Talleyrand, Count of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Talleyrand, Count of


(Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord). Born Feb. 2, 1754, in Paris; died there May 17, 1838. French diplomat and statesman. Duke of Benevento (1806–15) and duke of Dino (1817).

Talleyrand came from an aristocratic family and received an ecclesiastical education. He became an abbot and in 1775 a vicar-general in Reims. From 1788 to 1791 he was bishop of Autun. In 1789 he became a clerical deputy to the Estates General, where he revealed his sympathies for the representatives of the third estate. In November 1789, Talleyrand initiated in the assembly the proposal to secularize church lands, and in 1791 he was excommunicated by the pope. After the overthrow of the monarchy in August 1792 and the exposure of his secret dealings with the royal court, Talleyrand went into exile, first in Great Britain (1792–94) and then in the United States.

Talleyrand returned to France in 1796, after the establishment of the Directory. From 1797 to 1799 he was foreign minister. He participated in the coup d’etat of 18th Brumaire in 1799, and from 1799 to 1807, the period of the Consulate and Empire, Talleyrand again held the post of foreign minister. He came to the conclusion that the aspiration of Napoleon I for a worldwide empire brought about by wars of aggression was unrealizable. Foreseeing the inevitability of Napoleon’s fall, he entered into secret negotiations in 1808 with the Russian emperor Alexander I and subsequently with the Austrian foreign minister, Metternich, giving them information about internal conditions in France.

After the defeat of Napoleon and the entry of the troops of the anti-French coalition into Paris on Mar. 31, 1814, Talleyrand formed a provisional government and placed himself at its head, while retaining the post of foreign minister. He actively promoted the restoration of the Bourbons, emphasizing that they could resume power if they acknowledged the changes that had occurred in France. As head of the French delegation at the Congress of Vienna of 1814–15, Talleyrand strengthened France’s position by skillfully taking advantage of conflicts among the victorious powers. He was instrumental in bringing about the secret Treaty of Vienna of 1815, which in effect led to the disintegration of the anti-French coalition.

In 1815, after the Hundred Days, Talleyrand again briefly headed the government. Subsequently, he retired from political life for almost 15 years. From 1830 to 1834 he was ambassador to London.

Talleyrand was an example of the classic diplomat. Ostensibly the “servant of all the people,” he betrayed them and sold them out time and again. An adept politician and master of behind-the-scenes intrigue, Talleyrand espoused the interests of the bourgeoisie on fundamental issues. He was distinguished by great insight and the ability to exploit the weaknesses of his opponents; at the same time, he employed treachery and extreme unscrupu-lousness as means to achieve his goals. By his own admission, he took 14 contradictory oaths during his lifetime. Talleyrand was noted for his extraordinary self-interest. He took bribes from all governments and sovereigns needing his assistance: by approximate calculation, between 1797 and 1799 alone he received 13,650,000 gold francs, and for his success in weakening several insignificant articles of the Lunéville Treaty of 1801 he received 15 million francs from Austria.


Memuary. Moscow, 1959.


Tarle. E. V. Taleiran. In Soch., vol. 11. Moscow, 1961.
Lacour-Gayet, G. Talleyrand, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.