History of Britanny

Brittany has a colourful history that stretches back thousands of years in fact probably around seven thousand years making it a place of great interest to historians and lovers of all things past alike. Brittany certainly has Neolithic origins but here we will travel back in time to look at the more recent history of Brittany exploring what made it the beautiful place it is today.

Image of Mount St Michel in Britanny Image of Mount St Michel in Britanny Image of Mount St Michel in Britanny

Early Brittany 

The Celts settled in Brittany around 600 BC but were overtaken by The Romans led by Julius Caesar during his Gallic campaigns through Europe. Caesar conquered all of France including Brittany enslaving its people, while Brittany remained a province of Rome for some four centuries. Naturally you would imagine there are all kinds of Roman remains in Brittany from this era but there is actually very little evidence of the Roman occupation which is rather a mystery.

The Romans eventually left Brittany and it isn't until 6 AD that we see settlers from Southern England, Ireland and Wales arriving on the shores of Brittany. Many of these settlers were known as the Breton Saints so named as they were associated with Saint Patrick and Saint David, while they were thought to be the people who founded the diocese of Brittany. The area became known as Brittany with England, Wales and Ireland being known as Great Britain to differentiate between the two.

The Bretons

The Bretons were a fiercely independent people who resisted being conquered over many years and indeed were the only people who were not taken over by Charlemagne of the Frankish Empire in the seventh century even though they had been subjected to many campaigns over the years. By the 800's the Bretons had organised themselves into a formidable group under one leader who advanced the land owned by the Bretons as far as Nantes, which is now the map of present day Brittany.

Ruled now by the Breton Dukes medieval Brittany was a prosperous driving force as a prominent maritime and trading area that included such towns as St Malo and Vannes. With great wealth and prosperity comes envy and greed with Brittany finding it difficult to keep its independence from neighbouring states who wanted a piece of its success. Brittany eventually lost its independence when it was taken over and absorbed into France, this was during the reign of Anne of Brittany in 1532.

Brittany's Descending Fortune

Image of Mount St Michel in Britanny

Once Brittany became part of France its fortunes waned, while at the time of the French Revolution in 1789 it was declared that it was unpatriotic to follow anything but the total French identity meaning Brittany's institutions were now lost. Things over time went from bad to worse with a marginalised Brittany falling into economic degeneration.

With very little investment in the area Brittany was somewhat side lined by the French people who thought of them as uncouth due to their accents that were regarded to be not strictly French. Even during the First World War the conscripts of Brittany saw far higher casualties on the battle field than counterparts from other regions of France.

The situation for Brittany descended even further when the French government capitulated to Adolf Hitlers troops allowing Brittany to become occupied by the German enemy. Brittany was the key to Hitlers plans as he sited his based his Atlantic Submarine fleet in the ports of Brest and Lorient on the coast of Brittany. Obviously the allies bombarded these areas during the conflict bringing death and destruction to Brittany once again.

Post War Brittany

After the end of the Second World War the number of people in Brittany who spoke the Breton language declined sharply with mainstream French coming to the fore. Bad luck seems to have dogged the coast of Brittany with events such as the grounding of the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz near the port of Portsall resulting in the worlds fifth largest oil spill ever! This naturally affected the coast of Brittany badly causing insurmountable problems for the caostline and wildlife around it.

Interesting Dates

The first kingdom of Brittany was founded in 845 AD

Breton independence recognised in 851 AD

First publication of Breton/Latin/French dictionary 1465

Duke Francis II signs over the independence of Brittany to France 1488

Brittany officially becomes part of France in 1532

The ports of Malo, Brest and Lorient are renovated in 17th century

Nantes becomes a major trading place in 18th century

Brittany is divided into five areas in 1789 losing all priviledges agreed in the Union Treaty of 1532

Brittany Today

Brittany today is predominantly an agricultural area dealing in the rearing of cows, pigs and poultry. Producing over twenty percent of France's milk, most of its vegetables and cereals, forty eight percent of France's eggs and fifty one percent of its fish production it is an important region today when it comes to agriculture.

Citroen is one of the main manufacturers in the region producing cars, while ship building and telecommunications are also very much part of the economy too. Brittany is also France's fourth most visited region due to its beautiful coastline that has many picturesque villages, towns and not to forget amazing beaches.

Celtic and Breton music is very popular now in Brittany harping back to Brittany's colourful history, while the people of Brittany hold onto their culture and past which makes this part of the world the splendid place it is today.