One reason why Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838) has proved such a popular subject for biography is that there is plenty of meat in him. His life was long and spanned a tumultuous period; he was active almost throughout it, and often centre-stage. He was born the same year as the decapitated French King, Louis XVI, and was a few months older than the tragic Marie-Antoinette. Yet he survived into Victorian times, dying the year after the young queen came to the throne, the same in which Dickens published Nicholas Nickleby and Surtees his Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities.
Talleyrand lied all the time, especially about himself. And people lied about him. As he himself remarked: ‘People always say too much ill or too much good of me. I enjoy the honours of exaggeration.’ His latest biographer, Robin Harris, has to steer his way between many pitfalls, and on