L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grand - Madame Grand/Catherine de Talleyrand-Périgord, Princesse de Bénévent by Vigée Le Brun and Gérard

Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.

Very loosely adapted from the Metropolitan Museum's website - both paintings are in their collection - and other sources:

Noël-Catherine Verlée (or Worlée; 1761, Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu  – December 10, 1834, Paris), was the daughter of a minor French official posted to India. At the age of barely sixteen Catherine married a civil servant of Swiss descent working in Calcutta, George Francis Grand. The couple separated soon after, due to her brief but scandalous affair with Sir Philip Francis, a British politician. Subsequently, Madame Grand removed to London.

In about 1782 she moved to Paris where, being a beautiful blond, ill-educated but musical and clever, she became a very fashionable courtesan; the portrait that Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun painted of her in 1783 when she was only twenty-two attests to her lively personality and stunning looks at the time. She returned to Britain just before the French Revolution, but by 1794, with the Revolution waning, Madame Grand had returned to France.

Madame Grand now entered into a highly visible affair with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later prince de Bénévent, the brilliant - and infamously wily - statesman and former bishop of Autun, who had become a principal figure in the emerging government of the Directory. When she was arrested on suspicion of espionage in March 1798, Talleyrand secured her freedom. That same year, having been estranged from her husband for more than ten years, Madame Grand obtained a divorce in absentia.

Portrait by François Pascal Simon, baron Gérard, circa 1804-5.

Elaborate negotiations with Napoléon and the Vatican were required before the former bishop was allowed to marry, at Neuilly, on September 10, 1802; despite the First Consul's strong reservations, Napoléon and Joséphine signed their marriage contract. Upon their first official reception at the Tuileries, Napoléon is alleged to have remarked, "I hope that the good conduct of citoyenne Talleyrand will cause the fickleness of madame Grand to be forgotten." (The alternate - and more likely - version of the marriage negotiations is that Talleyrand was actually quite reluctant to regularize their union, and had to be coerced by Napoléon for the sake of propriety and his political career.)

With her less than respectable personal history, Napoléon ensured that Madame de Talleyrand was rarely at court; his Empress' own scandalous past was problem enough. At any rate, the couple quickly drifted apart, living separately; Talleyrand had already taken an official mistress, Madame Dubois, when he married, and was soon preoccupied with other women. Eventually, he arranged that his wife should go and live - luxuriously - in London. She returned to Paris in 1817, during the Restoration, and lived there quietly until her death at the age of seventy-three.


  1. Reading this prompts me to recommend two books that I loved reading (more than once) about a portion of the life story of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, and his unique relationship with Dorothea, Grand Duchess of Courland, wife of Peter, Grand Duke of Courland. These book are "By Influence & Desire" by Rosalynd Pflaum and "The Congress Dances" by Susan Mary Alsop. There is also a fascinating relationship between Talleyrand and the daughter of the Grand Duchess, also named Dorothea, who was married to Talleyrand's nephew Edmond. If the interested historical reader can get these books and read about these events and the people you'll have a wonderful peak into a lost world. There is some info in the books about Talleyrand's wife Catherine. The best part was the intrigue and blatant manipulation by Talleyrand of the attendees to the Congress of Vienna; I keep thinking that someone needs to use this as a plot for a mini-series. Peggy

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Peggy! I know of both books; I believe that somewhere along the way I've skimmed the latter. Yes, In both his public and private roles, Talleyrand was decidedly a rascal! ; )