The Bretons

Michael Jones + Patrick Galliou

The history of Brittany [1490], Bretons offer a good mix of political narrative, archaeology, and economic and social history.

The first 3 chapters describes the archaeological record — Mesolithic and Paleolithic and finds, standing stones, Neolithic graves, socketed axes, Bronze Age tumuli,Trade, Burials, Iron Age crafts, settlement patterns, dwellings, politics, discuss religion, and various outside contacts. There are 2 chapters on Roman Armorica, the first is covering economic, social foundations, while the second is about putting the region in its broader political context.

7 chapters follow the history down to 1490: named the “Dark Age” migrations of Britons, they are largely from Devon and Cornwall, and their relationship with the Franks; Viking raids brought an end to the integration of Brittany in Carolingian empire as an independent kingdom; the development of feudal institutions, the duchy of Brittany revival and the rise of local lordships; relationships with Normandy and Anjou and an incorporation into the great Angevin empire; thus increasing their prosperity under the great Pierre Mauclerc and his successors; the civil war that lasted from 1341 to 1365, with the English and French interventions which followed the disputed Breton succession; and also the development of various state institutions under Montfort dukes, to the end of the independence together with the marriage of 1491 between the beautiful Anne of Brittany to Louis and also an act of unionism in 1532. The last chapter outlines briefly Breton’s history down to the present.

Asides covering military and political events, these chapters also include solid treatment of economic and social history — and the penultimate chapters are devoted to the portrait of Breton society found at the end of the medieval period. There are some discussions of historiography and sources: the linguistic evidence in the cartulary of Redon, the migration from Britain, the “matter of Brittany”, and the development of Breton’s history under the auspices of Montfort dukes. (The termination at 1491 and The choice of geographical region necessarily gives The Bretons a focus on “Bretons identity”, but there is nothing parochial about its own approach.)

The Bretons include a number of halftones, pottery, manuscripts coins, buildings, a few plans and genealogies. There are nearly about 20 maps with the illustrated features like “distribution of place-name suffix -ac”,  “distribution of the Bronze Age tumuli”, the “distribution of Bretons ‘greasy’ ware”, and mendicant and “monastic houses c. 1300”. There are no maps, however, the reader is believed to know the broad geography of Brittany, its principal towns and rivers.

The reader is also expected to have a general background in the ancient and medieval history of Western Europe: The Bretons are a scholarly history and not a popular work that was written for tourists. However, It is clearly written and also well presented, because it never gets bogged down in narrow details: it should work well for anyone who after something substantial.