Cultivated and highly intelligent, the Prince de Talleyrand was a very gifted and versatile man. Well known for his involvement in events that occurred in France from the revolutionary period to the reign of Louis-Philippe, he was also a great active and influential lord in his domain of Valençay.
Born to a poor aristocratic family, Charles-Maurice had been interested in financial issues since he was a young boy. Through visits with entrepreneurs and bankers, his position as agent-general of the clergy and his work with Minister Calonne on the disastrous finances of the State, he became a great businessman who never hesitated to invest in companies or take a chance on real estate. Foreign Minister under several regimes, he coordinated negotiations to benefit both parties, practicing the “art of diplomacy” that we might call today the “art of bribing”.
His self-made fortune allowed him to live lavishly. And also acquire, embellish and maintain an area as important as that of Valençay.
At the request of Emperor Napoleon, Talleyrand built a theatre, inaugurated on 30 March 1810, to entertain the princes of Spain in assigned residence in Valençay. It hosted many performances. The music was provided by Jan-Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812), a famous Czech composer and great European artist.
In this theatre unique in the Loire Valley, sets and backdrops were also preserved.
The Talleyrand Festival is held here every two years.
Acquired in 1803, at the request and with the financial assistance of Napoleon Bonaparte, and based on what Dorothea of Courland will eventually bring later on, the area of 12,000 hectares then included the châteaux of Valençay, Luçay and Veuil.
Talleyrand seldom visited his domain after he acquired it because the Emperor monopolized his time and brought him along on his European expeditions. Nevertheless, he continued to renovate it and eventually built servants’ quarters and rearranged the gardens, park and vegetable patch. In turbulent times during the Peninsular War, which he openly disapproved after encouraging it, he returned home, still by order of the Emperor, to host the princes of Spain, as a prison guard! As part of his job, he made strict regulations that required perfect knowledge of proper etiquette. He cared about their comfort and entertainment, throughout their six years of captivity, even though he was often absent and had no affinity with them. Yet it was for them, and on the suggestion of Napoleon, that he built the theatre that can be visited today.
Although Charles-Maurice’s ability to anticipate most likely saved his life and allowed him to pursue a long and brilliant diplomatic career that eventually made him famous, he was unable to convince the leaders of his time. In addition to his ability to adapt to the alternating regimes, he always tried to express his own personal political thought. Hostile towards absolutism, censorship, regulations that hindered the development of France and war, his ideas were rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. These ideas carried the excitement from previous decades before the Revolution (in 1789, when he was 35 years old) in all directions and influenced his youth and training.
Cultural, intellectual, economic, administrative and scientific enthusiasm, while for the first time, the French population rose from 22 million under the reign of Louis XIV to 28.5 million under the reign of Louis XVI.
Curious about everything, Talleyrand was an 18th century type of liberal, in that he defended the freedom to learn, think, speak, trade and seek the best life possible. This “art of living” before the French Revolution that he searched for his entire life required a significant amount of wealth.
A key player in the history of France and Europe, Talleyrand will forever be a fascinating controversial figure. So much for his great diplomatic skills as for his amazing ability to adjust to different regimes that occupied the political scene of his time.
Distancing himself from those in power as soon as he thought the worst hit, he willingly supported the monarchy, Revolution, Directory, Consultate, the first Restoration and the July Monarchy. This man also had a wonderful sense of humor, for he once said: “I have not abandoned any government before it abandoned itself.”