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History Lessons by Jonathan Gifford

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CHARLES MAURICE DE TALLEYRAND-PERIGORD

(1754–1838)

Talleyrand was Napoleon’s Foreign Minister and later Grand Chamberlain and Vice-Elector of the Empire. Mannered, devious, gammy-legged, a consummate diplomat, Talleyrand’s aristocratic background led during the French Revolution to the issue of a warrant for his arrest, but he had wisely absented himself—first to England and then to America—and survived when so many of his peers were executed. He has been described, variously, as ‘the Prince of Diplomats’ (which he was) and as a cynical and opportunist racketeer and traitor (which he also was, but in the most distinguished way).

Talleyrand was a contradictory figure, in many ways. Everything about Talleyrand was redolent of pre-revolutionary ...

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