Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Talleyrand and Napoleon

Made foreign minister in 1797, Talleyrand hitched his career to the rising fortune of Napoleon Bonaparte (see Napoleon I. His part in the XYZ Affair and his endorsement of Napoleon's plan for seizing Egypt in 1798 had unfortunate consequences for France. In July, 1799, he resigned his post, only to resume it after helping Napoleon gain power under the Consulate (Nov., 1799). He helped to bring about the Concordat of 1801 with the Vatican, shortly after which the ban of excommunication against him was lifted (1802). The following year he was appointed to the lucrative position of grand chamberlain under Napoleon, now emperor, who in 1806 created him prince of Benevento.

Napoleon tended more and more to ignore Talleyrand's cautious advice, and the split between the two widened as Talleyrand tried unsuccessfully to restrain Napoleon's ambitions. Despite the accusations of Talleyrand's enemies (especially Joseph Fouché), he apparently played only a passive role in the abduction of the duke of Enghien. Napoleon's moves to gain Spain triggered Talleyrand's resignation (1807), although he remained in the imperial council and continued as grand chamberlain until early 1809. Ironically, Talleyrand was assigned the distasteful duty of keeping the three Spanish princes seized at Bayonne captive in his château.

Convinced of the necessity of a strong Austria to maintain European stability, Talleyrand, who accompanied Napoleon to the Congress of Erfurt (1808), secretly worked in Austria's rather than Napoleon's interest by persuading the Russian Czar Alexander I to oppose Napoleon's designs against Austria. He also had a hand in bringing about Napoleon's marriage to Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor Francis I in 1810. Napoleon's attack on Russia (1812) completed Talleyrand's alienation from the French emperor.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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