Brittany Section

Brittany - Origins country and Duchy

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Brittany, a land of granite

Brittany spreads over the vast Massif Armoricain or Péninsule d'Armorique, a mountainous mass formed during the Paleozoic Era.

Six hundred million years ago, a vast sea entirely covered France when the Earth's crust heaved under the thrust of the magma.

This thrust, known as Hercynian Folding, created the mountainous masses: Massif Central in Auvergne, Ardennes and Vosges to the east and north, and the Massif Armoricain to the west.

These mountains were formed from solidified magma that produced impermeable crystalline rocks such as granite.

Mos of Brittany underground therefore consists of granite, a coarse-grained rock mainly composed of quartz and feldspar with flecks of mica.

Its colour depends on the amount of feldspar it contains.

Natural erosion and the alternation of extreme climates during the Mesozoic shaped the reliefs.

The Massif Armoricain then underwent a second tectonic thrust 60 million years ago.

This movement produced the rugged coastlines and beautiful coves that today turn the Breton coastline into one of the most attractive in France.

First Bretons in Armor and Argoat

Archaeological finds show the first traces of occupation go back to around 700,000BC.

However, we know very little about the Neolithic folks who erected the many megalithic sites between 5500BC and 2000BC.

The Celts settled in the region in the 4th century BC and founded the confederation of the tribes of Armorica.

Gallic Armorica was the vast coastal region that extended from Pornic to the south to Dieppe in Normandy.

Armor was the littoral, 'the country near the sea' and Argoat was inland Brittany, 'the wooded country'.

The Celts from Cornwall who landed on the shires of Armorica in the 5th century AD renamed it Britania.

They also refereed to it as Lesser Britannia, as opposed to Greater Britania - Great Britain, the land they came from!

Brittany (Breizh in Breton) is therefore one of the six Celtic Nations.

The others are Cornwall (Kernow), Ireland (Eire), Isle of Man (Mannin), Scotland (Alba) and Wales (Cymru).

Duchy of Brittany

In 845AD, King Louis the Pious appointed Nominoë (Nevenoe in Breton) as the first king of Brittany.

Nominoë is also considered the Father of the Breton Nation.

He indeed later opposed the administration of the Frankish Charles the Bald (Louis the Pious' successor).

He defeated him in 850AD and made Brittany an autonomous region.

The Normans invaded Brittany in the 10th century.

However, Nominoë's descendant, Alain II aka Alain Barbe-Torte (Wrybeard), defeated them and restored the region's autonomy.

He then created the Duchy of Brittany in 939.

Several leading Breton feudal dynasties ruled the duchy between the 10th and 12th centuries.

The kings of France and England fought over its strategic situation during the Hundred Years War.

As a result, the French kings appointed their best Breton vassals as dukes in order to retain control of the region.

However, these almighty lords soon realized the strategical stake of their duchy and fought to free themselves from royal authority.

The Duchy of Brittany, therefore, remained fully independent from 1360.

It was officially attached to the French Crown when Anne de Bretagne married King Charles VIII in 1491.

It became a French province in 1532, however, retained its autonomy and numerous privileges until the French Revolution.


Bretagne remained traditionally attached to the monarchy.

Jean Cottererau, aka Jean Chouan, indeed set up a counter-revolutionary uprising known as Chouanerie.

This civil war began in 1791 and ended tragically in 1800 with the defeat and annihilation of the royalist insurgents.

Map of dialects distribution in Brittany

Modern day Brittany

The inhabitants of Northeastern Brittany or Haute Bretagne (Upper Brittany) mostly speak Gallo.

The inhabitants of Basse Bretagne (Lower Brittany - Breizh-Izel in Breton) in the south are proud to have retained their Breton dialect (Brezhoneg).

This region is also known as Bretagne Bretonnante (Breton-speaking Brittany).

Modern Brittany consists of 4 departments: Côtes d'Armor, Morbihan, Finistère and the Ille-et-Vilaine.

Historic Brittany included the Loire-Atlantique department, which is now part of the Pays de la Loire administrative region.

Related article to learn more about this beautiful region: Brittany iconic images

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Historical map of Britannia - Peuple Celtes en Armorique - Breton dialects map
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