What is a poor teenage girl from the French settlement in India to do, betrayed by her husband, her family separated by war and given up by a patron whose duel marked the end of his India career? In this, the first biography of Mme Talleyrand, Alex Hunter explores the life of a figure of history that deserves to have her story told, not just in the footnotes.
In seeking a new life, Catherine must learn how to make it in a man’s world. She becomes attached to a young Englishman with troubles enough of his own. They escape to Paris and enjoy the salad days of Louis XVI’s cultured society until her lover’s career move once more leaves Catherine to her own devices. No longer a naïve teenager, she cultivates her society connections, careless of the gathering revolutionary storm. Unprepared for the bloody insurrection of 10th August 1792, she flees to England where she finds a freebooter prepared to help her, for a price, and is introduced to the nascent British secret service. Struggling to live independently, she meets a French emigré, the disgraced bishop Talleyrand, down on his luck, and resolves to help him. Little did she know that this crippled ‘Pegleg’ would one day become the new Republic’s Foreign Minister and in a position to repay her kindness, not least when she is arrested as a spy. Is it just mutually convenient respect or is there a deeper attraction growing?
Despite Josephine being Catherine’s ally, Napoleon objects to his key minister keeping Catherine as a mistress. Is Catherine to be abandoned yet again or can they be married?
As an ex-bishop, he would need a papal dispensation. As a former courier for the British, she could yet be exposed as a spy.
What will it take for the loving couple to secure public recognition that she is no longer the mistress from the Indies and he no longer the philanderer of the past?