Brittany - Origins country and Duchy

This page was updated on: Friday, April 7, 2017 at: 9:38 pm

Brittany, a land of granite


Pink Granite Coast

Brittany spreads over the large peninsula situated to the west of France.

The Massif Armoricain or Péninsule d'Armorique is a mountainous mass formed during the Paleozoic Era.

Indeed, six hundred million years ago France was entirely covered by a vast sea when the Earth's crust heaved under the thrust of the magma.

This thrust, known as the Hercynian Folding, created the mountainous masses: Massif Central in Auvergne, Ardennes and Vosges to the east and north, and the Massif Armoricain to the west.

These mountains were formed from solidified magma that produced impermeable crystalline rocks such as granite.


Pink Granite Coast

Therefore, most of Brittany underground consists of granite.

It is a coarse-grained rock mainly composed of quartz and feldspar with flecks of mica.

Its colour depends on the amount of feldspar it contains.

Natural erosion and the alternation of extreme climates during the Mesozoic shaped the reliefs.

Finally, the Massif Armoricain underwent a second tectonic thrust 60 million years ago.

This movement produced the rugged coastlines and beautiful coves that today turn the Breton coastline into one of the most attractive in France.

First Bretons in Armor and Argoat


Britania map

Archaeological finds show the first traces of occupation go back to around 700,000BC.

However, we know very little about the Neolithic tribes  who erected the many megalithic sites between 5500BC and 2000BC.

The Celts settled in the region in the 4th century BC and founded the confederation of the tribes of Armorica.

The Gallic Armorica was the vast coastal region that extended from Pornic to the south to Dieppe in Normandy.

Armor was the littoral, "the country near the sea", and Argoat was inland Brittany, "the wooded country".

The Celts from Cornwall who settled in Armorica in the 5th century AD rename it Britania.

Armorica was also known as Lesser Britannia, as opposed to Greater Britania - Great Britain!

Brittany (Breizh in Breton) is therefore one of the six Celtic Nations.



The others are Cornwall (Kernow), Ireland (Eire), the Isle of Man (Mannin), Scotland (Alba), and Wales (Cymru).

Breizh is Breton for Brittany and as the Bretons are very proud of their origins you will find the logo and the triskel everywhere.

Duchy of Brittany

In 845 King Louis the Pious appointed Nominoë (Nevenoe in Breton) as the first king of Brittany.

Nominoë is therefore considered the Father of the Breton Nation.


Historical map of Armorica

Indeed, he later opposed the administration of the Frankish Charles the Bald (Louis the Pious' successor).

He defeated him in 850AD and made Brittany an autonomous region.

The Normans invaded Brittany in the 10th century.

However, Nominoë's descendant, Alain II aka Alain Barbe-Torte (Wrybeard), defeated them and restored the region's autonomy.

He then created the Duchy of Brittany in 939.

Several leading Breton feudal dynasties ruled the duchy between the 10th and 12th centuries.

The kings of France and England fought over its strategic situation during the Hundred Years War.


Historical map of the Celtic populations of Armoric

Thus, the French kings appointed their best vassals as dukes in order to retain control of the region.

However, these almighty lords soon realised the geo-strategical stake of their duchy and fought to free themselves from their kings' authority.

The Duchy of Brittany, therefore, remained fully independent from 1360.

It was officially attached to the French Crown when Anne de Bretagne married King Charles VIII in 1491.

It became a French province in 1532, however, retained its autonomy and numerous privileges until the French Revolution.


Bretagne remained traditionally attached to the monarchy.

Jean Cottererau aka Jean Chouan set up a counter-revolutionary uprising known as Chouanerie.

This civil war began in 1791 and ended tragically in 1800 with the defeat and annihilation of the royalist insurgents.

Modern day Brittany


Breton dialects

The inhabitants of Northeastern Brittany or Haute Bretagne (Upper Brittany) mostly speak Gallo.

The inhabitants of Basse Bretagne (Lower Brittany - Breizh-Izel in Breton) in the south are proud to have retained their Breton dialect (Brezhoneg).

This region is also known as Bretagne Bretonnante (Breton-speaking Brittany).

Modern Brittany consists of 4 departments: Côtes d'Armor, Morbihan, Finistère and the Ille et Vilaine.

Historic Brittany included the Loire-Atlantique departement that is now part of the Pays de la Loire administrative region.

Photos Côtes de Granit Rose from Angela Haring Mit offenen Augen durch den Alltag - Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Britonia 6th century  Attribution  Public domain  -  Bretagne Historic Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license -  Peuple Celtes en Armorique  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license -  Breton dialects map  Attribution  Public domain

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