In fact the first time I visited Brantome, and walked down the river to Bourdeilles, I passed this rock and entertained no suspicion that it contained anything remarkable, that it was as a matter of fact, a mere shell, with all the artificial work within. Why was it that every city nay, every little town had to be not only walled about but to have its outposts?
Its name has been inextricably entangled with literature by Pierre de Bourdeilles, Seigneur de Brantome, author of the famous and scandalous 'Memoires' terrible chronicles of sixteenth-century venality, intrigue, and corruption, written in a spirit of the gayest cynicism.
The influence of the Byzantine cathedral that rose in the old Roman city by the Isle spread far, and numerous churches in Perigord bear witness to the imitative zeal which it inspired, especially in the application of domes to the vaulting of the nave. This arrangement is frequently to be found in connection with the pointed arch, and such is the case at Bourdeilles.
This was the castle of Bourdeilles, the seat of the family of which the Abbe de Brantome was a younger son. I was soon able to get a closer view of it. It is one of the most instructive remnants of feudalism in Perigord, and one of the most picturesque, by the contrast of its great gloomy keep and frowning ramparts with the peaceful beauty of the valley below.
His ecclesiastical function, however, was confined to the enjoyment of the title and benefice, for if ever man was penetrated to the marrow by the spirit of worldliness, it was Pierre de Bourdeilles. What he has written about the women of his time is something more than the critical observations of a chronicler who was also a caustic analyst of the female character.
"What did you think of yesterday's fete?" asked Bourdeilles, seigneur of Brantome, approaching Mademoiselle de Piennes, one of the queen-mother's maids of honor. "Messieurs du Baif et du Bellay were inspired with delightful ideas," she replied, indicating the organizers of the fete, who were standing near. "I thought it all in the worst taste," she added in a low voice.
But as she still kept her love in the recesses of her heart, she died when Lavalliere fell before Metz, as has been elsewhere related by Messire Bourdeilles de Brantome in his tittle-tattle.
The tall donjon, 130 feet high, and most of the outer wall, are of the fourteenth century. The inner wall encloses a sixteenth-century mansion, marked with none of the picturesqueness of the Renaissance period, but heavy and graceless. In the interior, however, are sculptured chimney-pieces and other interesting details. This residence was built by the sister-in-law of Pierre de Bourdeilles.
In 1479, on All Saints' day, the moment at which this history begins, vespers were ending in the cathedral of Tours. The archbishop Helie de Bourdeilles was rising from his seat to give the benediction himself to the faithful.
But on board the Queen's own galley were three others of Guise or Lorraine uncles the Duc d'Aumale, the Grand Prior, and the Marquis d'Elbeuf with M. Danville, son of the Constable of France, and a number of French gentlemen of lower rank, among whom one notes especially young Pierre de Bourdeilles, better known afterward in literary history as Sieur de Brantome, and a sprightly and poetic youth from Dauphine, named Chastelard, one of the attendants of M. Danville.