History Files


European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica




MapCounty of Nantes

The north-western corner of today's France was known during the Roman period as Armorica. The tribe of the Veneti had been the most powerful of Armorica's tribes, and that name gradually changed during the Roman occupation to Vannetais. This was how Armorica was initially known to the Britons who began migrating there in the fourth century AD, during a period in which British town life appears to have declined.

The low-key migration from Britain into Armorica seems to have picked up noticeably in the mid-fourth century, but it became a flood in the unsettled fifth century. Traditional certainly maintains that the British colony in Armorica was founded before the expedition of Constantine III in 407. People arrived mainly from the south-west of Britain, from Dumnonia and Cornubia, and each group retained its ethnic name (ergo the people in each region knew exactly what they were ethnically or tribally, regardless of who was king over them). This new colony of Britons formed in a region that was beginning to drift out of firm Roman control. The colony's traditional first king, Conan Meriadog, ruled Armorica as the kingdom of Vannetais, maintaining the local Gaulish tribal name. The area was permanently 'freed' of Roman control by Magnus Maximus as the first stage of his invasion of Gaul in 383. Conan was placed in command, with a probable capital in Vannes. The usual Celtic practice of dividing territory between sons soon created the smaller principalities out of Vannetais during the course of the fifth and sixth centuries whilst other Britons also popped over from the mainland to found their own principalities.

Formerly a Roman city of the Namnetes tribe - Portus Namnetum - Nantes was not one of the British cities of the Vannetais. Instead it was claimed as part of the easternmost advance of the Vannetais kingdom in its early years and its Gaulish inhabitants were happy to join in. It is known today in Breton as Naoned, and is the sixth-largest city in modern France, but for a greater part of its history, post-Roman empire, it was a city of the Bretons. Even today, there are people living in this region who still claim to be from a Gaulish family. Not French or Breton, but Gaulish. These people have a very non-Mediterranean and non-Nordic appearance. Instead they look as though they have more in common with the stockier Irish, and the central Welsh of Powys. They were protected from absorption into France because the region fell under the control of the Bretons in the fifth or sixth century, and they retained their Gaulish ethnicity intermingled with a Breton national identity.

The fortunes of Nantes had fluctuated somewhat following its initial occupation by Britons in the fifth century. The city was subsumed for a time within the Frankish creation of a 'Breton March' or borderland, which was designed to keep the Bretons contained within Armorica and prevent their expansion eastwards. In the ninth century this failed, with all this territory along with Nantes being reclaimed by the Bretons. The city was laid waste by the Vikings in 913/914, and they held control of it until 937. As the former heart of the principality of Bro Erech, Nantes' sister city of Vannes now became important, and its counts usually also governed Nantes after it was regained by Alain II in 937. That changed upon Alain's death in 952. His eldest son, Drogo, gained the more senior county of Vannes whilst his younger son (by his second marriage), HoŽl, gained Nantes. It seems that, with the death of Drogo and the lack of an heir, it may have been HoŽl who inherited the seat and rejoined it to that of Nantes. Now the previous situation was reversed, with Nantes being the senior of the two seats.

(Additional information by Geoffrey Tobin and Edward Dawson, and from Brittany: Many Kingdoms or One?, Jean-Michel Pognat, from Province and Empire: Brittany and the Carolingians, Julia M H Smith, part of The Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought series (1992), from The Ethnology of Germany Part 3: The Migration of the Saxons, Henry H Howorth (Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol 7, 1878), from The History of the Franks, Volume II, Gregory of Tours (O M Dalton, Trans, 1967), from The History of Normandy and of England, Francis Palgrave (1864), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and PopulationData.net.)


With the accession of Charles the Bald (Charles-le-Chauve) to the western Frankish throne, Duke NominoŽ of Vannes has been acting entirely independently as the rightful king of the Bretons. Charles sends an army to quell this upstart but it is defeated at Ballon, near Redon (845). The ambitious NominoŽ, count of Vannes, does not settle for only one victory. Instead he boldly goes on to conquer Rennes and Nantes (with the help and support of Lambert of Nantes), as well as the provinces of Maine and Anjou.

Breton territory has by now spread into Frankish lands where the Breton language is not spoken. It is from these victories that the history of the dukes of Brittany really begins. In order to gain even more freedom. NominoŽ snatches Brittany from the authority of the archdiocese of Tours. Instead he founds the archdiocese of Dol, in order to establish a self-governing Breton church which can continue and support the traditions of the Bretons.


NominoŽ's successors as duke of Brittany, from ErispoŽ to Alain Barbetorte, vigorously apply themselves to the protection of the duchy's independence from the Franks and Norsemen. Under the control of Duke SalaŁn (857-874), Brittany is even expanded as far as the Cotentin and Laval. It seems to be during this period that full Breton control over Vannes, Rennes, and Nantes is restored after a period of being subsumed within the Frankish 'Breton March'.

852 - 874

Salaun / Solomon / Salomon

Count of Rennes & Nantes. Seized Breton throne.

fl 936

JudicaŽl of Nantes / 'Berenger'

Count. Cousin of Alain II of Brittany. Count of Rennes.

936 - 942

Having already encouraged a failed Breton rebellion against the Vikings, the monk Yann de Landťvennec now calls on Alain to return to Brittany, which he does in 936 with the blessing and support of ∆thelstan of Wessex. Meanwhile, the future Hugh the Great of Aquitaine is organising the return of Louis IV to France. Alain's campaign against the Loire Vikings is successful and he is declared Duke Alain II. Then he allies himself with his cousin, Judicael of Nantes (called 'Berenger' by the Franks) and Count Hugh II of Maine to attack the Seine Vikings (the Normans). The presence of a powerful cousin in Nantes who bears a distinctive Late Romano-British/Breton name would strongly signal that this town is still part of Brittany.

? - 952

Alain II the Fox

Son. Count of Poher. Duke of Vannes & Nantes, and Brittany.

952 - 958


Son. Count of Vannes & Nantes. Prince of Brittany.

958 - 990

Brittany appears to be ruled by the counts of Nantes at this time, probably HoŽl or Guerech of Nantes. The numbering for Hoels as dukes would suggest that this particular Hoel is not involved (although this does not help in Guerech's case). After 990 the duchy is certainly ruled by the counts of Rennes upon the accession of Conan I, and until 1066. By this time, France has finally suppressed a weakened Brittany, and the kings assume the title of 'Duke of Brittany' (and already appear to have done so earlier in this century). Even so, they maintain much of their independence until 1532.

The county of Vannes seems to be terminated following the death of Drogo - or at least no longer has its own counts. Given that it still remains within Brittany the answer could be that it is drawn directly under the authority of the duke of Brittany himself, which position is now being fulfilled by the counts of Rennes. The important city of Nantes had until the reign of Alain II been joined to Vannes as a single county, but had been divided when Drogo had gained Vannes. Its counts are shown below, and an alternative possibility is that Vannes and Nantes are reunified following Drogo's death, now under their control.

c.960 - 980


Son of Alain II of Brittany, Vannes, and Poher.

c.980 - 990


Brother. Died c.988/990.

981 - 990

Alain III of Nantes

Son. Died aged 9 or so. Not the same as Alain III of Brittany.


Conan the Crooked of Rennes allies himself with the count of Blois and attacks Nantes, soon after which the young Count Alain dies. This leaves Conan the undisputed claimant as duke of Brittany, succeeding the governance of the regency that has managed the duchy during the lifetime of Drogo and the somewhat fractured reign(s) of HoŽl and Guerech of Nantes. Conan also has to defeat JudicaŽl (presumably the son of HoŽl rather than the many others of the same name for this overall period) to remove any opposition to his rule.



Son of HoŽl.

c.990? - 1148

The little-known JudicaŽl is often confused with the JudicaŽl of Nantes of the early tenth century. They are clearly differentiated by their relationship to the current duke of Brittany, the later one clearly being the son of HoŽl. His daughter is Judith of Nantes. She marries Count Alan of Cornouaille, and their daughter, Agnes, marries Eozen or Eudes, the 'regent of Brittany' in 1040-1056 and count of PenthiŤvre.

Their descendants retain this county, and when HoŽl V is disbarred from becoming duke, he is granted the county of Nantes for his lifetime (after which it will return to the ducal incumbent). Ostensibly this 'exile' is due to his bastardy, but possibly also to allow his sister, Bertha, to become heiress and thereby marry her cousin Alan and secure Brittany's future.

1148 - 1156

HoŽl / Hoel V

Son of Duke Conan III of Brittany. Driven out.

1156 - 1158

Supported by Geoffrey VI, count of Anjou and husband of Matilda of England, the people of Nantes rebel against HoŤl and drive him out. Control of Nantes is part of a larger strategy in the ongoing war in England between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. The family of the dukes of Brittany continue to hold the seat at Nantes, although it occasionally drifts outside Breton control, as it does now when Geoffrey of Anjou controls it.

Geoffrey of Anjou dies in 1158, and Conan IV attempts to reclaim Nantes for Brittany. He is opposed by Henry II of England who annexes it to his own domains, but Conan is still able to enforce his will there, effectively reuniting all of Brittany. Henry responds by seizing the earldom of Richmond, Conan's inheritance, and also takes over in Nantes.

Nantes becomes the principle seat of Duke Peter I (1221-1250).