By David Lawday
Published Jan 2010
He took on Napoleon with a set of weapons that seemed unsuited to the task: flattery, courtesy and an alarmingly straight face. And he won. Quite as much as the Duke of Wellington it was the club-footed genius of French diplomacy who defeated the greatest conqueror since Julius Caesar. This is the story of Prince Talleyrand, who attracts as much scorn as Napoleon wins glory. To his critics the arch-aristocrat who delivered France and all Europe from the Emperor’s follies is the prince of vice – turncoat, hypocrite, liar, plotter, God-baiter and womanizer, and, to make matters worse, highly successful at them all. In this life of the master diplomat, David Lawday follows Talleyrand’s remarkable career through the most turbulent age Europe has known – the mad leap from France’s rotting ancient regime into the Revolution of 1789, Robespierre’s Terror, Napoleon’s epic wars and dramatic fall, and on through restored kings to more revolution. The performance by ‘Old Talley’, as a suspicious England called him, peaks in an extraordinarily perverse relationship with Napoleon which this book for the first time explores in intimate detail. Their bond had to be mutually faithless: Napoleon lived for war and conquest, Talleyrand for peace, comfort and the civilised French way of life. The richly flawed and abundantly gifted character laid bare by David Lawday is the man to whom diplomats continue to look today for the subtlest tricks of the negotiator’s art. A good 150 years before a united Europe came into being, Talleyrand’s actions laid the ground for it – as they have for a permanent peace now enduring for two centuries between France and her oldest enemy, Britain.