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Talleyrand was born into an aristocratic family in Paris but a foot injury in childhood left him unable to enter the anticipated military career. He was instead entered into a career within the Church, attending the Collège d'Harcourt and Saint-Sulpice College until the age of 21. He was ordained in 1779. In 1780 he became a Church representative to the Crown, an Agent-General. In 1789, due to the influence of his father, the already notably impious Talleyrand was appointed the Bishop of Autun.
In the States General assembly of 1789, he represented the clergy. During the French Revolution he supported the revolutionary cause. He assisted in the writing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and proposed the nationalisation of the Church, leading to his excommunication by the Pope and his resignation as Bishop. In 1792 he was sent to Great Britain to avert war, an effort that ultimately failed. Because of his aristocratic background, a warrant was issued for his arrest; he left for the United States in 1794 and did not return until 1796. In 1797 he became Foreign Minister. He aided the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire 1799 and soon after he was made Foreign Minister by Napoleon, although he rarely agreed with Napoleon's foreign policy. The Pope also released him from the ban of excommunication.
In 1803 Napoleon made him Grand Chamberlain and Vice-elector of the Empire, Talleyrand also bought the Chateau Valençay. In March 1804 he was involved in the kidnap and execution of the Duke of Enghien; in response to those events he made what was perhaps his most famous quip: "That was worse than a crime; it was a mistake". In 1806 he was made Sovereign Prince of Benevento (or Bénévent). However he resigned in 1807 over his opposition to the Franco-Russian Alliance and by 1809 he was even further from the Emperor, a break completed in 1812 with the attack on Russia.
His continuous intringue and plotting won him the following qualificative from Napoleon: "you are shit inside silk stockings".
When Napoleon was succeeded by Louis XVIII in April 1814 Talleyrand was one of the key creators of the restoration of the Bourbons while opposing the new legislation of Louis's rule. Talleyrand was the main French negotiator at the Congress of Vienna and he signed the Treaty of Paris (1814). It was due, in part, to his skills that the terms of the treaty were remarkably lenient towards France: the country returned to its 1792 boundaries with no reparations. His diplomatic manoeuverings at the Congress also benefitted France.
Napoleon's return to France in 1815 and his subsequent defeat, the Hundred Days, was a reverse for the diplomatic victories of Talleyrand, the second peace settlement was markedly less lenient and it was fortunate that the business of the Congress had been concluded. Talleyrand resigned in September, 1815 either over the second treaty or under pressure from opponents in France. He thereafter restricted himself to the role of 'elder statesman', criticising from the sidelines. Under King Louis-Philippe he was ambassador to London from 1830-34.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand died on May 17, 1838 and was buried at his château of Valençay.