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European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica


Cornouaille / Kernev (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 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).

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 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 (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.

Positioned to the south-west of Armorica, and isolated from major events by a long shoreline and the great Brocéliande forest to the south-east, which was never cleared, almost all of Cornouaille's early medieval history is legendary. The Cartulary of Landevennec gives nineteen names (marked * in the list below), but no relationships. Its original capital was Caer Ys (now the Bay of Douarnenez, but Gradlon Mur relocated it to Corspotium (Quimper)). The region is better known today as Kernew or Kernev, a direct descendant form in Breton of the original Brythonic name (the name would have undergone much the same evolution in the closely-related Cornish language).

There may be a tribal connection between the original inhabitants of Cornouaille and the Carnonacae of second century Pictland, although it seems much more likely that Cornouaille was populated by Cornubians from the south-western peninsula of Britain. Cornouaille's location in relation to the other Armorican principalities also supports a settlement by Cornubians. Four (self-identifying) sub-ethnic groups seem to have moved to Armorica to settle in a geographical order which matched that of their homelands in Britain - from west to east these were Leon, Cornouaille, Domnonia, and Rennes.

FeatureDue to Cornouaille's isolation behind the Brocéliande, the identities of the princes of the sixth century are highly confused, and some may have ruled in a different order from that shown below, at least up until the reign of Budic. The dates for some kings is also highly questionable, Daniel Unua being a case in point. He appears to be placed in Cornouaille the early 600s, but his position as king of the Bretons is given as 544 onwards - at least a generation too early. It seems to be impossible with the data available to provide a more accurate set of dates. However, despite Cornouaille's seclusion, it also supplied the rulers of Brittany in the eleventh century (see feature link). By this date Brittany was a duchy under nominal French overlordship.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Geoffrey Tobin and Edward Dawson, 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 English Historical Documents c.500-1042: Chronicle of Nantes (Chapter 27), Dorothy Whitelock (Ed, Second Edition, 1979).)

c.387 - 400

One tale concerning Erbin, king of the Bretons, sees him separated from his entourage whilst out hunting. He becomes lost in the great Forest of Menez-Hom (located in Finistère in Cornouaille). Almost dead from exhaustion and hunger, he eventually stumbles across the hermitage of St Corentin (now under the village of Plomodiern). St Corentin keeps him sustained with a miraculous regenerating helping of fish and brings him back to health. As a reward for his hospitality, Erbin makes St Corentin the first bishop of Cornouaille.

Broceliande Forest
The great Brocéliande forest which separated Cornouaille from Bro Erech also sheltered it from the sight of early medieval chroniclers, allowing only glimpses of any certainty in events there

The earliest of Cornouaille's princes seems to date to the 430s. This could mean that earlier names have been lost, but this is unlikely as oral tradition should ensure that all of them are remembered (not always reliably though). An alternative option is that one is effectively struck from the records for alleged evil deeds (and then even the evil deeds are forgotten!), but it is far more likely that the settlers of Cornouaille have not yet formed a principality of their own. Many of the early princes of Cornouaille are also kings of the Bretons, suggesting a link between that title and the setting up of this principality.

fl c.430

Rivelen Mor Marthou *

Mistakenly confused with Cynfelyn ap Arthwyr of Cynwidion?


Congar of Cornouaille is probably Congar of Cernyw, suggesting that yet another prince from Britain has emigrated to Armorica to create a domain of his own. His father in Cernyw is Marius, otherwise shown as Mor. However, the earliest-known prince of Cornouaille is Rivelen Mor Marthou.

Perhaps he is mistakenly confused with Cynfelyn ap Arthwyr of Cynwidion, but equally he could be Mor of Cernyw. In both cases his physical presence in Cornouaille is therefore to be doubted. He is probably placed at the head of the list of princes in order to show legitimacy to a claim of princely standing by the later princes.

Cornouaille's western coast
Cornouaille's western coastline is strikingly beautiful, these days being a popular region for walking holidays, but it would also have offered easy seaborne access to and from Britain

fl c.450

Congar *

Son? Probably Congar of Cernyw.

fl c.500?

Daniel Drem Rud *

Seemingly confused with Daniel Unua, below.

fl c.500?

St Mélar ap Méliau

Son of Maxenri, king of the Bretons.

? - 544

Budic * II

Brother. King of Bretons (478). Ally of Macliau of Bro Erech.

544 - 577

Bishop Macliau, king of Bro Erech, had previously entered into a reciprocal arrangement with Budic whereby the two kings had promised each other that whichever monarch outlived the other would take care of his son. Upon Budic's death in 544, Macliau forces Budic's son, Tewdwr, to flee the kingdom. Tewdwr returns in 577 to kill both Macliau and his eldest son Jacob and claim his birthright.

577 - ?


Son. Forced to flee by Macliau of Bro Erech. King of Bretons.

fl c.590

Iahan Reith *

Probably should be above Daniel Drem Rud in list.

fl c.620?

Daniel Unua *

King of the Bretons (544-?). Same man or namesake?

fl c.650?

Gradlon ap Alain / Flam *

Son of Alain I, king of the Bretons.


The princes of Cornouaille now seem to lose their high status as suppliers of kings of the Bretons. Their house is displaced by that of Domnonia. As mentioned in the introduction, above, some of the early dating for Cornouaille is hard to reconcile against the dates for the kings of the Bretons. With this in mind, the survival of Concar Cheroenoc until close to the end of the century may be doubtful. Is it possible that Domnonia's sudden rise to power is achieved on the back of a military victory or treachery against Cornouaille?

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)

fl c.690

Concar Cheroenoc *

Nephew of Alain II, king of the Bretons. Dating uncertain.

fl c.720

Budic Mur * / Judon

Son. He and Concar fled overseas, 6th cent. Dating uncertain.

fl c.770

Constantine ap Judon

Son. High king Custantin of the Bretons?

fl c.812

Argant ap Constantine

Son. High king Argant of the Bretons?


Argant would appear to be the last in a series of three princes of Cornouaille who also serve as kings of the Bretons despite the recent supremacy of Domnonia. Unlike the earlier series of high kings, these can all be reconciled with the dates of rule for the Breton kings, meaning that their identification as kings and princes can generally be accepted. It may be Argant who is defeated by the dux Cenomannici of the Breton March.

fl c.840s

Judael / Judicael / Fragual Fradeloec *

Son. Different names from two records, but the same man?

fl c.850s


Son. His son-in-law was Diles Heirgour Chebre.

fl c.860s

Gradlon Plueneor *

Probably a monk near Orleans c.900.

fl c.870s

Rivelen / Riwallon

Count of Poher? Possibly brother of Nominoë of Vannes.

874 - 888

Ninth century Brittany is a very civilised place in which peasant property rights are enshrined in law and the powers of the prince (king or duke) are strictly limited. This is all undone when when Salaun is assassinated and the land overrun by Vikings. Breton rule is eventually restored under Alain 'the Great', but in the meantime, Gurvand rules in Rennes and Pascweten in Vannes, and both are claimants to the throne.

Glomel in Brittany
The landscape of Armorica - extremely hilly inland with a wonderful, long coastline - would have seemed very familiar to the Britons who began to settle here from the late fourth century onwards (Glomel in the modern Côtes-d'Armor département is shown here)

Pascweten is Salaun's son-in-law and also one of his assassins, along with Gurvand, and Wigo son of Rivelen of Cornouialle. Neither Gurvand or Pascweten are powerful enough to assume complete control so they fight it out amongst themselves for two years, and divide the country until both are dead. Pascweten's brother Alain continues the fight from Vannes until he reunites the entire country.

? - 913

Gourmaëlon / Gourmaelon / Wrmaelon

'Count of Kernev'. Seized power as 'Prince of Brittany'.


The death of Alain 'the Great' results in instability in the land. With the succession again disputed, Gourmaëlon, count of Kernev, seizes power and declares himself 'Prince of Brittany'. Ownership of Vannes is unclear at this time but Rudalt seems to be the count until he is forced to flee by the Vikings. Alain's son-in-law, Mathuedoï, would seem to succeed him as count of Poher at the same time. In Nantes the name of the current count seems to be unknown, although it is likely that he is a Frankish appointee.


The Loire Vikings invade Brittany, slaying Gourmaëlon in battle and occupying the land. They establish their main naval base at the mouth of the Loire (at the southern edge of Brittany's lands), laying waste to Nantes, and then they use Brittany as a springboard for attacks on the Western Franks and the English (possibly in support of their kin in East Anglia).

Vikings in Brittany
The Viking threat to Brittany was a very serious one, with the notorious Loire Vikings effectively occupying the duchy between 914-936, before finally being ejected


Ulfret / Aulfret Alesrudon *

Cited in the Cartulary of Landevennec.

c.946 - c.952

Diles Heirguor Chebre *

Son. Known by the Cartulary of Landevennec.

c.1008 or 1031

Budic Bud Berhuc *

Died 1008-1031.

Budig Castellin / Binidic *

The dates for his father may in fact be his.

? - 1058

Alan Canhiart / Canhiarh *

Grandson of Budig Castellin.


The little-known Judicaël, count of Nantes, has a daughter named Judith of Nantes. She marries Count Alan of Cornouaille (Kernev), and their daughter, Agnes, marries Eozen or Eudes, the 'regent of Brittany' in 1040-1056 and count of Penthièvre. Their descendants retain this county, whilst Nantes occasionally falls outside Breton control. However, it becomes the principle seat of Duke Peter I (1221-1250).

1058 - 1084

Hoel IV / Houel / Huuel *

Son. Became duke of Brittany under French overlordship.

1064 - 1066

The Breton-Norman War is fought between Brittany and Normandy after years of sparring and raiding. William 'the Bastard' (soon to be 'the Conqueror') has been supporting the rebellion by Rivallon I of Dol against Conan. The Battle of Dinan takes place in 1065, with Harold Godwinson of England fighting on William's side. Conan's forces are chased from Dol-de-Bretagne to Rennes and he finally surrenders at Château de Dinan in Brittany.

The Normans had become a formidable fighting force by 1064, although their conquest of England from 1066 owed much to good luck

During Conan's campaign of 1066 against Anjou, he captures Pouancé and Segré, and arrives at Château-Gontier. There he is found dead on 11 December after donning poisoned riding gloves. Duke William is widely suspected as the culprit. Conan is succeeded by his sister, Hawise, whose marriage to Hoel of Cornouaille may have been a political move to consolidate and stabilise the duchy's eastern and western regions.


With the death of Hoel IV the regency period for his son, Alain IV comes to an end and Alain rules alone. In effect, the princes of Cornouaille become rulers of Brittany, dukes by appointment of France.


Not to be confused with Duke Alain IV Fergant of Cornouaille and Brittany, Count Alan Rufus dies. He is first earl of Richmond under King William 'the Conqueror' of England and Normandy, but he has parentage that links him to Penthièvre and Cornouaille. His Latin epitaph of 4 August 1093 at Bury St Edmunds describes him as 'praecepto legum, nitet ortus sanguine regum', ie. 'officer/teacher of the law, in whom ran the blood of kings'. Cornouaille's history is now tied to that of Brittany as a whole.

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