January 21 1815: Solemn Requiem Mass in Vienna

“As if to underline his increasingly central role, Talleyrand organised a solemn Requiem Mass to be said in the Stephansdom cathedral on 21 January [1815], the anniversary of the death of Louis XVI at the guillotine in 1793. A huge catafalque reaching almost up to the cathedral vault was erected in the middle of the nave, decorated in grandiose but sombre style, with a crown, sceptre and the insignia of the King’s orders. The congregation was dressed in black, the ladies with long veils. Salieri conducted the requiem. Talleyrand’s own verdict was that ‘it was the most beautiful, the most grandiose, the most terrible sight’. But many felt the effect was ruined by the whining voice of the prelate who read out the eulogy he had composed. Talleyrand used the solemnity of this occasion as a pretext for a number of declarations on the theme of legitimacy and the inalienable rights of monarchs, and to apply this to the case of Saxony. The intention was to cast Alexander and Frederick William in the role of villains. But while Talleyrand was delighted with the event, it is unlikely that it had the desired effect, for that very evening all those who had been mourning Louis XVI were dancing at Countess Zichy’s ball, Alexander the first among them.”

 —  Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski

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