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European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica


County of Rennes (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 their 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. 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 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.

As the kingdom of Vannetais became better known as Brittany ('Little Britain') thanks to its British dominance, the name Vannetais seems to have remained attached to the land itself, or at least areas of it. This name still seems to have been in use for the more nebulous eastern territories which bordered the Franks, but it was eventually changed or evolved into Bro Erech. This remained a petty kingdom within Brittany until the seventh century, when it was seemingly inherited by the king of Brittany in person.

As for Rennes, it may be a somewhat poorly-accepted opinion, but it seems likely that the Rhegin Britons were also involved in the colonisation process of Armorica. 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. The Rhegin Britons would quite naturally have taken territory in the east of early Domnonia (opposite their brothers on Britain's south coast), and their colony was seemingly soon absorbed into Vannetais itself. The only south coast Britons who seem not to have crossed are the Canti.

At some point, Bro Erech's territory appears to have been divided. By the ninth century its southern section around Vannes and its northern section around Rennes both had their own separate lines of counts. The two sections were anyway divided by heavily forested highlands and were sparsely populated. The division appears to be due to the Frankish creation of a 'Breton March' or borderland, which was designed to keep the Bretons contained within Armorica and prevent their expansion eastwards. In the ninth century this failed, with all this territory along with Nantes being reclaimed by the Bretons. As the former heart of Bro Erech, Vannes is shown as a diminished eventual continuance of that principality, whilst Rennes - arguably the more powerful of the two in later years - is shown separately here.

According to an Angevin genealogy of the eleventh century, the House of Rennes was descended in the male line from the House of Vannes, showing a likelihood that Rennes was a division of Vannes, and not the other way around. The name Rennes seems to descended from the tribe which counted this town as one of its settlements, the Celtic Redones (which does seem to count against a migration here by Rhegin Britons). This was not their main settlement, however. That was at Condate which was located between the rivers Ille and Vilaine (the modern Redon).

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), from English Historical Documents c.500-1042: Chronicle of Nantes (Chapter 27), Dorothy Whitelock (Ed, Second Edition, 1979), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and PopulationData.net.)


Paris is sacked by the army of the Danish Viking king, Ragnarr Lothbrok (father of Ivarr the Boneless and Halfdan, rulers in succession of the Viking kingdom of Dublin).

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

In the same year conflict with Brittany also rears its head. With the accession of Charles 'the Bald' (Charles-le-Chauve) to the throne of West Francia, Duke Nominoë of the Bretons has been acting entirely independently. Charles now sends an army to quell this upstart but it is defeated at Ballon, near Redon, and the ambitious Nominoë, not settling for only one victory, 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 as duke of Brittany, 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'.

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

852 - 874

Salaun / Solomon / Salomon

Count of Rennes & Nantes. Seized Breton throne.

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 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.

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.

874 - 877

Gurvand of Rennes / Wrhwant

m daughter of Nominoë of the Bretons (837-851).

877 - 888

Judicaël / Judicael



Although Judicaël has been the opponent of Alain of Vannes in the struggle for domination of Brittany, the two unite to fight off the Vikings. The raiders are defeated at the Battle of Questembert in 888 or 889, but Judicaël is killed during the action. Alain's son, Pascweten, is given as the father of Berenguer of Rennes, which raises the possibility that Alain gifts the now leaderless county to him.

Sigisbert IV of Frankish Austrasia is supposed to have sought refuge at Château Hautpoul in Rennes-le-Château following the assassination of his father, Dagobert II, in 679

888? - c.903

Pascweten / Pasquitan 'the Younger'

Son of Alain I of Vannes. Possibly count of Rennes.


Great-grandson of Gurvand. Count?


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.

c.931 - c.971

Judicaël / Judicael Berenguer

Son or grandson of Berenguer. 'Judicaël of Nantes'.

958 - 970

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).

After 990 the duchy is certainly ruled by the counts of Rennes upon the accession of Conan I, and 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.

970 - 992

Conan I 'the Crooked'

Son. Duke of Brittany (990-992). Killed in battle.


Conan 'the Crooked' allies himself with the count of Blois and attacks Nantes, soon after which the young Count Alain dies. This leaves Conan the undisputed claimant as duke of Brittany, succeeding the governance of the regency 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.

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

992 - 1008

Geoffrey Berengar / Godfrey I

Son. Duke of Brittany. Killed.


One of Geoffrey's sons is Odo (Eozen) I. Eozen's most famous son is Count Alan Rufus, companion of the Norman Duke William (eventually to be 'the Conqueror').

FeatureAlan Rufus also becomes lord of Cambridge, 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), 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. 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.

1008 - 1040

Alain III

Son. Duke of Brittany.

1040 - 1066

Conan II

Son Duke of Brittany. Last ruling duke of the House of Rennes.

1066 - 1156

The ruling dukes of Brittany, who are drawn from Cornouaille, are also counts of Nantes and Rennes during this period, In 1156, the House of Rennes rules Brittany again as the House of Penthièvre under Conan IV, great-great-grandson of Geoffrey I (992-1008).

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)

1156 - 1171

Conan IV 'the Black'

House of Penthièvre (Vannes). Duke of Brittany.


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.

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. Rennes, meanwhile, remains part of Brittany and follows the same timeline of events.

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