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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (Périgord, 1754 – 1838) was a French statesman and diplomat famous for serving under multiple masters as France underwent revolution and reaction.

He was born to a rich aristocratic family. A childhood accident left him lame so instead of the military his family sent him into the Catholic priesthood and purchased for him the bishopric of Autun, which paid very well.[1] He represented the clergy at the États Généraux and helped to draft the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, He took the lead in 1789 in the nationalization of Church lands, a major event in the French Revolution. He became very rich as administrator of the seized lands. The pope saw him as a principal villain of the religious schism into which France then plunged, and he was excommunicated in 1792.[2] When his enemies came to power he temporarily moved to New York, returning to France in 1796.

He was foreign Minister under the Directory from 1797 where he mismanaged affairs with the U.S. leading to the Quasi-War of 1798. After the failure of Napoleon's plans for a New World Empire, he sold Spanish Louisiana to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, with France keeping the $15 million paid by Washington. He aided the coup in 1799 that brought Napoleon to power, and remained held Foreign Minister under Napoleon (1799 – 1807), keeping track as major countries switched back and forth in the great war between France and Britain, In 1807 he resigned office and engaged in secret negotiations to have Napoleon deposed.

Talleyrand became head of the new French government after the fall of Napoleon in 1814 and recalled Louis XVIII to the throne. He played a major role in reorganizing Europe at the Congress of Vienna, 1814-1815. In 1830 he was instrumental in the overthrow of King Charles X and the accession of Louis Philippe.

Further reading

  • Brinton, Crane. The lives of Talleyrand (1963) excerpt and text search
  • Cooper, Duff. Talleyrand (2001) excerpt and text search
  • Lawday, David. Napoleon's Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand‎ (2007) 386 pages excerpts and text search
  • Stinchcombe, William. "Talleyrand and the American Negotiations of 1797-1798," Journal of American History, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Dec., 1975), pp. 575–590 in JSTOR


  1. His uncle, the archbishop of Rheims, made the arrangements.
  2. On his deathbed he became reconciled with the Catholic Church.