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Union between Brittany and France

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Title: Union between Brittany and France  
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Subject: History of France, Brittany, Jacques Cartier, Duchy of Brittany, History of Brittany, Gwenn ha du (terrorism), Revolt of the papier timbré, Representations of Anne of Brittany
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Union between Brittany and France

The Duchy of Brittany was a part of the Kingdom of France during the reigns of Francis II, Duke of Brittany, and King Charles VIII of France. These two sovereigns waged two separate wars against each other, which ended with Charles VIII's eventual marriage to the heiress of Brittany, Anne. Thereafter Brittany was a part of the French royal domain, but the crown and the duchy were not held by the same hereditary claimant until the reign of Henry II.

Caveats concerning the Nature of the Union of Brittany and France

Any history of the Union of Brittany and France would be incomplete without the recollection of the statement made by Louis IV of France that Brittany was not part of his kingdom. French King Louis IV had been a close friend of Breton Duke Alan II, both had grown up together at the court of the King of England, and each faced a potentially permanent occupation by Viking invaders. Throughout its history the Kingdom of Brittany and then the Duchy of Brittany constantly sought independence from Viking invaders, Merogovian Kings, Carolingian Emperors, Norman Dukes, and English, French and Spanish Kings alike. Strong movements for autonomy and even Separatist movements persist in Brittany to modern times, accelerated in part by France's recent decision to become a leading member of the European Union.

The history of the Union of Brittany and France is also incomplete without an understanding that Henry II of France worked to retain the separate legal status of the Duchy even while he, in his person, represented the final step towards the unification. His motivation stemmed from the possibility that the wars against France would be lost and that in such event he, or his successor, would at least be able to fall back on the Duchy of Brittany to preserve their royal status and function.

The King of France as Duke of Brittany jure uxoris

Charles VIII became Duke of Brittany jure uxoris upon his marriage to Anne of Brittany. During their marriage, Charles VIII prohibited Anne of Brittany from using the title of Duchess of Brittany, and imposed his own rule on the Duchy through a Royal Governor from the House of Penthievre. However, when the King died leaving the royal couple childless, the Duchy of Brittany reverted to Anne of Brittany. She returned to Brittany and re-established her independent rule. Anne's actions underscored that the Duke of Brittany's line of succession was governed by the Celtic nation's peculiar form of Semi-Salic Law rather than the strict Salic Law governing the Kingdom of France. Her actions also demonstrated that the Duke of Brittany and the King of France, at least at this time, remained distinct and separable titles.

Charles VIII's successor, Louis XII quickly married Anne of Brittany to regain the title of Duke of Brittany jure uxoris . Their daughter Claude of France inherited the Duchy of Brittany in her own right, and passed on the title of King of France and the Duke of Brittany jure uxoris in August 1532, through her marriage to Francis I of France.

Francis I sought to enfold Brittany into the Kingdom of France through parliamentary manoeuvres. Francis I formally invited the Duchy of Brittany to join the French crown. On August 13, 1532, an edict of union was signed by the Estates of Brittany in Nantes.[1][2] Some members of the parliament (the States of Brittany) were intimidated into co-operation with the union or bought off, with the demand for union in fact being inspired by Francis I.[3] (Louis Melennec has argued that the legal validity of the union is doubtful on such grounds.)[4]

The King of France as Hereditary Duke of Brittany

The Union of Brittany and France was nearly perfected through the eldest son of Francis I of France and Claude of France, Francis III, Duke of Brittany, the Dauphin of France. That Francis I of France allowed his eldest son to carry the title and authority of the Duke of Brittany attests to substantive perception that the Duchy of Brittany remained separate from the Kingdom of France. However, before the Kingship and Dukedom could be joined in one person, Francis I died, never to inherit the French Crown.

Regardless of the validity of the Edict of Union of 1532, four years later in 1536, Henry II, the second son of Francis I of France and Claude of France, the Duchess of Brittany, assumed the French throne. Thereby the Duchy of Brittany was considered incorporated into the Kingdom of France upon the death of his mother. [5][6]

The crowns of Brittany and France differ principally in the application of Salic Law, and this difference remains to challenge the permanent union of the two crowns. Before this legalistic challenge ever surfaced, however, centuries passed, and a later King of France (who remained Duke of Brittany in his own right), Louis XVI, was deposed and beheaded by the French Revolution.

The French Revolution eliminated royalty and nobility and also any vestiges of a governing sovereign for both the Kingdom of France and the Duchy of Brittany and the parliament of Brittany remains suppressed to modern times.


In the 15th century, the Duchy of Brittany remained an independent and sovereign state led by a Sovereign Duke (see Duchy of Brittany. The more recent Dukes of Brittany rendered homage to the French king, although Francis II, Duke of Brittany desired a return to greater independence. After the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, it manifested itself in direct conflicts between the king and the great princes of the kingdom. Francis II sought alliances and established diplomatic relations with England, the Holy See, and the Holy Roman Empire. The French ambassadors contested some of the duchy's moves toward independence and its assertion of historic sovereignty.

States that neighbored Brittany tried to control it, either for the country's own sake or as a staging post in other conflicts:

The union of Brittany and France was a critical step in the formation of modern-day France. Geographically, Francis I of France's action resulted in France's northern border to become the English Channel and its western border, as far south as the Pyrenees Mountains, to become the Atlantic Ocean, save for island territories and colonies. Politically this unification marked the final end to over 1000 years of efforts by the various Kings of England to control Brittany, and more recent efforts by the King of Spain to establish a foothold there.

The territorial expansion of France brought it to the borders of Brittany and led to the goal of overlordship or direct control of the peninsula. After union to the French crown the Duchy of Brittany was able to maintain certain privileges and symbolic independence. The Estates of Brittany continued to function independently of the Estates of France. The second son of Francis I of France, Henry II of France, attempted to preserve a legally separate Duchy, and it is felt by some historians that he did this to preserve the region as a sovereign haven for himself during a period when France was at war with Spain.

From the start of the Breton War of Succession in 1341, France sought this goal and because France never willingly accepted the victory of the opposing prince, battles or wars followed one another until the final French success in 1491, 1532 or 1598, according to different views and different sources.

Roman and post Roman times

According to Julius Caesar, Brittany (fr. Bretagne) was historically part of Celtic Gaul as Armorica (Gaulic for "Place by the Sea"). On the fall of the Roman Empire, it was integrated into the Gallo-Roman domain of Syagrius, with the support of Ambrosius Aurelius, leader of the Breton immigrants from Great Britain, although the latter had not concluded any treaty with the Roman Empire permitting their settlement in Brittany. Syagrius proclaimed himself king. The territory was liberated from imperial control and was awarded by the emperor to Clovis I after his victory at Soissons. Clovis received the titles of Honorary Consul and Patricius, thus assuring the legitimacy of his authority over the ancient Gallo-Roman domain. Brittany was immediately incorporated into the kingdom of Childebert I.

With chaos spreading over Brittany, the Frankish kings, following their policy of partial delegation of power to local representatives (a precursor of the feudal system), nominated administrators of Brittany. Thus Nominoë was designated as Missus Imperatoris (emissary of the emperor) by King Louis the Pious, and then as Ducatus Ipsius Gentismissus of the Bretons, before he rebelled against royal power and obtained a degree of autonomy for Brittany.

The French Chancery justified its sovereignty over Brittany based on historical precedent:

The Breton chroniclers and the Breton Chancellery of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries defended the opposite view, arguing mainly from settlement of the territory by Bretons at an earlier date than by the Franks; but conveniently forgetting the lack of a treaty with the Roman Empire permitting the settlement in Brittany and the settlement of the Franks in the Vannes region, as well as agreements with the Frankish kings in authority following the advent of Clovis. They also argued for the sovereignty of Brittany based on its status as an ancient kingdom, although Nominoe, who had won considerable autonomy for the administration of Britain, never had the title of king, and the fact that the homage paid by the dukes to the kings was one of alliance rather than as lieges. This last point was not recognized by the King of France.


In continuing this traditional policy, the kings of France found around 1600 the means of returning the duchy to their bosom:

  • England, a traditional ally of the Counts of Montfort-l'Amaury, was unable to act in force on the continent after she was expelled in 1450-52 and while she was embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. Following the war, the new Tudor dynasty did not yet have the resources within England to permit a risky attempt to expand overseas.
  • Brittany lost another important ally with the 1477 death of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, who was succeeded by a daughter.
  • The end of the dynasty of Anjou in 1482 gave the king control of the border between Anjou and Brittany.
  • The Breton nobility had many interests in the kingdom and, like other nobles, those concerning pensions related to their titles. In addition, the nobles envied the influence of the Valois and of the treasurer of the Landes (an administrative division in southern France), who was a simple commoner.
  • Francis II, Duke of Brittany, had irritated the nobility of Brittany when, as Prince of the Loire Valley, he had from his childhood retained strong ties with the princes of Valois at the French court (hence the unfortunate coalitions during the feudal revolts against the king).
  • This lack of authority over his upper aristocracy and his government in general deprived Francis II, and later Anne of France, of support. The nobility preferred to respect royal power, and only associated themselves weakly with the revolt of the great feudal lords during the Mad War (La Guerre Folle) revolt against Anne's regency.
  • Francis II had no legitimate male heir, so his two daughters, Anne and Isabeau, were proclaimed heirs before the States of Brittany (the Breton Council) in conformity with the Duchy's semi-Salic law of inheritance. However, there were other potential claimants: the Viscount of Rohan, the Prince of Orange, Alain d'Albret and the King of France, who had purchased an inheritance claim from the Penthièvre family (arising from the treaty signed at the end of the Breton War of Succession).

Treaty of Sablé

The survival of the Breton state was affected by the marriage of Anne of Brittany. Following the Battle of Saint-Aubin du Cormier, the Treaty of Sablé, or "treaty of the orchard", concluded with King Charles VIII of France on 19 August 1488, required the agreement of the French king to any marriage of the daughters of Francis II.

Louis XI felt a great hatred for the Duke of Brittany following the latter's involvement in a number of great conspiracies. He and his successors, the regent Anne de Beaujeu and Charles VIII, wished to:

  • destroy the threat of encirclement of the kingdom between Burgundy (and subsequently the Circle of Burgundy, which comprised the Burgundian Netherlands and the County of Burgundy, which passed to the archduke of Austria) to the north and east, and Brittany to the west.
  • consolidate the power of the king in the face of Francis II, who, like the other princes, had profited from the enfeeblement of the monarchy to endue himself with symbols of sovereignty, such as a royal seal, a royal crown, the adoption of the principle of lèse-majesté, the establishment of a sovereign parliament (or court of justice), the establishment of a university (at Nantes), independent and direct diplomatic relations with the then major powers, and the eviction of the King's tax collectors.
  • punish those nobles who had fought on the anti-royalist side against Francis II, who had participated in the League of the Public Weal (1465), the conquest of Normandy in 1467-68 for Charles of France (1446–1472), the war of 1471-1473, the Mad War (La Guerre Folle) (1484–85) and the Franco-Breton war (1487–1488).

Political and economic factors

The duchy could only submit, in spite of its occasional resistance, in the face of one of Europe's strongest armies. The Breton elite were attracted by France's royal court, but the Breton merchant bourgeoisie in Saint-Malo did not identify with the interests of the Dukes of Brittany.

See also



  • Gabory, Émile. L'Union de la Bretagne à la France: Anne de Bretagne, duchesse et reine. Plon, 1941.
  • Germain, José, and Stéphane Faye. Bretagne en France et l'union de 1532. Tallandier, 1931.
  • Le Page, Dominique, and Michel Nassiet. L'union de la Bretagne à la France. Éditions Skol Vreizh, 2003.
  • Leguay, Jean-Pierre. "La fin de l'indépendance bretonne." Fastes et malheurs de la Bretagne ducale 1213-1532. Ouest-France Université, 1992. p. 434-435.
  • de Mauny, Michel. 1532: le grand traité franco-breton. On account of the author, 1971.
  • de Mauny, Michel. 1532-1790, les dessous de l'union de la Bretagne à la France. Éditions France-Empire, 1986. ISBN 2-7048-0510-5.
  • de Mauny, Michel. Traité d'union de la Bretagne à la France. Celtics Chadenn, 2002. ISBN 2-84722-016-X.

External links

  • Letter of Vannes of 4 August 1532
  • Edict of Union signed at Nantes in August 1532
  • Edict of Plessis-Macé confirming Brittany's privileges (September 1532)


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