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Jutting into the ocean, far from Paris's central state, Brittany had close economic and cultural ties to its Atlantic neighbors. Until 1550, when larger and more efficient Dutch ships displaced them, Breton fleets swarmed European coastal waters, carrying salt, linen, hemp, hides, grain, and wine to distant ports. They returned with oranges, leather, and silver from Spain, with herring, cheese, and naval stores from Holland, and with cloth from England, Holland, and Flanders. Brittany remained a bustling manufacturing power until 1680: its two million inhabitants gave it a population density matched in Europe only by the urban regions of the Low Countries.

In western Brittany, war between France and England disabled the manufacture of linen, crucial to the region's economy, at the end of the seventeenth century. This region lapsed into an enduring poverty, and became a leading center of emigration to Paris in the nineteenth century. Nantes followed a different path: it prospered mightily in colonial trade, becoming the largest French slaving port, and reexporting West Indian sugar and coffee throughout Europe.

Brittany enjoyed a quasi-independent status until 1491, when the last Breton ruler, Duchess Anne (1477–1513), married Charles VIII of France (ruled 1483–1498). He died childless; she then married Louis XII (ruled 1498–1515). Their eldest daughter, Claude, married Francis I (ruled 1515–1547); Claude's son, Henry II (ruled 1547–1559) inherited the duchy, making it the personal property of subsequent kings of France.

Brittany until 1790 preserved its provincial Estates, which met annually until 1626 and biannually after 1630; a full complement of local courts, headed by the parlement at Rennes; its customary laws; and its tax system, run primarily by the Estates. These local institutions enabled the Breton nobility to maintain unusually tight control over the province: alone among early modern French peasant rebels, the Breton bonnets rouges ('red caps') in 1675 targeted noble landlords, rather than royal taxes.

Western Brittany stood out culturally because its inhabitants spoke Breton Gaelic. Many French speakers shared the views expressed by the marquis of Lavardin, lieutenant general of Brittany, in 1675: Celtic Brittany "is a rude and ferocious country, which produces inhabitants that resemble it. They poorly understand French and scarcely better reason." The Catholic Church sent out "missionaries," led by the Jesuit Julien Maunoir, to "convert" the nominally Catholic Bretons, whom it viewed as pagans. One of his hymns set forward the church's view of peasant sociability: "Listen all of you [Bretons]/The evil of your veillées,/And your savage dances/That the mad devil/Has brought here/To plunge young people/Into eternal torments . . . From these dances/Come lewd thoughts!" (The veillées, evening village gatherings, for storytelling, matchmaking, and general socializing, remained a staple of Breton life into the 1930s.)

Bretons left a visual legacy of their remarkably rich civilization in parish closes, ensembles of churches, Calvary scenes, and ossuaries. The wealth produced by linen and livestock enabled the peasant-merchants of a St-Thégonnec or a Pleyben to commission magnificent statuary, often created by the workshop of Jean Dauré (1706?–1736/1747?) of Landerneau. Artists richly decorated the interiors of the rural churches, either with imaginative paintings on ceilings and pillars, or with stunning altars, as at Lampaul-Guimiliau, whose gilded fallen angels are based on a painting by Rubens (1577–1640). These masterpieces show the European dimension of early modern Breton civilization, and offer some of the richest rewards rural France has to entice the twenty-first-century visitor.


Rise and titulature under Louis the Pious[]

After a general rebellion which had enveloped the entire Carolingian Empire was put down, a general assembly was held at Ingelheim in May 831. It was probably there that the emperor Louis the Pious appointed Nominoe, a Breton, to rule the Bretons (which corresponded to "almost all" of Brittany).

Nominoe was a staunch ally of Louis the Pious until the emperor's death in 840. He supported Louis in the several civil wars of the 830s and he supported the monastery of Redon Abbey, even ordering the monks to pray for Louis in light of the emperor's "strife". Nominoe's power base was in the Vannetais and two charters refer to him as Count of Vannes, though it is unknown when that title was held, be it as early as 819 or as late as 834. Nominoe may not have possessed any land outside Vannes and his ability to gather revenue in Breton-speaking territories was probably no greater than any other aristocrat of those regions. His chief source of income after he broke with his overlord was plunder from raids into Frankish territory and from the despoliation of churches. He did have the political authority to exact payment (wergild) in the form of land from a man who had murdered his follower Catworet.

Loyalty and falling out with Charles the Bald[]

The relations between Nominoe and Charles the Bald, Louis's successor after 840, were initially amicable. In the midst of a revolt of his men in Neustria, Charles sent from Le Mans to see if Nominoe would submit to him in the spring of 841 and Nominoe agreed to do so. It is clear from the wording of the account of this event in Nithard that Nominoe was too powerful to be compelled to submit; later in 841 he rebuffed the overtures of the new emperor, Lothair I, who claimed Neustria. Nominoe remained loyal to Charles throughout the next year, even making a donation "in alms for the king" to the abbey of Redon on 25 January 842. Breton soldiers, as well as Gascons, certainly took part in the military show of the Oaths of Strasbourg.

In the summer of 843, Lothair or perhaps his supporter Lambert II of Nantes succeeded in persuading Nominoe to abandon Charles and go over to the emperor. Nominoe was thereafter a constant enemy of Charles and his authority in Neustria, often acting in concert with Lothair, Lambert, and Pepin II of Aquitaine. Breton troops fought under Lambert in Neustria and when, in June 844, Charles was besieging Toulouse, Nominoe raided into Maine and plundered the territory. In November 843, Charles had marched as far as Rennes to compel Breton submission, but to no effect.

At the synod of Yutz in October 844, presided over by Charles' uncle Drogo of Metz, the bishops sent orders to Nominoe, Lambert, and Pepin commanding them to renew their fealty to Charles or be prepared to accept military consequences. Lambert and Pepin complied, but Nominoe ignored the Frankish bishops. However, some Bretons had connived against him with Charles and the king tried to enter Brittany in support of the defectors, but without success: he was defeated at the Battle of Ballon just north of Redon across the Vilaine on 22 November 845. It is probable that in the Vannetais Nominoe's authority had been weakened after his split with Charles in 843 and Lupus of Ferrières reports "unrest" in Brittany during this period.

In 844 and 847 according to the Annales Bertiniani, Nominoe made war on the Vikings.

Renewed loyalty and second rebellion[]

In Summer 846, Charles marched on Brittany and again took no military action, instead coming to peace with Nominoe and exchanging oaths. The details of the peace arrangements are unknown, but Prudentius of Troyes uses the title "duke" (dux) for the first time in this context and this may indicate that Nominoe was created Duke of the Bretons in return for recognising Charles' lordship. As another part of the agreement, Nominoe had Charles remove Lambert from Nantes and put him in power in Sens further away.

By Christmas time, Nominoe's Bretons were raiding Neustria, this time near Bayeux, again. This was probably instigated by Lothair, for he, Charles, and their brother Louis the German met at Meerssen in February 847 and agreed to send orders to Nominoe and Pepin II to desist from making war on Charles. Nominoe, probably being paid by Lothair, did not in fact desist; neither did Pepin. In two campaigns in the spring and then fall of 849, Charles was in Aquitaine and Nominoe took the opportunity to raid Neustria. Charles reestablished Lambert in Nantes after Nominoe invaded Anjou.

In 850, Lambert (and his brother Warnar) had renewed their friendship with Nominoe and together were raiding Maine "with unspeakable fury" according to the Chronicon Fontanellense. In August, Charles marched on Rennes, again avoided fighting, and installed garrisons there and at Nantes. Immediately after he left, Lambert and Nominoe defeated the garrisons and captured the new Count of Nantes, Amalric. On 7 March 851, Nominoe died near Vendôme while ravaging the Nantais and Anjou; he was buried at Redon Abbey. By his wife Argentaela, Nominoe left a son named Erispoe, who succeeded him. Nominoe was thus the founder of a political tradition in Brittany which had not thitherto existed; though his charters did not mimic Carolingian ones, his successors would imitate the legitimising Carolingian language in theirs.

Deposition of the bishops[]

In 849 at a place called Coitlouh, Nominoe held a synod whereat he deposed the five Breton bishops of Alet, Saint-Pol, Vannes, Quimper, and Dol. The charges he levelled against them are unknown. Pope Leo IV sent a letter to Nominoe and the bishops (whether before or after the deposition is unknown) informing him that the depositions could only be enacted by a panel of twelve bishops with seventy-two witnesses. The later popes Benedict III and Nicholas I believed that Nominoe had forced the bishops to admit to crimes they had not committed and that their depositions were thus invalid. A Frankish synod of 850 held at either Angers or Tours accused Nominoe of simony by unlawfully removing bishops and replacing them with mercenarii (mercenaries of his own). These mercenarii were excommunicated, as indicated by an epistle of the synod of Savonnières in 859 sent to what remained of the Breton church in communion with the Archdiocese of Tours. Nominoe sacked Rennes and Nantes, replacing the new Frankish bishop of the latter with his own nominee.[NEWLINE][NEWLINE]Susannus was deposed in Vannes and replaced by Courantgen. Salocon was deposed in Dol, but his replacement is unknown. At Quimper, Felix was replaced by Anaweten and at Saint-Pol, Clutwoion replaced Garnobrius. The two bishops of Alet, first Rethwalatr and then Mahen are very obscure figures. The bishop of Nantes whom Nominoe succeeded in removing for about a year was Actard. His replacement was the obscure Gislard. In the end the synod of Coitlouh and the bringing of the bishoprics of Rennes and Nantes into the Breton fold meant that the church of Brittany was an actively independent ecclesiastic polity from its nominal metropolitan, the Metropolitan of Tours.

Unique Components[]


Although Machtierns (noble chiefs) were an aristocratic group, they were also very closely concerned with the business of the plebes, involving itself in local affairs, often witnessing peasant transactions and sometimes taking a greater role. Machtierns were active go-betweeners between aristocratic and non-noble free strata and really do seem to have moved between the two. Each plebs had its own machtiern (for example; Jarncolin appears to have been Machtiern of Anast c. 830s, and his godson Anowareth was machtiern of the adjacent parish of Piriac around the same time). However, any one individual might serve as machtiern in more than one plebs at a time.


Breseler is the Breton word for Warrior. A warrior is a person specializing in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based warrior culture society that recognizes a separate warrior class or caste. Fighting was considered a prestigious activity, but only when associated with status and power. European mounted knights would often feel contempt for the foot soldiers recruited from lower classes.