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, government 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 was in London at the time and met Talleyrand or at least some members of his staff.) 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. While capable of gross flattery towards his master, Talleyrand was by no means an uncritical admirer; he tried to resist the humiliation of Austria, the dismemberment of Prussia and the drastic interference in Spanish affairs which set Napoleon's brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. (Napoleon cynically entrusted the displaced Spanish royal family to Talleyrand's care at his own château of Valençay - effectively making him their gaoler.) At the Congress of Erfurt (September 1808), Talleyrand worked behind Napoleon's back to harden Tsar Alexander I's previously complaisant attitude towards Napoleon. In January 1809 the breach between the Emperor and his Grand Chamberlain (as Talleyrand now was) became open; warned by messages from his mother and stepson, Napoleon rushed back from Burgos in Spain to call Talleyrand to account and berated him for half an hour in front of a group of ministers and court officials, calling him a thief, a coward, a man who would sell his own father and finally 'a silk stocking full of s**t'. Talleyrand escaped any further penalties than the loss of his post as chamberlain, but he was never afterwards in Napoleon's confidence, and within weeks we find him revealing French war plans to the Austrian ambassador Metternich; he afterwards trafficked with Russia and Britain on similar terms, sometimes plainly demanding large sums of money in return. Thus the scene was set for Talleyrand's open change of side at Napoleon's first abdication in 1814.

During the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X (1815-30) Talleyrand took little part in public affairs, devoting himself to sensual pleasures (his amours had been notorious even during his clerical days) and to the composition of his Memoirs. Under Louis-Philippe, however, he served as French Ambassador in London (1830-34). He died at Valençay on 17 May 1838.

Talleyrand was for some years the owner of Château Haut-Brion, home of one of Jack Aubrey's favourite wines.

>===In the Canon===

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "The Surgeon's Mate"  follow.

Page references are to the HarperCollins paperback (1996)

Chapter 5, p.141: "'Prodigious,' said Stephen. 'And yet in a way one might say that the whole of life is a tissue of prodigious coincidences: as for example that at the very moment we attempt to cross the road this particular coach and six should come by; yet though extremely unlikely it is a fact. And the glabrous face within belongs to Monsieur de Talleyrand-Périgord.' Stephen took off his hat; the glabrous face returned his bow."

Chapter 11, p. 357 et seqq.: [ Duhamel, the agent who has conducted Jack, Stephen and Jagiello to the Temple, now makes a veiled proposition to Stephen - freedom as reward for the undertaking of a secret mission. He mentions Diana's great diamond, which she has sold to purchase Stephen's release. He does not name his principal but, in a 'perhaps calculated indiscretion', mentions Valençay.]

Page 372: "'You will not remember me, Dr Maturin,' said the first man, advancing. 'D'Anglars: I had the honour of meeting you when I was attached to the suite of Monsieur de Talleyrand-Périgord during his embassy to London [ . . . ]'

"'I remember you perfectly, sir,' said Stephen [ . . . ] Stephen did have an affectionate admiration for the Bishop of Autun, or the Prince de Bénévent as he was now styled: a pillar of falsehood, a prodigy, a phoenix of duplicity, but excellent company, and by a certain standard quite sound."



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