Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Prince of Diplomats

The serious looking fellow above is one Charles Maurie de Talleyrand, born this day 1754 in Paris, France. He was born with a club foot that, after a family council, was deemed to prevent him from pursuing the family's usual military career. His fate was to be shunted off to a career in the church. He was duly ordained a priest in 1779, and through the connections of his family and friends was made Bishop of Autun in 1789. Pretty clever of him since he was by that time fairly well known to be a non-believer. That year was to be an ominous year for France, the Revolution swept across the land, and Talleyrand, with his background, was in a tricky position. He support the revolution, and even helped to write the Declaration on the Rights of Man. He was sent to England twice between 1792 and 1794 in the hopes of being able to avert war between England and France. His mission was not a success and he was expelled from England by William Pitt in 1794. He spent two years in the United States, a sometimes bank clerk, and a sometimes house guest of Aaron Burr, before being allowed to return to France in 1796. He became foreign minister in 1797 (for what was to be the first of four times), managed to get himself implicated in the XYZ affair, and attached his wagon to the rising star of Napoleon. He became Napoleon's foreign minister, holding the post from 1799 until 1807 when he resigned his post in protest of France's alliance with Russia. He became more and more estranged from the Emperor until the break was complete in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia. It was while serving under Napoleon that he began to accept bribes from opposing powers. Believing that Napoleon's endless ambitions were going to lead France to destruction, Talleyrand began looking out for number one, and with Talleyrand number one was always Talleyrand. His relationship with Napoleon got so bad that at one point Napoleon, in front of a large group of people, said that "he could break Talleyrand as easily a breaking a glass," and that Talleyrand was "shit in a silk stocking." Talleyrand's clever reply was "Pity that such a great man should have been so badly brought up." Talleyrand survived Napoleon's fall, and eventually became foreign minister under the newly crowned Louis XVIII, even going the famous Congress of Vienna as France's chief negotiator. A clever man who can be foreign minister to the government before Napoleon, the foreign minister of Napoleon, and foreign minister to the government after Napoleon. He was considered a womanizer, and a great wit. A couple of my favourite quotes of his are
"Regimes may fall and fail, but I do not."
"I am more afraid of an army of one hundred sheep led by a lion than an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep
." and one last one that I find absolutely brilliant. When he was informed of the death of the Turkish ambassador to France, Talleyrand said "I wonder what he meant by that?" Sure he was crooked, and sure he was a bastard, but at least you knew that on the front end, perhaps some of today's politicians should take lessons from him. He lived to a ripe old age of 84, and survived almost all the other bastards he had dealings with. So, for being a slippery bastard that always seemed to survive, and doing it with such cleverness, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand (February 2nd, 1754-May 17th, 1838, at the age of 84), you are my (161st) hero of the day.

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