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European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica


Armorica (Celts)

The Roman name for the peninsula of land which protrudes from modern France into the Atlantic Ocean was Armorica. Now far better known as Brittany, Armorica was the Latinised form of a Celtic word or name: Aremorio. The Romans had already coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. The Gauls were divided from the Belgae to the north by the Marne and the Seine, but Belgic tribes had followed the English Channel coastline to occupy and settle areas of Armorica too, probably in or around the fifth century BC.

Aremorio means 'ar' ('at', or 'before', or 'next to'), plus 'mor/mare', which means 'sea' or 'ocean'. In other words it means 'next to the sea', or perhaps more colloquially 'beside the seaside'. The name was certainly in use to describe the entire region of Brittany by the fifth century AD, when migrants from Britain began to take over, but it is less clear when it began to be used as such an umbrella term. (It may also have been used for other coastal locations such as Aquitaine.)

Armorica provided a home to quite a bundle of Celtic tribes, all of which were in place by the first century BC. These included the powerful Veneti tribe which dominated the other tribes, and also the Ambiliati, Boiocasses, Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, Osismii, and Redones.

Once defeated by Rome (after a season of extremely hard campaigning), elements of the defeated tribes under the leadership of the Veneti may have fed to Britain and Ireland where they formed two tribes of Venicones, one in what became Pictland and the other in County Donegal as the Venicnii, where both were attested by Ptolemy by AD 140. Julius Caesar's own claim to have killed or enslaved all of the Veneti was clearly self-serving propaganda aimed at his Roman constituency. Families with access to boats would have gone to sea at night and sailed to Britain or Ireland to escape him, both of which were outside Roman control. Families unable to escape to sea would have fled inland into the highland (arden) forest of Armorica. From hiding there they were able to re-emerge once the legions had departed, and were able to re-inhabit their 'Vannetais'.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from On the Ocean, Pytheas of Massalia (work lost, but frequently quoted by other ancient authors), from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

c.325 BC

Pytheas of Massalia undertakes a voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, becoming the first scholar to note details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. One of the tribes he records is the Ostinioi - almost certainly the Osismii - who occupy Cape Kabaïon, which is probably pointe de Penmarc'h or pointe du Raz in western Brittany.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

FeatureThis means that the tribe has already settled the region by the mid-fourth century, probably alongside their neighbours of later years, the Veneti, Cariosvelites, and Redones (see feature link for more on Pytheas).

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. An army is collected against the Romans, but Caesar marches ahead of expectations and, in a single campaigning season, the Belgic tribes are defeated or surrender to Rome.

According to Caesar, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

Many Belgic groups showed marked Germanic influences, so were they Celts with German words and warriors, or Germans with Celtic words and warriors? The truth probably lies somewhere in between

56 BC

War flares up again, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes. With supplies of corn running low, he sends scavenging parties into the territories of the Cariosvelites, Esubii, and the highly influential Veneti. The latter revolt against this infringement of their lands and possessions, and the neighbouring tribes rapidly follow their lead, including the Ambiliati, Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, and Osismii.

The campaign by Caesar against the Veneti is protracted and takes place both on land and sea. Veneti strongholds, when threatened, are evacuated by sea and the Romans have to begin again. Eventually the Veneti fleet is cornered and defeated in Quiberon Bay by Legate Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. The Veneti strongholds are stormed and - reputedly - much of the Veneti population is either captured and enslaved or butchered. The confederation is destroyed and Roman rule is firmly stamped upon the region.

Elements of the Veneti tribe may flee to Britain and Ireland. When the Veneti military falls, it is most likely the rich Veneti who climb aboard every ship or boat they can find, perhaps taking some servants with them, or perhaps not if there isn't enough room. Noble women, children, old men, and very young men/older boys, and some surviving warriors are the occupants of these ships.

Romans attack a Veneti vessel
Roman auxiliaries in the form of the Aeduii on board a Gaulish-built ship attack a Veneti vessel in Morbihan Bay on the French Atlantic coast during the campaign of 56 BC

Once safe, the Veneti survivors form two tribes of Venicones, one in what becomes Pictland and the other in County Donegal (the Vennicones or Vennicnii), where both are attested by Ptolemy by AD 140. This split may be due to there being two factions of Veneti.

Those Veneti who do not manage to flee by water, mostly serfs, remain in Armorica. Many of these are enslaved and sent to Rome to be sold. But Caesar exaggerates wildly when he claims to capture or enslave the entire population. Armorica is hilly and wooded - one of several places in Britain and Gaul with a 'Coed Arden' (Forest of Arden) which means 'high forest', a forest on high ground (not in valleys). Large numbers of Veneti will have fled into the forest to hide until it is safe to come out.

mid-300s AD

The Aremorio ('seaside') people (in whatever form they now take) probably still occupy their ancestral lands, but their long domination by Rome and integration into Roman society has left them unable to provide for their own defence. The peninsula which bears their name begins to receive refugees from Britain, which is undergoing a period of disruption. Links which had been established prior to the coming of Rome between south-western Britain and Armorica seem to have been maintained. Migration from Britain into Armorica appears to pick up noticeably in the mid-fourth century.

Venta Belgarum
The Roman city of Venta Belgarum in Britain was refortified in the fourth century, and Germanic mercenaries were brought in to improve the defences, suggesting an increasing lack of Roman soldiery fitted to the task

4th century

The arrival of greater numbers of Britons in the late fourth century establishes first a British colony and then a kingdom which divides Armorica from Roman control. It also protects the Gaulish tribes of Armorica from absorption by the incoming Franks.

Even today, there are people living in this region who still claim to be from a Gaulish family. 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 retain their Gaulish ethnicity intermingled with a Breton national identity.

Vannetais / Britanni / Brittany (Armorican Romano-Britons)
Incorporating Kings & Dukes of the Bretons

The north-western corner of today's France was known during the Roman period as Armorica. It was home to several Celtic tribes which largely lost their individual identities following conquest by Rome. But one of them did leave their name behind. 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. It was the same name, but with a different suffix, and a shift in pronouncing the first vowel. The name had a transition stage during which it was referred to as Guenet by the Bretons. This name is precisely cognate to Gwynedd (Venedotia), with any perceived difference merely being down to different dialectal variants. Even the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer (ar Gerveur in Modern Breton, or Guedel in Old Breton) to the south of Brittany was known by the Romans as Vindilis, preserving the link to the Veneti.

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. Links established prior to the coming of Rome between south-western Britain and Armorica seem to have been maintained. 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 very fact that this has been claimed as a kingdom by multiple original sources certainly expresses a diminishing of Roman control over the region. 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. Although Brittany extended as far as Blois until 491, the land holdings outside its traditional borders are vaguely described, and may not even have been part of the kingdom's accepted territory.

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. The old name of Vannetais appears to have fallen out of use after its last remnant was renamed Bro Erech, and the colony's high kings simply termed themselves kings of the Bretons, or Brittany - the land of the Britons.

Although the principalities of Bro Erech, Cornouaille, Domnonia, Leon and Poher, are mentioned often in Brittany, whenever the Bretons had dealings outside their borders only one king of the Bretons is mentioned. It seems highly likely that these many principalities operated on the same basis as their mainland British equivalents - petty kingdoms which vied with each other for power, but which acknowledged the strongest king amongst them as their representative in external affairs, and sometimes internal affairs too, when the interference warranted it. Britain itself had a well-established tradition of recognising a high king, and the later Anglo-Saxon invaders recognised the power of such a 'brand' by adopting their own format of it in the Bretwaldas.

FeatureAfter circa 600, the kings of Domnonia appear to have gained precedence over the others, which was always likely as this was Armorica's strongest principality. From the reign of Iudicael onwards in the early seventh century, the kings of Domnonia were also the kings of the Bretons for as long as Brittany was a fully independent kingdom. The pedigree of the kings in the seventh and eighth centuries is not certain, but Jean-Michel Pognat conducted a critical study of sources for the history of the fifth-to-ninth-century Breton kings in an attempt to establish an historical king list. In his work he put forward a believable construction, which to an extent is used here and with one or two additional names supplied through his work here being shown in green.

The Cartulary of Landevennec gives nineteen names as princes of Cornouaille, some of whom are also kings of the Bretons (such names are marked *), but it fails to give any relationships. The Chronicles of Anjou provide a few key early dates in Brittany's history, especially when it comes to mentioning the leftovers from the invasion of Constantine II of Britain. Many of the early royal names are shown in various formats, be it Breton/south-western British, or Welsh, or even Latin. This suggests that their lives have been recorded by multiple British royal courts, although the later Welsh names should generally be dismissed for the sake of accuracy.

The basis for the legal constitution of Brittany was late Roman jurisprudence, and perhaps this survived because a high proportion of the British émigrés were supposedly from the country's nobility. The ruling kings (and later dukes and counts) were required to be well-trained in law so that they could function as judges in the higher courts. This practice is known to have continued into the High Middle Ages in Brittany and in Catalonia (Jonathan Jarrett, a researcher into Catalan documents of the tenth century was inspired by Julia Harris' work in Brittany). In the middle ages, literacy rates were especially high in Brittany, so it is no coincidence that the patron saint of lawyers is Ivo of Kermartin (the Breton 'Erwann').

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Geoffrey Tobin, 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), from English Historical Documents c.500-1042: Chronicle of Nantes (Chapter 27), Dorothy Whitelock (Ed, Second Edition, 1979), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from Atlas historique mondial, Georges Duby (Larousse, 1978), from Genealogy of the Kings of France, Claude Wenzler (Editions Ouest-France, Rennes, 2008), and from the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre, Constantius of Lyon.)

c.340 - c.387

Conan Meriadoc / Conanus

Prince of Dumnonia. First king of Vannetais. Died 421?

383 - 388

Magnus Maximus, military commander in Britain, is credited by Geoffrey of Monmouth with setting up Conan Meriadoc as king in Armorica. Conan is the rebellious nephew of Octavius, claimed as Maximus' predecessor as high king in Britain, so this could have an element of getting him out of harm's way in Britain. The relationship could make Octavius the father of Maximus' wife, as Conan is also her cousin.

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)

It may be the case that the estimated dates used here for Conan are a little adrift, and the earlier date may even represent a date of birth rather than the beginning of his reign, as a reign of forty-seven years seems a little long. By AD 388, as a result of Maximus' defeat, a large number of his surviving troops seem to return to Armorica to settle there.

c.387? - 400?

Erbin / Urban / Gradlon Mawr 'the Great'

Son. His half brother Gadeon (Gradlon?) ruled Dumnonia.


Erbin seems also to be one Gradlon Mawr ('mawr' being a later Welsh word for 'great'). The fact that Erbin's son is also called Gradlon seems to cause some confusion. One tale concerning Erbin sees him separated from his entourage whilst out hunting. He becomes lost in the great Forest of Menez-Hom (now 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

c.400? - 434


Son. A 'Gradlon' was known by the monk, Wrdisten.

406 - 411

Constantine III

'High King' of Britain. Constantine III of Rome.


Constantine III, usurper Western Roman emperor and ruler of Britain, sends his son, Constans, and General Gerontius to Hispania to defeat the cousins of Roman Emperor Honorius there and secure that province (Gerontius could be the Gerenton mentioned in connection with Domnonia in the Vannetais). Stilicho's forces in Italy rebel and he is executed. As a result of this and intrigues at the imperial court, plus the fact that Alaric's Visigothic army is roaming Etruria, Honorius is left powerless, and gladly accepts Constantine as co-emperor.


The Alani, Suevi and Vandali enter Hispania, disrupting Constantine's hold on his territory. Gerontius rebels against Constantine, and raises Maximus as his own puppet emperor. With Constantine now in serious difficulties in Gaul, further Saxon raids convince the British and Armoricans to rebel and expel Roman officials, thereby breaking ties with Rome which are never renewed.

FeatureRoman presence in Britain has been dwindling anyway, for at least the previous three decades, so the split probably produces little change, except that British officials now occupy former imperial posts. Records from this point become extremely sparse and British control on a national level appears to break down for a time (see feature link for more information).

Crossing the Rhine
The main bodies of the Vandali, Alani, and Suevi tribes crossed the Rhine at the end of 406, resulting in panic and chaos within the Roman empire


Historically, the first Breton chief to be cited on the continent is the Ivomadus who establishes himself in Blois (Chronicles of Anjou). His activities take place outside of Conan's Vannetais, in an enlargened British occupied territory in Gaul. He and his men are likely to be the remnants of the army of Constantine III which had crossed the English Channel with him in AD 406.

Although the records seem to name him as a king of Brittany, he may only be acting in the king's name, or perhaps operating in Blois as a sub-king. As the Britons are said to control most of the territory north of the Loire by AD 450, Blois must be part of an extended Armorican (Briton) kingdom until it falls to Clovis in 491.

410 - ?


Probably part of Constantine's army. Occupied Blois.


Although still nominally within the Roman empire, Armorica is in a persistent state of 'revolt' - meaning that it is not directly controlled by the empire now that the Britons have detached themselves and all of their occupied territories - and is almost fully independent of Rome.

434 - 446

Salaun / Salomon I / Selyfan / Selyf

Son of Gradlon.

Gwidol ap Gradlon

Brother. Became prince of Domnonia.

c.440 - 441

Saxon foederati and laeti who have been settled on the east coast of Britain take advantage of the unrest to openly revolt. By 441, the Gallic Chronicles report large sections of Britain under German control following Saxon revolt. Communications between Britain and Gaul are disrupted, and the migration of Romano-British towards Dumnonia and Cornubia and from there into Armorica turns into a torrent.

Dumnonia in Maps - Map 2 c.AD 400
By about AD 400 Dumnonia would appear to have been able to claim almost the entire south-west of today's England as its own, as shown by this map (click or tap on map to view full sized)

446 - 464

Aldrien ap Selyfan / Aldroenus?

Son of Salaun. Elder brother of High King Constantine III.

Aldrien would appear to be Geoffrey of Monmouth's semi-mythical Aldroenus, king of 'Little Britain, called at that time Armorica or Letavia'. After failing to win support from Rome in their hour of need, the Britons seek help from Aldroenus, fourth king after Conanus (which would mean that only the four main names above him here are regarded as having been king).

Guithelinus, archbishop of London for the British Church, is sent to ask the king to take the crown of Britain, but the country has fallen so far from its former magnificence that he declines the offer. Instead he sends his brother, Constantine, with two thousand soldiers. Constantine is raised to the kingship of Britain.


Serious plague hits southern Britain and unburied bodies are to be found in the streets of cities such as Caer Gloui. It is this point at which the young Ambrosius Aurelianus and his family are in hiding (traditionally in Armorica), avoiding the vengeful clutches of Vortigern. In the same year in Brittany, a King Eochar of the Alani is ordered by Aëtius to put down a rebellion of bacaudae (peasants), before being persuaded to hold off by St Germanus of Auxerre.


The almost-fully independent Armoricans send units of troops to fight alongside Rome in order to halt the advance of the Huns. The Battle of the Catalaunian Plains takes place in the former territory of the Catalauni tribe.

Attila the Hun
Despite his great success over the barbarian tribes of eastern and Central Europe, Attila's stalemate against an allied Roman-led army in 451 was a blow to his prestige, and his death soon afterwards caused his empire to crumble

c.464 - 468

Budig I / Budicus

Son. Named Budicus by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

fl c.464


Brother. Possibly a co-ruler at the start of Budig's reign.

fl c.460s/480s

Bican Farchog

Brother. A 'Prince of Brittany' according to later stories.

468 - 469

FeatureRiothamus, 'King of the Britons', crosses the Channel to Gaul, bringing 12,000 ship-borne troops. Riothamus (a title rather than a name, which would appear to mean 'supreme king'), remains in the country for a year or more, and advances to Bourges and even further, perhaps reinforced by Armorican Bretons (see feature link for more information). Gaul's imperial prefect, the deputy of the Western Roman emperor, treacherously undermines him by apparently dealing with the Visigoths.

Caught by surprise by the Visigoths, Riothamus fights a drawn-out battle near Bourges but is eventually defeated when no imperial forces come to his assistance. He escapes with the remains of his army into the nearby territory of the Burgundians, never to be heard of again.

A second battle soon follows which involves a combined army consisting of units of Romans, troops from Soissons under Comes Paulus, and Burgundian foederati, but they are also defeated, and Soissons and Armorica are cut off from Rome (see map below for the subsequent political situation).

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
The Visigothic kingdom of Tolosa (Toulouse) was created in AD 418 in the province of Gallia Aquitania, a large and rich region stretching from the Lower Loire to the Garonne in south-western Gaul (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureThe disappearance from history of Riothamus does not rule out the possibility of him successfully returning to Britain, but this would also be a reasonable date for Arthur to take command of Britain's defence as his successor (see feature link for a list of Arthur's possible historical identities).

fl c.470

Maxenri * / Méliau ap Budig I / Maeliaw

Son of Budig. Supposedly fled Agricola of Dyfed's court c.480.


Having killed his brother Maxenri during an argument, Rivod now sets his sights on becoming king. He mutilates Maxenri's son, Maelor, thereby making him ineligible for the kingship (which still apparently operates on very Celtic lines in that the claimant must be physically undamaged, and able to ride and wield a sword). However, Rivod's hold on the throne appears to be about as short as that of his brother.

fl c.472

Rivod / Rhiwod ap Budig

Brother. Apparently killed Maxenri during an argument.

c.472 - 478

Erich ap Aldrien

Uncle. Son of Aldrien ap Selyfan.

478 - 544

Budig II ap Erich 'Emyr Llydaw'

Son. Expelled and fled to the court of Agricola of Dyfed.


Merovingian King Clovis moves quickly to occupy the remnants of northern Gaul which are still outside his kingdom. To achieve perhaps his greatest conquest in this period he he assembles an army which includes at least one allied Frankish Minor King, Ragnachar.

At the subsequent Battle of Soissons, Clovis conquers the last of the Roman territory to be governed by Syagrius in the form of the administration of Soissons. Syagrius seeks refuge with the Visigothic king Alaric II, but is betrayed, captured, and sent to Clovis, who has him executed in 487. The hostile Franks now position themselves along the border with Brittany.

Map of Western Europe between AD 481-511
With the accession of Clovis, son of Childeric I of the Salian Franks, the Germanic occupiers of north-eastern Gaul had found a king who would change their fortunes out of all recognition (click or tap on map to view full sized)


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 Channel to found the kingdom of Bro Erech which forms the heartland of Vannetais and serves as its largest kingdom in terms of territory.

King Budig II himself is expelled at some point in his reign, during which time he seeks refuge at the court of Agricola of Dyfed. The Welsh know him as 'Emyr Llydaw', meaning 'Emperor of Brittany', which does suggest that he is king at the time of his exile. Despite the vagueness of most dates for this period, the reigns of Budic II and Agricola must only coincide for a relatively short period, towards the later years of Agricola's reign, so Budig must regain his position at some point.

Also around this time, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, there a new archbishop of Dol in the form of Samson, former archbishop of the British Church at Ebrauc (York). The archbishop had been driven out of the city by recent Saxon attacks. Sadly, although the post may have some historical authenticity (the archbishopric of Dol is created in 848), the person probably does not.

Baptism of Clovis in Reims
The baptism of Clovis in Reims in 496 made him the only barbarian Christian king and won him increased support from his former Roman subjects in Gaul. This romantic recreation of the event was by François-Louis Dejuinne (1786-1844), completed in 1837


After mentions of Riothamus over twenty years before, the only other historically confirmed fact for Armorica for the fifth century is that the town of Blois is now captured by the Frankish King Clovis, probably the eastern limits of territory occupied by the Britons within Gaul (Chronicles of Anjou). Clovis also captures the city of Nantes which he uses as a headquarters for a 'Breton March', designed to contain the Bretons to its west. Vannetais now largely assumes the more traditional borders of Brittany.


On the death of Clovis, king of the Franks, his kingdom is divided between his four sons. The Frankish kingdoms of Orleans and Paris are formed on Brittany's eastern border.


The Franks of Austrasia conquer the Thuringians. Portions of territory are lost to the Saxons, probably to the Continental Saxons, but there also seems to be a reverse migration of Germanics from the east coast of Britain, where the recent British victory at Mons Badonicus has cut them off from the acquisition of new lands. These returning Angles and Saxons appear to be given land in Thuringia by King Theuderich.

However, it is also at this time, in this century, that the migration of Britons from the mainland to Brittany is at its heaviest, which also gravely weakens the British defensive position for the future.

Map of Western Europe at the death of Clovis in AD 511
This map shows the state of the Frankish kingdom at Clovis' death in 511, after which it was divided between his successors (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Hoel I Mawr

Son. Possible joint ruler with his father.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's semi-fictitious account of the history of Britain, Hoel is the son of Budicius, former king of Armorica. His mother is Anna, sister of Ambrosius Aurelianus, which makes him the first cousin of Arthur. Hoel aids Arthur in ridding Britain of the Saxon menace, although in reality Hoel is born a generation too late to fight alongside Arthur. His father, however, would have been of an ideal age to do so.

544? - ?

Daniel Unua

Prince of Cornouaille. Grandson of Budig I.


Conomor 'the Cursed' is said to emigrate from Britain into the Vannetais in the first half of the sixth century, and then to build a castle at Carhaix, the heart of the newly-founded principality of Poher. Breton tradition presents Conomor as a local 'bluebeard' who does not spare the life of his last wife. When threatened by his rival Breton warlords and abbots, he seeks help from Childebert, king of the Franks of Paris, but is killed around 560 in a battle against Chlotar, Childebert's more powerful superior.


The diminutive territory of Lyonesse may be re-absorbed into Corniu at a time in which the peninsula receives extremely little mention in history. Dumnonia firmly controls the entire south-west of Britain. Curiously, this seems to be around the same time that the first of a short list of kings appear in Leon in Brittany, which of course retains very strong links at this time with south-west Britain. Speaking very theoretically, perhaps the heir to Lyonesse is given British territory in Brittany in compensation. However, the first of Leon's known princes is Withur, grandson of Budig II of Vannetais.

Halangy Down
These round building ruins are of a courtyard house at Halangy Down on the Isles of Scilly (history's possible Lyonesse), an Iron Age and Romano-British village on the isles

fl c.560 - 577

Tewdr Mawr

Son of Hoel. King of Brittany & Penwith (Cornubian cantref).


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

577 - 635?

Alain I

Grandson of Budig II. Son Gradlon was prince of Cornouaille.


Chilperic, king of the Franks, sends an army to fight Waroch of Bro Erech 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 still 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 of Bro Erech 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 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.

? - 612?

Hoel III

Son. Possibly the same as Haeloc of Domnonia.

? - c.658?

Salaun / Salomon / Solomon II



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 for Cornouaille, some of its early dating 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 as Cornouaille's prince 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?

fl c.650s

Iudicael / Judicaël

King of Domnonia (?) Great-great grandson of Budig II.


Under Judicaël's reign, Bro Erech is united with Domnonia (and probably has been since 635-637). Judicaël is descended on his great grandmother's side from Waroch of Bro Erech. As it seems highly probable that Judicaël, king of Domnonia is also Iudicael, king of the Bretons, Domnonia's kings probably continue as high kings of Brittany, and Domnonia effectively becomes the chief state of the colony, their kings listed as kings of the Bretons. From Iudicael onwards, the kings of Domnonia are also the kings of the Bretons for as long as they remain independent.

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

? - 690

Alain II Hir (the Tall) / Urbien

Son. Combined with Urbien by Jean-Michel Pognat (JMP).

FeatureOne of Alain's sons is Budic. Budic's own son, Miliau, becomes patron saint of a town in the east of the former principality of Leon which later bears his name - Guimiliau. Miliau himself is beheaded in 792 on the orders of his brother (see feature link for some of the region's churches).

fl c.700

Urbon / Urbien

Son. Seemingly combined with his father by JMP.

fl c.730


Son. Judon of Cornouaille?

fl c.760


Son. Constantine ap Judon of Cornouaille?

fl c.790


Son. Defeated by the dux Cenomannici of the Breton March?

795 - 826


Joined by co-rulers?


Despite the claims of the Frankish Duke Wido (presumably Guido of Nantes) on his expedition through Brittany around the year 800, Brittany is still not a Frankish subject, remaining unconquered by the Carolingians. This is despite the mighty Charlemagne having created a vast European kingdom following his conquest of several hard-fighting German states and tribes. Charles 'the Younger', dux Cenomannici and commander of the Breton March, may be the instigator behind Wido's expedition. It is known that Charles defeats two attempted Breton rebellions during his time in this post.

Charlemagne unified all the Frankish states under one ruler and created an empire which stretched deep into modern Germany, something that the Romans had never managed

814 - 818

Morvan / Murman / Morman

Not a member of the ruling family. Killed in battle.


During the lifetime of Charlemagne, Morvan had been a faithful vassal despite a Breton revolt in 811. With Morvan having been declared king of the Bretons shortly after Charlemagne's death, the integrity of the Frankish empire is threatened because other regional vassals may also feel tempted to go their own way. The Frankish writers Astronomus and Ermold 'the Black' view this assumption of kingship as a form of usurpation.

King Louis 'the Pious' (Louis-le-Pieux) of the Frankish empire sends Abbot Witchar to negotiate with Morvan, which fails. Louis assembles an army in the spring of 818 at Vannes, within the 'Breton March' which at this point is controlled by the Franks. With Lambert of Nantes in support, he launches a series of attacks against various Breton fortresses and, after Morvan is killed in battle, resistance collapses. The Chronicle of Moissac records Louis returning with a 'triumph of victory', although the Bretons revolt again in 822 under Wiomarch.

818 - 826

Wiomarch / Wihomarc

Son of Argant. Killed by Lambert of Nantes.


From the seventh century onwards, as evidenced by Duke Wido's expedition into Brittany, the Franks have been trying to force the Bretons to submit to their power. The Bretons have steadfastly refused to bend under the yoke and become vassals of their powerful neighbours. Instead they regularly overcome attempts at domination by the Franks.

Map of the Frankish Empire in AD 800
Under Charlemagne's leadership, the Franks greatly expanded their borders eastwards, engulfing tribal states, the Bavarian state and its satellite, Khorushka, and much of northern Italy, with the Avars now an eastern neighbour (click or tap on map to view full sized)

In order to put a stop to these rebellions, Louis 'the Pious' now appoints Nominoë as the first duke of Brittany and chief of the Vannetais (824). Although Nominoë remains a loyal vassal of Louis during his reign, he acts as an independent king as soon as Charles 'the Bald' (Charles-le-Chauve) succeeds Louis (in 840).

Placing Nominoë as first duke of Brittany in 824 appears to contradict the entries for Wiomarch and Lowenen until 837. Could Nominoë's appointment as duke be in opposition to the reign of the last two kings? Could it take some time to quell their opposition?

Unfortunately this seems to be unknown. Even the title of 'duke of Brittany' seems to be an artifice of tenth century chroniclers, with the Bretons of this time admitting no such thing. They still see themselves as an independent people ruled by their own princes, and Nominoë is recorded under many titles, from 'Master of Brittany' upwards.

826 - 837


Son. Father of Roiantdreh, who adopted Salomon.


The Abbey of Saint-Sauveur de Redon is founded by Conwoion, a Breton monk, with support from Carolingian Emperor Louis 'the Pious'. Redon is a town in eastern Brittany which has gained its name from the surrounding parish of Riedones. This in turn has been remembered by the Franks and Bretons based on the Celtic tribe which has occupied the region for at least the past millennium, that of the Redones.

Nominoe's Vow
This fanciful Victorian illustration depicts Nominoe's Vow, part of a ballad about Nominoë in Barzaz Breiz in which he vows to avenge the Frankish killing of a Breton emissary

837 - 851

Nominoë / Nominoe

Son of Erispoe (Elder). Count of Vannes. First Breton duke?


Fighting in support of Charles 'the Bald' during the Frankish succession crisis of 840-843 is Lambert II, presumed heir of the county of Nantes, who feels somewhat aggrieved when Count Renaud of Herbauges is appointed count of Nantes instead of him. Lambert sides with Nominoë of a target="_top" href="ArmoricaHighKings.htm#Brittany">Brittany, Renaud is killed trying to attack them, and Lambert gains his county as a Breton ally.


With the accession of Charles 'the Bald' (Charles-le-Chauve) to the throne of West Francia, Nominoë 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 Nominoë, count of Vannes (and possibly also of Poher), 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, both at the heart of the collapsing Breton March.

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. Nominoë 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 to support the traditions of the Bretons.


Nominoë's successors, from Erispoë to Alain Barbetorte, vigorously apply themselves to the protection of the duchy's independence from the Franks and Norsemen. Under the control of Duke Salaün (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'.

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
This map displays the division of the Carolingian empire according to the Treaty of Verdun in AD 843 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

851 - 857

Erispoe / Erispoë 'the Younger'

Son. Obscure 'king'. Count of Vannes? Assassinated.


King Erispoe is forced to defeat the Frankish Charles 'the Bald' at the Battle of Jengland on 22 August 851 in order to defend his realm. While Erispoe's reign appears at first to be comparatively obscure, Geoffrey Tobin has pointed out that Professor Julia M H Smith has brought together archaeological and documentary records from Brittany, particularly during the reigns of Erispoe and Salomon.

Surviving legal documents from that period, as studied by her, number in the many hundreds, and provide the evidence for the lives of peasants as landowners with equal rights under the law, both in theory and in practice. As mentioned in the introduction above, the kings and counts of Brittany are required to be well-trained in law so that they can function as judges in the higher courts.

The later Count Alan Rufus, first lord of Richmond under King William 'the Conqueror', has parentage which links him to 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 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

857 - 874

Salaun / Solomon / Salomon

Adopted by Roiantdreh to ensure continuity of ruling dynasty.


Brittany's resurgence and power at this time is recognised by Charles 'the Bald' of the Western Franks. He negotiates the Treaty of Entrammes with Salaun, admitting the fact that western Anjou is now part of Brittany and granting lay abbacy of Saint-Aubin in Angers to the Breton king. In return, Salaun pays tribute to the Frankish king.

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 Salaun, count of Rennes and Nantes, is assassinated and the land overrun by Vikings. Now Gurvand rules in Rennes and Pascweten in Vannes, and both are claimants to the throne. Pascweten is Salaun's son-in-law and also one of his assassins, along with Gurvand, and Wigo son of Rivelen of Cornouaille.

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 against Judicaël of Rennes until the latter is killed when both team up to fight the Vikings. Alain now controls Brittany unopposed, although his numbering doesn't seem to account for two earlier Alains.

888 - 907

Alain I 'the Great'

Son of Count Ridoredh of Vannes.


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.

Map of Armorica
Vannetais (Brittany) 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)

907 - 913

Gourmaelon / Gourmaëlon

'Count of Kernev'. Seized the empty throne. Killed.


The Loire Vikings invade, slaying Gourmaëlon in battle and occupying Brittany (until about 939). 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).

Mathuedoï, count of Poher is married to the daughter of the late Alain 'the Great', and his son, Alan, is the godson of Edward 'the Elder', king of Wessex and all the English. Mathuedoï puts to sea with a great multitude of Bretons and travels to meet Edward: 'this king had great trust in him because of this friendship and the alliance of this baptism'. Brought up from infancy with Æthelstan (Edward's eldest son), 'Alan is strong in body and very courageous, and does not care to kill wild boars and bears in the forest with an iron weapon, but instead uses a wooden staff'.

922 - 923


House of Penthièvre (Vannes)?

936 - 942

Having already encouraged a failed Breton rebellion against the Vikings, the monk Yann de Landévennec now calls on Alain to return to Brittany, which he does in 936 with the blessing and support of Æthelstan of Wessex. Meanwhile, the future Hugh 'the Great' of Aquitaine is organising the return of Louis IV to West Francia. 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.

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

936 - 952

Alain II 'the Fox'

Son of Count Mathuedoï of Poher. Duke of Vannes & Nantes.


A desperate William 'Longsword' of the Normans seeks reconciliation with the Flemish, but is assassinated at a peace conference. The Norman state collapses as Louis of France seizes its lands and captures William's infant heir, Richard. This Norman defeat also takes the pressure off Brittany.

952 - 958


Son. Count of Vannes & Nantes.

958? - 970?

Hoël or Guerech?

Counts of Nantes, but position as duke highly uncertain.

958 - 990

Brittany appears to be ruled by the counts of Nantes at this time, probably Hoël 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).

In 990 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 as the undisputed ducal claimant, succeeding the governance of the regency which has managed the duchy during the lifetime of Drogo and the somewhat fractured reign(s) of Hoël and Guerech of Nantes. Conan also has to defeat Judicaël (presumably the son of Hoël rather than the many others of the same name for this overall period) to remove any opposition to his rule.

The counts of Rennes retain control of the duchy until 1066. By this time, West Francia 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.

Louis V the Indolent
The short-lived accession of Louis V (986-987) proved to be the end for the once-mighty Carolingian dynasty, with their equally once-mighty empire now fractured and continuing to fracture further

990 - 992

Conan I 'the Crooked'

Count of Rennes. Killed in battle.

992 - 1008

Geoffrey Berengar / Godfrey I

Son. Count of Rennes. Killed.


In order to strengthen his position against a belligerent Blois, the sixteen year-old (or thereabouts) Geoffrey enters into a dynastic alliance with Duke Richard II of Normandy. At a ceremony which is held at Mont Saint-Michel, on the Breton-Norman border, Geoffrey marries Hawise of Normandy, Richard's sister, whilst Richard marries Judith of Brittany, Geoffrey's sister.

1008 - 1040

Alain III

Son. Count of Nantes & Rennes. A minor at accession.

1008 - c.1018

Hawise of Normandy

Mother and regent. Her brother, Duke Richard, was guardian.

1040 - 1056

Eudes / Eozen / Odo I

Brother. 'Regent of Brittany'. Count of Penthièvre.


Alan Rufus is first mentioned as a witness (along with his mother, Orguen, and brothers Gausfridus, Willelmus, Rotbertus, and Ricardus) to a charter which is dated to 1056/1060. It is issued by his father, Eozen, to the Abbey of Saint-Aubin in Angers.

FeatureEozen (Odo) is one of the sons of Geoffrey, while Count Alan Rufus is Eozen's most famous son. He is later a companion of the Norman duke, William 'the Conqueror', lord of Cambridge in England, praecepto legum (professor of law), builder of Richmond Castle, developer of the port of Boston, commander of King William's royal household knights, co-founder of St Mary's Abbey in York (see feature link for more on this), co-supervisor (with King William) of the Domesday survey, strategist against Bishop Odo of Bayeux's rebellion of 1088, and both arresting officer and defender of William de St-Calais, bishop of Durham.

St Mary's Abbey in York
St Mary's Abbey stood on the land between Museum Street and Marygate in the city of York, to the north-west of York Minster, founded in 1055 with the support of Eozen, regent of Brittany, and initially dedicated to St Olave

Also descended from Eozen via Count Stephen of Treguier, and Alan, first earl of Richmond, is Conan IV of Brittany (1156-1171), of the House of Penthièvre. Unfortunately, Eozen himself effectively usurps control of the duchy from the infant Conan II, and has to be seized and imprisoned in 1056 before Conan can rule in his own right.

1056 - 1066

Conan II

Son of Alain III. Last ruling duke from the House of Rennes.

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.

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.

Battle of Hastings section of the Bayeux Tapestry
The Battle of Hastings section of the Bayeux Tapestry shows King Harold being struck in the eye by an arrow (centre) in 1066. For some time many thought this to be one of his bodyguard but it is now generally accepted to be the king himself

1066 - 1072

Hawise of Rennes


1066 - 1072

Hoel IV / Houel / Huuel

Husband and co-ruler. Prince of Cornouaille.

1072 - 1112

Alain IV Fergant / 'Iron Glove'

Infant son. Count of Nantes & Rennes. Abdicated.

1072 - 1084

Hoel IV / Houel / Huuel

Father and regent (formerly co-ruler with Hawise).


Not to be confused with Duke Alain IV Fergant, who has yet to abdicate and retire to a monastery (which he does in 1112), Count Alan Rufus dies. He is first earl of Richmond under King William 'the Conqueror' of England and Normandy, but he has parentage which links him to Penthièvre and Cornouaille (see the entry for 1056, above). 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'.

1098 - 1101

Alain departs for the First Crusade, leaving his wife Ermengarde as regent. The crusade finds a divided Islamic empire governed by the Seljuq Turks, and quickly and forcefully carves a large swathe of territory out of it which comes to be known collectively as Outremer.

1098 - 1101


Wife of Alain IV and regent during his absence.

1112 - 1148

Conan III 'the Fat'

Son. Prince of Cornouaille, count of Nantes & Rennes.


Conan's son, Hoël V, is disbarred by his dying father from becoming duke. Instead 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.

Abbaye den Bon Repos
In 1128, Alain I de Rohan, first viscount of Rohan and viscount of Castelnoec - also known as Alain 'the Black' - completed construction of his permanent residences and founded the Priory de la Coarde at Castenecc and the Abbaye den Bon Repos (shown here) for the monks of Redon Abbey

1148 - 1156

Bertha of Cornouaille

Daughter. Wife of the late Alan, earl of Richmond.

1148 - 1156

Eudes / Odo II

Second husband to Bertha.


Supported by Geoffrey VI, count of Anjou and husband of Matilda of England, the people of Nantes rebel against Hoèl V 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.

At the same time, the hold on Brittany by the House of Cornouaille comes to an end with the death of Bertha following her first marriage to Alan le Noir, count of Penthièvre. Cornouaille's authority over the viscounty of Leon may end at the same time. Thanks to this, the House of Vannes briefly rules Brittany again under Conan IV, great-great-grandson of Geoffrey I (992-1008).

1156 - 1171

Conan IV 'the Black'

Son of Bertha and Alan. House of Penthièvre. Abdicated.


Geoffrey of Anjou dies, and Conan 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.

Tremazan Castle, Finistere
One of the Breton fortresses of Nantes would have been the medieval Tremazan Castle (its modern ruins are shown here), which later belonged to the Breton du Chastel family and was built near the shore of Nord-Finistere in Brittany

1164 - 1166

Having faced several revolts by his own nobles, possibly with support from England, Conan is forced to appeal to Henry II for help. In return, Henry demands that Conan's only daughter and heiress, Constance, marries Henry's son, Geoffrey. In 1164 Henry moves from subtle control of the duchy to overt control by intervening to seize lands along Brittany's border and also that of Normandy.

In 1166 Henry invades Brittany outright in order to punish the local barons. Conan is eventually forced to abdicate in favour of his daughter (who of course is married to Henry's son). Henry continues to interfere in Breton politics throughout his lifetime.

1171 - 1201


Daughter. Acceded aged 5. m Geoffrey II.

1181 - 1186

Geoffrey II

Husband and co-ruler. Son of Henry II of England. Died.

1188 - 1199

Ranulf de Blondeville

Second husband. Son of the earl of Chester. Held no power.

1196 - 1201

Arthur I

Son of Constance & Geoffrey II. Earl of Richmond.

1199 - 1201


Third husband, and son of Aimery IV of Thouars.

1201 - 1203

Arthur I

Former co-ruler with Constance. Probably murdered.


Incarcerated in Rouen Castle, Arthur is never heard of again. He is probably murdered by his uncle, John of England. With him removed from the scene, his sister Eleanor is the heir, but King John and then his successor Henry III keep her imprisoned from 1202 to prevent her from succeeding to vast territories outside Brittany.

First Barons War illusration from the Battle of Lincoln 1217
The First Barons' War in England saw a collection of the powerful baronial class rise up against King John, determined to force him to abide by Magna Carta but weakening their own cause by accepting support from France



Sister. Imprisoned and unable to rule, but still titular duchess.

1203 - 1221

Alice / Alix / Alis

Sister. Died aged 20.

1203 - 1213


Father and regent.


In order to stave off this ambitious English expansionism, the Breton bishops and barons chose a French prince from the House of 'Capétiens' as their duke. This man is Pierre de Dreux, otherwise known as Pierre Mauclerc or Peter I.

On account of his origins, it may be imagined that Pierre de Dreux would devote himself only to French interests. Actually, he acts to protect the independence and the prosperity of Brittany both from advances by England and France. Pierre de Dreux also introduces the ermine as the heraldic symbol of Brittany. Under his reign, Brittany enjoys a long period of peace lasting a century, and the state asserts itself as an autonomous duchy under him and his four immediate successors.

1213 - 1221

Peter I / Pierre de Dreux

Husband of Alice and co-ruler until her death.

1221 - 1286

John I 'the Red'


1221 - 1250

Peter I / Pierre de Dreux

Now regent. Principle seat at Nantes.

1286 - 1305

John II

Son of John I. Father of John, guardian of Scotland (1305).


King Edward I of England appoints his nephew, John of Brittany and earl of Richmond, as guardian of Scotland. The second son of Duke John II, John wholeheartedly shares Edward's aims when it comes to expanding the size and influence of the English kingdom. He is trusted by the English court as a diplomat and negotiator, and his term as guardian of office witnesses no major upsets, while at the same time his brother Arthur succeeds to the ducal title in Brittany.

Pierre De Dreux
Duke Peter I of Brittany - perhaps better known as Pierre de Dreux or Pierre Mauclerc - managed to consolidate Breton power and independence rather than hand it over to the French monarch

1305 - 1312

Arthur II

Son. Earl of Richmond.

1312 - 1341

John III 'the Good'

Son. Earl of Richmond.

1341 - 1364

Following the death of John III, the War of the Breton Succession is ignited between Joan 'the Lame', otherwise known as Jeanne de Penthièvre (Vannes) of the House of Blois (essentially the counts of Penthièvre supported by the French crown and shown below in green) and John de Monfort (son of John's hated stepmother, Yolande, supported by the English crown).

1341 - 1364

Joan 'the Lame'

Daughter of Guy of Brittany, count of Penthièvre.

1341 - 1364

Charles of Blois

Husband and co-ruler. Killed in battle.

1341 - 1345

John (IV) of Montfort

Son of Arthur II. Rival claimant. Died.

1345 - 1364

John (V) of Montfort

Son. Became sole king as John IV 'the Conqueror'.


The War of the Breton Succession has become part of the Hundred Years' War overall, with the French and English thrones sponsoring and supporting their candidates. The English candidate, John (V) Monfort (shown as John IV in French sources because they never acknowledge the claim of his father), now secures his victory at the Battle of Auray.

The First Treaty of Guérande of the same year establishes John as duke of Brittany, with the now-widowed Joan 'the Lame' relinquishing her claim. The 'Golden Age of Brittany' begins in which the duchy is largely able to enjoy its independence and prosperity.

Guildhall stone shield
This stone shield from the Guildhall in London shows the royal arms of Edward III after he laid claim to the French throne (around 1340), with the fleurs-de-lis on a blue field alongside the three lions of England on a red field

1364 - 1399

Sir John V (IV) 'the Conqueror'

Infant son of John IV of Monfort in 1345. Earl of Richmond.

1373 - 1379

John is forced into exile in England when pressure exerted by Charles V of France reveals that John has no support amongst his own barons. While the duchy is governed by those barons, however, Charles makes the mistake of attempting to incorporate it directly into France. Bertrand du Guesclin, constable of France, nicknamed 'The Eagle of Brittany', is sent to enact this in 1378 and is immediately faced by a barons' revolt. John is invited back from his exile and makes peace with Charles. But he maintains the duchy's independence.

1399 - 1442

John VI (V) 'the Wise'

Son. Acceded as a minor. 'John VI' in English sources.

1399 - 1403

Joan / Joanna of Navarre

Mother and regent. Died 1437.

1415 - 1420

Henry V of England wins a surprise victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The young Charles VII of France is dispossessed and a long period of instability on Brittany's borders appears to be at an end. At the same time, after a brief attempt by the count of Penthièvre and his supporters to seize the ducal office, they are forced to surrender the Penthièvre title itself to the duke.

1442 - 1450

Francis I 'the Well-Loved'

Son. Earl of Richmond.

1450 - 1457

Peter II 'the Simple'

Brother. Earl of Richmond. Died childless.

1457 - 1458

Arthur III 'the Justicier'

Son of John IV 'the Conqueror'.

1458 - 1488

Francis II

Son-in-law of Francis I. m Margarita of Foix and Andorra.


Eleanore is the daughter of Blanca and John II, king of Aragon. Married to Gaston IV, count of Foix and co-prince of Andorra, she is already a widow by now (with Gaston dying in 1472). Instead, their grandson, Francis Phoebus, succeeds as king of Navarre, and has already served as the count of Foix and co-prince of Andorra since 1472. (His father, Gaston of Foix, son of Gaston IV, had predeceased his father in 1470, whilst his aunt, Princess Margarita of Foix had married Duke Francis II of Brittany in 1471.)

Battle of Agincourt
The overwhelming victory for the forces of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt destroyed the flower of French chivalry and gave all of France to a Lancastrian Plantagenet king


Francis II becomes embroiled in La Guerre Folle ('The Mad War'). He allies himself with HRE Maximilian I against France. The rebel Alain d'Albret reinforces the Breton army with 5,000 troops which have been supplied by 'the king of Spain' (presumably Castille). Maximilian also sends 1,500 men, and Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, brings with him a force of archers from England.

Brittany is defeated at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier on 28 July 1488. The power-base of the warring Breton noble leaders is also destroyed, with Edward Woodville being killed, and Louis of Orléans and Jean, prince of Orange being captured. Alain d'Albret and the Maréchal de Rieux succeed in escaping, and play an important part in continuing the conflict (until 1491), but a few days later, on 10 August, Duke Francis is forced to sign the Treaty of Verger.

He must submit himself and his duchy as a vassal of the king of France, and must also expel foreign princes and troops from Brittany. The treaty restricts his ability to marry his children to suitors of his choosing and requires that he cede territory in Saint-Malo, Fougères, Dinan, and Saint-Aubin to the king as a guarantee that in the absence of a male successor the king will determine the succession.

1488 - 1514



1491 - 1499

Anne, the last independent duchess of Brittany, is forced by the terms of the Treaty of Verger into an arranged marriage in 1491 with Charles VIII of France, following his invasion of the duchy to prevent her marrying the Habsburg HRE, Maximilian I. Soon widowed, Anne marries King Louis XII of France in 1499.

Dinan Chateau
The Dinan Chateau is located in the medieval walled town of Dinan, close to Brittany's northern coast and a little way to the north of the important Breton town of Rennes - the chateau served as one of the main residences of Duchess Anne (1488-1514)

1514 - 1524

Claude / Claudia

Dau. Nominally in control. m Francis I of France.


Wife of Francis I of France since 1514, Claude now becomes queen consort of France and the Union Treaty of Vannes (the 'Everlasting Union') is signed, creating a permanent personal union between the crowns of the duchy and France. Brittany and France continue to be regarded as separate countries, so that Breton aristocrats are classed as 'Prince Étrangers' ('Foreign Princes') when they attend the French court.

Brittany remains administered in divisions which correspond to Iron Age Celtic tribal territories (even today). In the early and high Middle Ages, the duchy's government had been decentralised along similar lines, with each region 'ruled' by an hereditary count (or countess).

1675 - 1941

The 1675 rebellion of the papier timbré in the west of France also involves Lower Brittany, where it comes to be known as the revolt of the 'Bonnets Rouges' (meaning 'red caps', as worn by many of the insurgents while others wear blue caps according to their region). Fomented by a rise in taxes which is contrary to the privileges enjoyed by Brittany since the union, it also targets the nobility. A 1718 conspiracy, the Pontallec Conspiracy, is also an anti-tax rebellion.

In 1789, King Louis of France is unable to impose the reforms he wants and fails to support his more competent ministers. An economic crisis which is aggravated by the American War of Independence leads the government to convene the states general on 5 May 1789. Ill-advised and influenced by the queen, Louis leads the monarchy to its fall.

Notre Dame Church of Kergrist-Moelou
The Notre-Dame church at Kergrist-Moëlou was built by the brothers Guillaume and Pierre Jézéquel in the early sixteenth century, whilst the Calvary to the right was first built in 1578 and, despite extensive damage being incurred during the French Revolution, it survives today

The French Revolution begins on 14 July with the storming of the Bastille prison during a popular uprising in Paris. On 10 August 1792 the Tuileries is taken by the Paris mob, signalling the end of the Ancien Régime. The king is deposed and imprisoned in the Temple with his family, and is condemned to death by a narrow majority. The parliament of Brittany is suspended and the duchy has no legal existence. Instead it is divided into five départements. The former situation is reinstated with the restoration of the French monarchy in 1814.

In 1932, the monument which represents Duchess Anne (1488-1514), kneeling to the king of France as a token of submission, is blown up in Rennes, by the clandestine organisation known as Gwenn ha Du.

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