Born in Roanne on 4 August, 1756, Champagny served in the royal navy between 1774 and 1787 and participated in the American War of Independence. Upon his return, he was made chevalier de Saint-Louis, and served as the député in the Etats généraux on behalf of the Forez nobility. He was arrested during the Terror and granted his freedom after the Thermidorian Reaction; between then and the Brumaire coup d’état, he remained in retirement. He re-entered public life after Brumaire to take up a role in the Navy Ministry commission, before being made a conseiller d’Etat after a meeting with Napoleon Bonaparte. Of the latter, Champagny commented that he had originally only seen him as a tyrant, destined to rule only briefly. A protégé of Lebrun, the latter persuaded him to take the post of ambassador in Vienna. According to Talleyrand, Champagny’s “modest and soft” manner ensured his success in the post when “interpretation” was often needed to present the First Consul’s angry vitriol in a more diplomatic light. He worked hard to counter Metternich and the pro-war party that held sway at the Austrian court, and succeeded in persuading the Emperor Francis to recognise Bonaparte’s reorganisation of Germany. He was recognised for his efforts in 1805 when he was made grand-aigle of the Légion d’Honneur.*
On 8 August, 1804, he succeeded Chaptal as Interior Minister, but not without complaining to his predecessor of the difficulties that awaited him in such a role. He went on to succeed Talleyrand as Minister for Exterior Relations in 1807, a nomination that demonstrated Napoleon’s desire to fill the post with a loyal supporter willing to execute his orders to the letter. He secured the abdication of Charles IV of Spain and negotiated the Treaty of Vienna with Austria, in 1809. He was made Comte de l’Empire in 1808 and became the Duc de Cadore on 15 August, 1809. The title (an eastern region of the Italian Alps) is a reference to the creation of the Illyrian Provinces. He was a passionate believer in the Continental Blockade and wrote a long report in 1810 supporting the annexation of Holland to the French Empire. He was also strongly in favour of developing commercial relations between Russia and France, but fell out with Napoleon as France’s relationship with Russia changed for the worse from 1810. He retired from his post on 16 April 1811. As one of the grand officiers of the Maison de l’Empereur, he occupied the role of interim Secretary of State, but refused the Navy Ministry. In 1813, he became a senator, and followed Marie-Louise and the government to Blois in 1814. He was charged with the mission of delivering a letter from Marie-Louise to Francis II, the empress’s father, asking the Austrian emperor to put pressure on the allies to allow Napoleon II to succeed Napoleon. Returning to Paris, he rallied to Louis XVIII, who made him a Peer of France. During the Hundred Days, he refused any position that was likely to bring him into direct contact with Napoleon and was active during the Second Restoration. He died in Paris on 3 July, 1834.
Source: Dictionnaire Napoléon (tr. & ed., with permission, H.D.W.)