by the State, earned him excommunication and compelled him to resign his office in 1791.

In 1792 Talleyrand found his métier as a diplomat, visiting London in order to sound out British attitudes to the French Revolution. (According to O'Brian in The Surgeon's Mate, Stephen Maturin met Talleyrand during this visit.) Later that year he returned as an exile, having been detected in a clandestine correspondence with the Comte de Provence who afterwards became King Louis XVIII of France. This kind of opportunistic double-dealing would remain characteristic of him. After a spell in the United States, Talleyrand was rehabilitated in 1796. He became an early supporter of Napoleon, whose seizure of power in 1799 owed much to Talleyrand's machinations. Talleyrand was now appointed Minister of External Relations, a post which he held until 1807; as such he was largely responsible for the negotiations which followed Napoleon's great victories of the period.

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