As we approached Brionne, the face of the country became more uneven; and we passed an extensive tract of uncultivated chalk hills, resembling the downs of Wiltshire.—Brionne itself lies in a valley watered by the Risle: the situation is agreeable, and advantageous for trade. The present number of its inhabitants does not amount to two thousand; and there is no reason to apprehend that the population has materially decreased of late years. But in the times of Norman rule, Brionne was a town of more importance: it had then three churches, besides an abbey and a lazar-house. At present a single church only remains; and this is neither large, nor handsome, nor ancient, nor remarkable in any point of view. We found in it a monument of the revolution, which I never saw elsewhere, and which I never expected to see at all. The age of reason was a sadly irrational age.—The tablet containing the rights and duties of man, disposed in two columns, like the tables of the Mosaic law, is still suffered to exist in the church, though shorn of all its republican dignity, and degraded into the front of a pew.
On the summit of a hill that overhangs the town, stood formerly the castle of the Earls of Brionne; and a portion of the building, though it be but an insignificant fragment, is still left. The part now standing consists of little more than two sides of the square dungeon, The walls, which are about fifty feet in height, appear crumbling and ragged, as they have lost the greater part of their original facing. Yet their thickness, which even now exceeds twelve feet, may enable them to bid defiance for many a century, to “the heat of the sun, and the furious winter’s rages.”—Nearly the half of one of the sides, which is seventy feet long, is occupied by three flat Norman buttresses, of very small projection. No arched door-way, no window remains; nor any thing, except these buttresses, to give a distinct character to the architecture: the hill is so overgrown with brush-wood, that though traces of foundation are discernible in almost every part of it, no clear idea can be formed of the dimensions or plan of the building. Its importance is sufficiently established by its having been the residence of a son or brother of Richard IInd, Duke of Normandy, on whose account, the town of Brionne, with the adjacent territory, was raised into an earldom. Historians speak unequivocally of its strength. During the reign of William the Conqueror, it was regarded as impregnable. This king was little accustomed to meet with disappointment or even with resistance; but the castle of Brionne defied his utmost efforts for three successive years. Under his less energetic successor, it was taken in a day. Its possessor, Robert, Earl of Brionne, felt himself so secure within his towers, that he ventured, with only six attendants, to oppose the whole army of the Norman Duke; but the besiegers observed that the fortress was roofed with wood; and a shower of burning missiles compelled the garrison to surrender at discretion.—The castle was finally dismantled by the orders of Charles Vth.