The Objects

25th Mar 1815

Source:, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France


Contributed by: Charles Beiruti

With news of Napoleon's return from Elba having reached Vienna, on 25th March 1815 the allies reaffirmed the treaty of Chaumont (a pact signed by Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia on 1 March 1814) by which they had promised to support each other if any one of them was threatened by the 'enemy' once again troubling the peace of Europe. Talleyrand, Louis XVIII's representative in Vienna, did not take part in the negotiations but was presented with a copy for the King of France to endorse. At this stage, they all thought Louis still in Paris...

In an era full of captivating personalities, the French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838) surely counts among the most intriguing. Having served as a diplomat under successive French regimes from the Revolution to the July Monarchy, his name has become a byword for political acumen and cunning, but also for opportunism and betrayal. The cartoon shown here, which was first published anonymously in 1815, depicts Talleyrand with six different heads, each of which pledges allegiance to a different regime, including the Monarchy, the Empire, and the Restoration. In the one hand he holds a bishop’s crosier, and in the other, a weather vane, symbolic of his remarkable ability to predict (and then adapt) to shifts within the political climate.

As well as a born survivor, Talleyrand was also a prodigious diplomat, and served as France’s chief representative during the Congress of Vienna. There, he was able to engineer a relatively lenient settlement for his country, which was allowed to retain the frontiers of 1792. Under King Louis-Philippe (1830-1848), Talleyrand served as French ambassador to London, where he became the toast of British high society. He died in 1838 and was buried in the Loire Valley. (See Robin Harris, Talleyrand: Betrayer and Saviour of France (London: John Murray, 2007) )