Talleyrand’s Etiquette

March 3, 2016

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

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

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was born in Paris, 1754, to a noble family during the reign of Louis XV. During his long life, he became a bishop, politician and diplomat, working at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in another diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. Those he served often distrusted Talleyrand but, as with Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name “Talleyrand” has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy, but he is considered by many, to be “the patriarch of modern diplomacy.”

Talleyrand’s Etiquette

Talleyrand, like most diplomatists, was famous for his attention to the details of etiquette. He prided himself on his ability to adjust his mode of address to the rank and position of the person to whom he was speaking. On one occasion, when a number of distinguished men were dining with him, he varied his formula when inviting them to partake of beef in such a manner as to suit the rank of the restorative persons.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand

“May I have the honor of sending your highness a little beef?” he asked a Prince of the blood. To a Duke he said: “Monsigneur, permit me to send you a little beef.” “Marquis,” he continued, “May I send you some beef?” “Viscount, pray have a little beef.” “Baron, do you take beef?” ran the next interrogation. “Monsieur.” he said to an untitled gentleman, “Some beef?” To his secretary, he remarked, casually, “Beef?” But there was one gentleman left who deserved even less consideration than the secretary, and Talleyrand, poising his knife in the air, favored him with a mere look of interrogation. —New York Evening World, 1890



Reprinted with the kind permission of Maura J Graber
Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 514

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