1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brittany
BRITTANY, or Britanny (Fr. Bretagne), known as Armorica (q.v.) until the influx of Celts from Britain, an ancient province and duchy of France, consisting of the north-west peninsula, and nearly corresponding to the departments of Finistère, Côtes-du-Nord, Morbihan, Ille-et-Vilaine and Lower Loire. It is popularly divided into Upper or Western, and Lower or Eastern Brittany. Its greatest length between the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean is 250 kilometres (about 155 English miles), and its superficial extent is 30,000 sq. kilometres (about 18,630 English sq. m.). It comprises two distinct zones, a maritime zone and an inland zone. In the centre there are two plateaus, partly covered with landes, unproductive moorland: the southern plateau is continued by the Montagnes Noires, and the northern is dominated by the Monts d’Arrée. These ranges nowhere exceed 1150 ft. in height, but from their wild nature they recall the aspect of high mountains. The waterways of Brittany are for the most part of little value owing to their torrent-like character. The only river basin of any importance is that of the Vilaine, which flows through Rennes. The coast is very much indented, especially along the English Channel, and is rocky and lined with reefs and islets. The mouths of the rivers form deep estuaries. Thus nature itself condemned Brittany to remain for a long time shut out from civilization. But in the 19th century the development of railways and other means of communication drew Brittany from its isolation. In the 19th century also agriculture developed in a remarkable manner. Many of the landes were cleared and converted into excellent pasturage, and on the coast market-gardening made great progress. In the fertile districts cereals too are cultivated. Industrial pursuits, except in a few seaport towns, which are rather French than Breton, have hitherto received but little attention.
The Bretons are by nature conservative. They cling with almost equal attachment to their local customs and their religious superstitions. It was not till the 17th century that paganism was even nominally abolished in some parts, and there is probably no district in Europe where the popular Christianity has assimilated more from earlier creeds. Witchcraft and the influence of fairies are still often believed in. The costume of both sexes is very peculiar both in cut and colour, but varies considerably in different districts. Bright red, violet and blue are much used, not only by the women, but in the coats and waistcoats of the men. The reader will find full illustrations of the different styles in Bouet’s Breiz-izel, ou vie des Breions de l’Armorique (1844). The Celtic language is still spoken in lower Brittany. Four dialects are pretty clearly marked (see the article Celt: Language, “Breton,” p. 328). Nowhere has the taste for marvellous legends been kept so green as in Brittany; and an entire folk-literature still flourishes there, as is manifested by the large number of folk-tales and folk-songs which have been collected of late years.
The whole duchy was formerly divided into nine bishoprics:—Rennes, Dol, Nantes, St Malo and St Brieuc, in Upper Brittany and Tréguier, Vannes, Quimper and St Pol de Léon in Lower.
History.—Of Brittany before the coming of the Romans we have no exact knowledge. The only traces left by the primitive populations are the megalithic monuments (dolmens, menhirs and cromlechs), which remain to this day in great numbers (see Stone Monuments). In 56 B.C. the Romans destroyed the fleet of the Veneti, and in 52 the inhabitants of Armorica took part in the great insurrection of the Gauls against Caesar, but were subdued finally by him in 51. Roman civilization was then established for several centuries in Brittany.
In the 5th century numbers of the Celtic inhabitants of Britain, flying from the Angles and Saxons, emigrated to Armorica, and populated a great part of the peninsula. Converted to Christianity, the new-comers founded monasteries which helped to clear the land, the greater part of which was barren and wild. The Celtic immigrants formed the counties of Vannes, Cornouaille, Léon and Domnonée. A powerful aristocracy was constituted, which owned estates and had them cultivated by serfs or villeins. The Celts sustained a long struggle against the Frankish kings, who only nominally occupied Brittany. Louis the Pious placed a native chief Nomenoë at the head of Brittany. There was then a fairly long period of peace; but Nomenoë rebelled against Charles the Bald, defeated him, and forced him, in 846, to recognize the independence of Brittany. The end of the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th were remarkable for the invasions of the Northmen. On several occasions they were driven back—by Salomon (d. 874) and afterwards by Alain, count of Vannes (d. 907)—but it was Alain Barbetorte (d. 952) who gained the decisive victory over them.
In the second half of the 10th century and in the 11th century the counts of Rennes were predominant in Brittany. Geoffrey, son of Conan, took the title of duke of Brittany in 992. Conan II., Geoffrey’s grandson, threatened by the revolts of the nobles, was attacked also by the duke of Normandy (afterwards William I. of England). Alain Fergent, one of his successors, defeated William in 1085, and forced him to make peace. But in the following century the Plantagenets succeeded in establishing themselves in Brittany. Conan IV., defeated by the revolted Breton nobles, appealed to Henry II. of England, who, in reward for his help, forced Conan to give his daughter in marriage to his son Geoffrey. Thus Henry II. became master of Brittany, and Geoffrey was recognized as duke of Brittany. But this new dynasty was not destined to last long. Geoffrey’s posthumous son, Arthur, was assassinated by John of England in 1203, and Arthur’s sister Alix, who succeeded to his rights, was married in 1212 to Pierre de Dreux, who became duke. This was the beginning of a ducal dynasty of French origin, which lasted till the end of the 15th century.
From that moment the ducal power gained strength in Brittany and succeeded in curbing the feudal nobles. Under French influence civilization made notable progress. For more than a century peace reigned undisturbed in Brittany. But in 1341 the death of John III., without direct heir, provoked a war of succession between the houses of Blois and Montfort, which lasted till 1364. This war of succession was, in reality, an incident of the Hundred Years’ War, the partisans of Blois and Montfort supporting respectively the kings of France and England. In 1364 John of Montfort (d. 1399) was recognized as duke of Brittany under the style of John IV., but his reign was constantly troubled, notably by his struggle with Olivier de Clisson (1336–1407). John V. (d. 1442), on the other hand, distinguished himself by his able and pacific policy. During his reign and the reigns of his successors, Francis I., Peter II. and Arthur III., the ducal authority developed in a remarkable manner. The dukes formed a standing army, and succeeded in levying hearth taxes (fouages) throughout Brittany. Francis II. (1435–1488) fought against Louis XI., notably during the War of the Public Weal, and afterwards engaged in the struggle against Charles VIII., known as “The Mad War” (La Guerre Folle). After the death of Francis II. the king of France invaded Brittany, and forced Francis’s daughter, Anne of Brittany, to marry him in 1491. Thus the reunion of Brittany and France was prepared. After the death of Charles VIII. Anne married Louis XII. Francis I., who married Claude, the daughter of Louis XII. and Anne, settled the definitive annexation of the duchy by the contract of 1532, by which the maintenance of the privileges and liberties of Brittany was guaranteed. Until the Revolution Brittany retained its own estates. The royal power, however, was exerted to reduce the privileges of the province as much as possible. It often met with vigorous resistance, notably in the 18th century. The struggle was particularly keen between 1760 and 1769, when E. A. de V. du Plessis Richelieu, duc d’Aiguillon, had to fight simultaneously the estates and the parliament, and had a formidable adversary in L. R. de C. de la Chalotais. But under the monarchy the only civil war in Brittany in which blood was shed was the revolt of the duc de Mercœur (d. 1602) against the crown at the time of the troubles of the League, a revolt which lasted from 1589 to 1598. Mention, however, must also be made of a serious popular revolt which broke out in 1675—“the revolt of the stamped paper.”
- Certain authorities count the father of this duke, another John of Montfort (d. 1345), among the dukes of Brittany, and according to this enumeration the younger John becomes John V., not John IV., and his successor John VI. and not John V.