The Princess of Chalais dispensed Christian charity every Sunday

November 25, 2013

Photo of Chateau de Chalais by Michael Stuckey.

Photo of Chateau de Chalais by Michael Stuckey.

[The Princess of Chalais] had her personal pew before the altar. Beside it she installed a small seat for Talleyrand. After mass, he followed her into a spacious hall in the chateau she called the “apothecarium.” The hall was lined with shelves and tables containing pots of various ointments and powders which the chateau had concocted over the years, and giant bottles of elixirs and syrups refilled annually by the village doctor…. In closed cupboards were supplies of bandages and rolls of finest linen of different cuts and sizes. Outside the hall sat ailing villagers and peasants who wanted help, and the princess and her limping heir passed between them with a greeting for everyone before entering the larger room, where she took up position in a velvet armchair in front of a black lacquered desk, wearing her Sunday bonnet and a small fur around her neck and shoulders, whatever the season. Her senior chambermaid called in the sick, one by one. A pair of nursing nuns inquired of each patient the nature of their illness or injury, then proposed a remedy. The princess considered their prescription and picked out the pot containing the proposed cure, whereupon the gentleman who had accompanied her to mass went to fetch it. Tallyerand, who had a chair beside the black desk, held out lengths of linen for his great-grandmother to cut into bandages and compresses of suitable size….

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevente. Painting by François Gérard.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevente. Painting by François Gérard.

It was music to his child’s ear to hear visitors to Chalais saying that the Talleyrand name had always been revered in the region. They would tell him his grandfather had given them their land; such and such a Talleyrand had built the church; such and such a Talleyrand lady had given their own wife a crucifix. Great families never change, they’d say, and he would surely grow up to be as great.

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David Lawday, Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), 15-6.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 337

 

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