The Bretons are a distinct ethnic group located in the region of Brittany in France. They trace much of their heritage to groups of Brythons who settled the area from south western Britain in the 4th-6th centuries. The region of Brittany is named after them, and some still speak the Celtic Breton language.
Brittany was a quasi-independent kingdom and Duchy
during the Middle Ages, and an important object of contention between the kingdoms of England and France. The War of the Breton Succession
was a central component of the Hundred Years' War
Bretons are thought to have played a key, though nebulous, part in the transmission of Arthurian legend into wider European literature. Geoffrey of Monmouth was himself a Welshman of Breton descent.
Bretons have emigrated around the world, at various points in their history. One wing of William the Conqueror's army in 1066 was Breton, as were many of the 'Normans' who took part in the conquest and colonization of England, Wales, Ireland, Sicily, and other lands. Breton ports became key points of departure during the French colonization of the Americas (particularly Nantes, Saint-Malo, and later Lorient and Brest). Bretons furnished a significant proportion of the French colonists in present-day Québec; they played an important role in the French slave trade and buccaneering. For a long time, Catholic priests in Haiti were recruited primarily from Brittany (this was during a period when the church was reluctant to ordain black Haitians as priests). There is a substantial Breton community in Greater Paris.
Modern Breton identity
Today, the Breton ethnicity
is not recognised by the French Republic
, nor by the European Union
or any other official body, which is why there are no specific statistics on that population. However, it is reported that hundreds of thousands of people in France
claim Breton ethnicity
, including a few French celebrities
such as Patrick Le Lay or Patrick Poivre d'Arvor
Breton is a Brythonic language
closely related to Cornish
and a bit more distantly to Welsh
. The Breton language as such is part of the Insular Celtic language
group. In eastern Brittany, a regional langue d'oïl
developed; it shares certain points of vocabulary, idiom, and pronunciation with Breton.
Neither language has official status under French law; however, some still use Breton as an everyday language (particularly those of the older generation) and bilingual road signs are common in the west of Brittany
. During the first half of the 20th Century, Breton was strongly discouraged by the French state and it was often looked down upon in schools and churches.
The Breton people are predominantly Roman Catholic
, with Reformed
is one of the most staunchly Roman Catholic
regions in all of France
. Attendance of Sunday mass
dropped during the 1970s and the 1980s but other religious practices such as pilgrimages
have experienced a revival. This includes the Tro Breizh
which takes in the shrines of the seven founding saints of Breton Christianity
. The Christian Tradition
is widely respected by both believers and nonbelievers, who see it as a symbol of Breton heritage and culture
Symbols of Britanny
- National Anthem: Bro Gozh ma Zadoù ("Old Country of My Fathers")
- Motto of the Dukes of Brittany: Kentoc'h mervel eget bezañ saotret in Breton, or Potius mori quam fœdari in Latin
- National Day: 19 May, the Feast of Saint Erwann (Saint Yves)
- Chivalric order: L'Ordre de l'Hermine (The Order of the Stoat)