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European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica

 

Bro Erech / Gwened / Vannes (Armorican Romano-Britons)

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 be applied to the territory itself as 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. Tradition 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).

FeatureThis new colony of Britons formed in a region which 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 Belgic tribal name. The area was permanently 'freed' of Roman control by Magnus Maximus as the first stage of his invasion of Gaul in 383 (see feature link). 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.

This was the easternmost of Armorica's British kingdoms. The precise circumstances surrounding its founding are shrouded in myth and half-remembered oral tradition, but it seems to have existed by the early decades of the sixth century. The Armorican territories of what came to be known as Brittany (literally 'Little Britain') began to be established during the Late Roman empire period thanks to unsettled conditions in Britain itself and the apparent weakness of Rome's central authority. The campaigns of Magnus Maximus (AD 383-388) and Constantine III (AD 407-411 onwards) in Europe appear to have contributed a great deal to setting up the Armorican colonies.

Situated nearest the Frankish border and seemingly including Rennes within its territory, Bro Erech is shown alternatively as Broërec or Bro Ereg. It was the surviving portion of the Vannetais kingdom, after Cornouaille and Domnonia had become separate principalities in their own right. This shrunken Vannetais continued to bear that name until it was re-titled Bro Erech, the new name deriving from Waroch (as Bro-Waroch - often touted as the founder of the principality), and this was first mentioned in the Lives of the Saints. It was also mentioned by Gregory of Tours, who located many of the events of his lifetime near Vannes, seemingly an important site in Vannetais and named after the former Veneti Celtic tribe of the area whose Romanised remnants were quickly absorbed by the new British arrivals. However, precisely which Waroch was responsible for renaming the kingdom is uncertain. There were two of them within the space of half a century, making any educated guess near impossible.

FeatureAll of the Armorican principalities were apparently the equivalent of sub-kingdoms, under the authority of the king of Brittany himself (see feature link, right, for a basic introduction to the kingdom of Brittany). St Brieuc in modern Brittany may be a survival of the Bro Erech name.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Geoffrey Tobin and Edward Dawson, 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 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 History of Normandy and of England, Francis Palgrave (1864), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and from English Historical Documents c.500-1042: Chronicle of Nantes (Chapter 27), Dorothy Whitelock (Ed, Second Edition, 1979).)

c.490

The powerful Caradog Freichfras is king of Gwent in mid-South Wales, inheriting the throne through his father, Honorius Ynyr Gwent. Following his accession he sails across the English Channel to found the kingdom of Bro Erech which forms the heartland of Vannetais and serves as its largest kingdom in terms of its territorial extent.

La Fermh, Vannes, France
The south-eastern coast of Brittany/Gaul did (and still does) offer the large, protected Gulf of Morbihan for vessels arriving from the Atlantic, with Vannes easily accessible via a channel to the north and the La Marle waterway - a possible arrival route for Caradog Freichfras

c.490 - 520/40?

Caradog Freichfras (Strongarm) ap Ynyr

King of Gwent. Founded the kingdom.

The Kinoc of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain is probably identifiable with a Kinoc who succeeds St Padarn or Paternus, a bishop of the British Church in Wales in the mid-fifth century. Padarn is recalled to Brittany by 'Prince Caradoc' (seemingly Caradog Freichfras), to become bishop of Vannes, and Kinoc replaces him in his position in Wales.

? - c.550

Waroch / Gwereg I

Often claimed as kingdom founder. Renamed it 'Bro Erech'.

c.550 - c.570

Canao / Chanao I

Son. Killed 3 brothers. Macliau saved by St Felix.

560

The Frankish duke, Chramn of Aquitaine has several times risen in rebellion against his father, Chlothar I, but during his final rebellion he has to flee to Brittany and the court of Canao. His father pursues him, defeats the combined forces of Chramn and Canao, and Chramn is strangled and placed in a cottage which is then burned down.

c.570 - 577

Bishop Macliau of Vannes

Broth. Conomor Domnonia's friend. Killed by Tewdwr.

577

Jacob

Son. Not crowned. Killed by Tewdwr of Cornouaille.

577

Macliau, ruler of Bro Erech, had previously entered into a reciprocal arrangement with Budic, king of the Bretons, whereby the two kings had promised each other that whichever monarch outlived the other would take care of his son. Upon Budic's death, Macliau had forced Budic's son, Tewdwr, to flee the kingdom. Tewdwr now returns to kill both Macliau and his eldest son, Jacob.

Map of Armorica
Vannetais was created during the late fourth century AD, enjoying a peak of expansion and power up until 491 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

577 - after 594

Waroch / Gwereg II

Second son of Macliau. Allowed by Tewdwr to reign.

578

Chilperic, king of the Franks, sends an army to fight Waroch along the Vilaine. The Frankish army consists of units from Anjou, Bayeux, Maine, Poitou, and Touraine. The Baiocassenses, the 'men from Bayeux', are Saxons. They in particular are routed by the Bretons over the course of three days of fighting.

Waroch is forced to submit in the end, and pays homage by sending his son as a hostage and agreeing to pay an annual tribute. He subsequently breaks the latter promise, but Chilperic's dominion over the Bretons (or at least their eastern borders) is relatively secure as evidenced by Venantius Fortunatus' celebration of it in a poem.

587 - 590

Gunthchramn of Burgundy compels Waroch to renew his oath in writing and demands a thousand solidi in compensation for raiding Nantes. That compensation has not been paid by 588, even though Waroch has promised it both to Gunthchramn and Chlothar II of the Franks.

In 589 or 590, Gunthchramn sends an expedition against Waroch under the command of Beppolem and Ebrachain. Ebrachain is an enemy of Fredegund, queen consort to the late King Chilperic, and it is she who sends the Saxons of Bayeux to aid Waroch.

Gunthchramn and Childebert II
Gunthchramn of Burgundy is shown here (with dark hair) seated next to Childebert II of Austrasia, in a beautifully-coloured plate from the Grandes Chroniques de France

Beppolem fights Waroch alone for three days before dying, at which point Waroch attempts to flee to the Channel Islands. Ebrachain destroys his ships and forces him to accept renewed peace, the renewal of his oath, and surrendering a nephew as a hostage. Despite all of this, the Bretons retain their spirit of independence and refuse to be cowed by the powerful Franks.

bef 594 - c.635?

Canao II

Son.

c.635

Upon the death of Gregory of Tours in 594, no more information is available on Bro Erech. It seems likely that the principality is united with Domnonia under Judicaël, whose great-grandmother seems to have been Triphine, daughter of Waroch. Bro Erech is likely to be Judicaël's inheritance after the death of Canao II.

However, Bro Erech's land seems to be divided at some point, and for a time may not even be under Brittany's control. The Frankish 'Breton March' at Nantes has been designed to contain the Bretons, with Rennes and Vannes included in this borderland. It is only with Brittany's resurgence in the ninth century that these areas are regained fully by the Bretons.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north and Cadiz in the south, but it was not to last - with the accession of Clovis of the Salian Franks, the Visigoths had found an opponent who would wrest Gaul away from their control in stages (click or tap on map to view full sized)

It appears to be this period in which the southern part of Bro Erech around Vannes and its northern part around Rennes both gain their own separate lines of counts. As the former heart of Bro Erech, Vannes may be the more important, but Rennes also enjoys some strong rulers.

 
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