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European Kingdoms

Celts of Armorica

 

County of Vannes (Armorican Romano-Britons)

The kingdom of Vannetais had been founded in Armorica by British ťmigrťs during the fourth and fifth centuries AD. As the kingdom 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. The name still seems to have been in use for the more nebulous eastern territories which bordered the Franks, but 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 itself.

At some point after that Bro Erech's territory appears to have been divided. Its southern part around Vannes and its northern part around Rennes both had their own separate lines of counts by the ninth century. 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 borderland failed, with much of this territory along with Nantes (on occasion) being reclaimed by the Bretons, principally by NominoŽ. Charlemagne had already established Vannes as a county around 799, when Frodoald, who came from a relatively obscure Austrasian noble family, was appointed count here. Frodoald's brother, Guy, was similarly positioned in Nantes. As the former heart of Bro Erech, Vannes is shown here as a diminished eventual continuance, whilst Rennes - arguably the more powerful of the two in later years - has its own timeline.

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 indeed a division of Vannes and not the other way around. The name is the same, simply changed over time due to language shifts. However, the origins of Vannes in its earliest form seem less clear. Caradog Freichfras was king of Gwent in mid-South Wales, and he is credited (in near-legendary terms) with sailing to Armorica to found the kingdom of Vannetais in the late fifth century. More probably he assumed command of an existing British settlement, if he came at all. The name Gwened is used as a source for the earliest form of the name Vannes. This would seem to be a re-usage of Gwynedd in North Wales, and this is usually claimed to be the case. Given the traditional involvement of Caradog Freichfras, however, it would seem more likely that the name was based on 'Gwent', or 'Guenta' in its earlier post-Roman form.

The trouble is that finding a language shift to account for Gwent or Guened/Guenta becoming Vannes (or Rennes) raises a severe problem. The usual progression in ethnic P-Celtic areas is from Latin 'v' (ie the 'w' sound) to 'gw' (pronounced goow or gwoo). There's no plausible reverse shift to take a name from Veneti ('weneti') to Guened (or Gwent, which is even more doubtful) to Vannes. Another example which includes an initial 'g' being dropped does not come to mind, but in names (many in Gaul) where the 'w' sound was not replaced by a 'gw' sound, these indeed did progress to a 'v' sound. So while the shift from Guened to Vannes seems highly unlikely, the possibility does exist.

The county of PenthiŤvre belonged to the House of Vannes from at least the eleventh century. One man who can be linked to PenthiŤvre - if not the actual count - was Raoul, briefly king of Brittany in 922-923. Another was the final governor of New France in 1661-1663, Pierre Dubois d'Avaugour.

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.)

c.799 - ?

Frodoald

An Austrasian. First (Frankish) count of Vannes.

818

King Louis 'the Pious' (Louis-le-Pieux) of the Frankish empire sends Abbot Witchar to negotiate with King Morvan of Brittany, 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.

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)

King Louis 'the Pious' (Louis-le-Pieux) of the Frankish empire sends Abbot Witchar to negotiate with King Morvan of Brittany, 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.

824

In order to put a stop to various Breton rebellions, Louis 'the Pious' now appoints NominoŽ as the first duke of Brittany and chief of the Vannetais. Placing NominoŽ as first duke of Brittany in 824 appears to contradict the entries for Wiomarch and Lowenen until 837, but referring to him as chief of the Vannetais suggests that he becomes the first native count of Vannes at this time. There seems to be no evidence either way to prove or disapprove this, unfortunately, other than two charters which confirm his position in Vannes but not when it is assumed.

824? - 851

NominoŽ / Nominoe

Count of Vannes (& Poher?). First duke of Brittany?

845

With the accession of Charles 'the Bald' (Charles-le-Chauve) to the throne of West Francia, NominoŽ 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).

Map of the Frankish empire at the Treaty of Verdun AD 843
This map shows the division of the Carolingian empire between Charlemagne's three surviving grandsons according to the Treaty of Verdun in AD 843, but the 'march' that had penned in the Britons of Armorica was starting to fail (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The ambitious NominoŽ, count of Vannes, does not settle for only one victory. Instead he boldly goes on to conquer Rennes and Nantes (with the help and support of Lambert of Nantes), as well as the provinces of Maine and Anjou.

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

851

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

851 - 857

Erispoe / ErispoŽ (the Younger)

Son. Duke of Brittany. Count of Vannes (& Poher?)? Murdered.

? - 874?

Ridoredh of Vannes

Count of Vannes/Gwened (& Poher?). Prominent landowner.

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.

Medieval Vannes
The medieval centre of Vannes was being laid down by this time, although it reached its current state during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, by which time Brittany was a French appendage

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 (and possibly also Poher).

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 JudicaŽl 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.

874 - 877

Pascweten / Pasquitan

Son. Brother of Alain I of Brittany.

877 - 907

Alain I

Brother.

? - c.903

Pascweten / Pasquitan 'the Younger'

Son. Possible count of Rennes. Predeceased his father.

907

The death of Alain 'the Great', son of Ridoredh, results in instability in the land. GourmaŽlon, 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, MathuedoÔ, 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.

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 CŰtes-d'Armor dťpartement is shown here)

907? - 919?

Rudalt

Brother. Fled the Vikings.

913/914

The Loire Vikings invade, slaying King GourmaŽlon in battle and occupying Brittany. 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). It is possible that the Bretons also lose control of Vannes at this time. It is hard to say whether there is a sitting count of Vannes, although there do seem to be viable candidates for the position.

MathuedoÔ, 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. MathuedoÔ 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 ∆thelstan (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'.

919? - 936?

MathuedoÔ / Malhuedoc I

Brother-in-law. 'Count of Poher'. m daughter of Alain I.

936 - 942

Having already encouraged a failed Breton rebellion against the Vikings, the monk Yann de Landťvennec now calls on Alain to return to Brittany, which he does in 936 with the blessing and support of ∆thelstan of Wessex. Meanwhile, the future Hugh 'the Great' of Aquitaine is organising the return of Louis IV to West Francia. Alain's campaign against the Loire Vikings is successful and he is declared Duke Alain II.

Alain II
MathuedoÔ's greatest claim to fame may be as the father of Alain II, duke of Brittany, Vannes, and Nantes, and count of Poher, who returned from exile to lead the Bretons to victory over the Loire Vikings and thereby recover the duchy

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.

936 - 952

Alain II 'the Fox'

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

952 - 958

Drogo

Son. Prince of Brittany. Last count of Vannes?

958 - 990

Brittany appears to be ruled by the counts of Nantes at this time, probably HoŽl or Guerech of Nantes. The numbering for Hoels as dukes would suggest that this particular Hoel is not involved (although this does not help in Guerech's case).

After 990 the duchy is certainly ruled by the counts of Rennes upon the accession of Conan I, and until 1066. By this time, 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.

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

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

An alternative possibility is that Vannes and Nantes are reunified following Drogo's death, now under the control of Nantes. Either way, events for Vannes largely follow the same path as those for Brittany as a whole.