Talleyrand’s authority over Napoleon

March 23, 2017

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

Talleyrand was the only person who had authority over Napoleon and the only one whom Napoleon never intimidated. He took the liberty of displaying a respectful impertinence which would not have been tolerated in the case of any other person…. “Talleyrand, where have you made so much money?” asked Napoleon.—“Sire, I bought Government Stock on the 17th of Brumaire and sold it on the 19th.” That was a familiarity dating back to the beginning of the Consulate. On the day when the First Consul was waiting feverishly for news of the signing of the Treaty of Amiens, Talleyrand called upon him with the signed treaty in his pocket, and, without saying anything about it, entered into a lengthy conversation on secondary matters. Just as he was taking leave of him, Talleyrand remarked: “By the by, I am going to give you a great pleasure. The treaty has been signed—and here it is!”—“Well!” exclaimed Bonaparte, “why didn’t you tell me so immediately”—“Ah! Because you wouldn’t have listened to what I had to say about all the other things. When you are happy, there’s no getting near you.” Often he kept back important documents until Napoleon was in a frame of mind which would make him receptive of his advice.

Catherine Worlée, Princess of Talleyrand-Périgord

In the case of such an impulsive man as he was, it was urgent to wait. Napoleon forced him to marry an adventuress whom he “attached to his neck like a sign-board,” thus discrediting him, so as to break him in and enslave him. Having, on the day following the legal confirmation of the union, convoked him, Napoleon said: “I hope that Citoyenne Talleyrand will forget Mme Grant and be an honor to you.” The new husband replied: “Citoyenne Talleyrand has only to take Citoyenne Bonaparte as a model.”

Comte de Saint-Aulaire, Talleyrand, trans. Geroge Frederic Lees and Frederick J. Stephens (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1937), 181-2.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 569



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