Saturday, September 5, 2009


“How many times have I stopped short when exploring Talleyrand’s epic struggle against Napoleon’s imperial overreach and thought, aha! Yes, if only our world’s lone superpower at this outset of the 21st century were to lend him an ear. He identified for all ages the ultimate foible of empire. The alert he sounded two hundred years ago to a military genius who bestrode a vast empire of his own making rings all the bells: ‘I attest that any system which aims at taking freedom by open force to other peoples will only make that freedom hated and prevent its triumph.’”

This passage from Lawday’s introductory chapter to his life of Talleyrand illustrates his admiration for the French statesman. In it he claims his hero laid the basis for the ending of the ancient enmity between England and France and their subsequent alliance from then till now.

Talleyrand was born to an impoverished noble family. He had a club foot and therefore could not follow the family tradition of service in the military. He was by-passed by his younger brother and against his wishes destined for the church. Ordained he rose quickly through the ranks to become a bishop. That did not prevent him hopping into the beds of several aristocratic ladies – indeed it probably helped through their support.

As the sweep of events led towards the French Revolution Talleyrand rode the tide, leading the charge he hoped towards a constitutional monarchy. Seen as a traitor by most of the clergy he proposed that the vast properties of the Church be transferred to the state in exchange for salaries paid by the state. For his acceptance of the civil constitution of the church and the consecration of new bishops for that church he was excommunicated by the Pope. He was lucky, just before the worse part of the terror he was appointed ambassador to England. He rode out that storm in exile.

That is as far as I have read at present.

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