An aristocrat who became a revolutionary; a churchman with a string of mistresses and an addiction to gambling; a trusted minister of Napoleon – this extraordinary figure whose blazing career survived five successive regimes is known to history simply as Talleyrand. Born in 1754 to one of France’s grand families and destined for the Church, Talleyrand was swept into the Revolution, then exiled, but returned to serve the Directorate. He was instrumental in the coup that brought Napoleon to power, but went on to betray him to restore the Bourbon monarchy. Although ofen reviled as a ‘traitor', Talleyrand only ever served one mistress, France: ‘I never abandoned a regime, until it abandoned itself’.
Our new edition of this brilliantly evocative biography is introduced by John Julius Norwich, Duff Cooper’s son, who reflects on the clear empathy between author and subject, ‘Both loved the pleasures of life: good food, good wine, beautiful women’. Duff Cooper has a gift for a memorable turn of phrase: on Talleyrand’s neglected childhood he comments, ‘the modern method reflects greater credit on the parents; but evidence is not yet sufficient to prove that it produces a superior type of individual’; and on his reconciliation with the Church before his death, ‘The old diplomatist had set forth upon his last mission… he departed with his credentials in order, his passport signed’. First published in 1932 and never out of print since, this classic biography is indisputably the most elegant and entertaining study of Talleyrand.
‘Alfred Duff Cooper’s life of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Bénévente, is one of the classic works of British biography, rightly read today as much for its literary as its historical merits. Both writer and subject were famed as diplomats – Duff Cooper as Ambassador to Paris, Talleyrand as a serial Foreign Minister of France, most notably under Napoleon – but also as suave wits, tasteful bon viveurs and insatiable sexual adventurers. In Talleyrand, biographer and subject together create something sublime.’
Review by fchin123 on 1st Jan 2013
"Lively, sympathetic account of one of the most intelligent minds of his age. The dying scene is gripping -- would Talleyrand give in to all those religious bigots and confess his sins? However as usua..." [read more]