Napoleon and Talleyrand: Pseudo-Royalty and Age-Old Nobility

November 24, 2016

Napoleon with (far left) Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.

Napoleon with (far left) Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.

Napoleon began with a few remarks…to the effect that his…Ministers had no right even to think for themselves, far less to give their thoughts expression. To doubt was for them the beginning of treason, to differ from him was the crime itself. With that he turned upon Talleyrand, who, in a characteristically graceful and negligent attitude, was half leaning against a small table by the fire. For one solid half-hour, without interruption, a steady flow of invective poured from the Emperor’s lips. There was hardly a crime omitted from the indictment, hardly a word of abuse that was not applied. He was told that he had never worthily performed a single duty, that he had deceived everyone with whom he had ever dealt, that he did not believe in God and would sell his own father. He was accused of responsibility for the execution of the Duke of Enghien and for the Peninsular War. Maddened by the impassivity of his victim, the Corsican lost all control and proceeded to taunt him with his lameness and to throw in his face the infidelity of his wife. Finally, shaking his fist and seeming to be upon the point of striking him, he informed his Vice-Grand Elector, in the language of the camp, that he was nothing but so much dung in a silk stocking….

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand

Talleyrand never changed his attitude. No spark of color appeared in his pale cheeks. No flicker of an eyelid betrayed the fact that he was conscious of being addressed.

The meeting broke up at the end of the tirade; the Emperor was unfit for further business. As Talleyrand limped slowly down the broad corridor he turned to one of those what had been watching his ordeal and said, calmly, “What a pity that such a great man should be so ill-bred!”


Duff Cooper, Talleyrand (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932), 169-70.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 552



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