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Brittany: Many Kingdoms or One?
Jean-Michel Pognat's attempt to establish an Historical King-List.

The Bretons before they had Kings (410 - 490).

If we accept that Bretons are attested in today's Brittany long before the end of the Roman Empire, the first Breton chief to be cited on the continent must be Ivomadus who, with 1000 men, established himself in Blois in 410 (Chronicles of Anjou). These men were, undoubtedly, the remains of the army of the Emperor Constantine who crossed the Channel after his proclamation as Constantine III in 406. After Constantine, who cannot actually be considered a King, Jordanes explains that a monarch named Riothamus fought the Visigothic King Euric with an army of 12000 (!) men in 469. He was an ally of Emperor Anthemius. After this, the only other known fact from the 5th century is that the town of Blois was captured by the Frankish King Clovis in 491 (Chronicles of Anjou).

The supposed Kingdoms of Cornouaille, Broërec, Domnonée et Léon.

BROËREC (the name derives from Bro-Waroch) is well known historically thanks to Bishop Gregory of Tours. However, the name of this area itself is not given by this famous bishop but only by later traditions, especially the Lives of the Saints. Because the circumstances described by Gregory take place near Vannes, the following "Kings" are supposed to have ruled over this region. The situation is described thus:

  • c.550: The region is divided between five brothers. One, Canao, kills three of the others. The fifth, Macliau, is saved by St. Felix and the King, Conomor of Domnonée (alias Cunomorus) who appoints him as Bishop of Vannes.
  • 560: Conomor is killed in a war against the Frankish armies of King Clotaire, youngest son of Clovis.

Gregory tells us that after the death of Canao, his brother, Macliau, gives up the Bishopric of Vannes to become King. We can be sure that in 568, Macliau was still Bishop for he participated in the consecration of a new church in Nantes two years after the Meeting of the Council of Tours (566) (Fortunat, poems, ch. 6, book III). So:

  • c.570: Macliau becomes King. As an ally of King Budic of Cornouaille, he enters into a reciprocal arrangement whereby the two kings promise each other that whichever monarch survives will take care of the other's son. Of course, when Budic dies, Macliau forces Budic's son, Tewdwr, to flee.
  • 577: Macliau and his son, Jacob, are killed by Tewdwr. Waroch, the second son of Macliau becomes King.
  • Waroch is still King in 594 when Gregory dies. It is probable that his son Canao II was his successor (though when is unclear).

After 594, we have no information on the supposed Broërec.

DOMNONÉE is first known through the record of King Conomor above. He is supposed to have killed the previous ruler, Jonas, and to have imprisoned Jonas' son, Judual. Later, Judual kills Conomor and rules Domnonée himself. Conomor (alias Cunomorus) is often thought to have also ruled in Cornwall where he is identified with Cynfarch or Mark.

Before Jonas, several Lives of the Saints give the Kings as:

 Riwal (c.500)

Deroc

Riatham

Riwal "ruled beyond and on this side of the sea" according to the Life of Saint Lunaire. In 635, King Judicaël is also attested by Fredegaire, who continued the work of Gregory of Tours.

The Life of St Winnoc gives the following ancestry :

Gerenton

 alias Gereint

 Catou

 alias Cadwy (Bonedd y Saint & the Life of St.Winwaloe)

Urbien

alias Erbin ap Gereint (Life of St.Cybi) or Erbin ap Custennin Corenu (Bonedd y Saint)

 Guitol

 

 Riwal

 

 Riatham

 

The name Deroc in the previous list would, therefore, seem to be Riwal's epithet derived from Ferox, a Latin name meaning "the Arrogant" and probably applied to the early 4th century Roman General Gerontius and several of his descendants, then mistranslated into Welsh as Derog, "the obstinate one".

The so-called Dynasty of CORNOUAILLE is described in the Cartuliary of Landevennec and gives nineteen names, but no relationships:

King

Recorded Comments

Notes

Rivelen Mor Marthou

 

This is, in fact, a transcriptual error for Cynfelyn ap Arthwyr ap Mar of the Northern British Genealogies. He therefore has Coel Hen for his great-great-great grandfather

Rivelen Marthou

 

He is the same as the above.

Congar

 

He is perhaps to be identified with Cyngar ap Owain (probably ap Macsen Wledig) of the Dyfed Royal pedigrees.

Gradlon Mur

 

Known by the monk, Wrdisten. He lived c.500.

Daniel Drem Rud

who was King of the Alamanni 

We must perhaps read Albion in place of the Alamanni.

Budic and Maxenri

Two Brothers 

Budic is said to have fled to the Court of Aircol of Dyfed c.480. This confirms the ties between Cornouaille and Dyfed mentioned above.

Iahan Reith

 

 

Daniel Unua

 

 

Gradlon Flam

 

 

Concar Cheroenoc

 

 

Budic Mur

 

Fled overseas with his father Concar in the 6th century.

Fragual Fradeloec

 

 

Gradlon Plueneor

 

He was probably a monk near Orleans c.900.

Aulfret Alesrudon

 

 

Diles Heirguor Chebre

 

Known by a deed, featured in the Cartuliary of Landevennec, dated between 946 and 952 where his father, Aulfret, is also cited.

Budic Bud Berhuc

 

Died between 1008 and 1031

Binidic

 

 

Alan Canhiarh

 

 

Houel Huuel

 

 

This list is incomplete for, about 900, we know of Rivelen and Gourmaelon from other sources. Furthermore, we can see that there are some three hundred years between Budic Mur and Gradlon Plueneor.

LÉON, if it ever really existed, flourished in the 6th century. Men named Withur and Ausoch may have been two of its sovereigns.

My conclusion: Broërec, Cornouaille, Domnonée and Léon never existed as independent Kingdoms.  

Let us prove such a nonconformist view. Firstly, how do we know of these supposed sub-kingdoms of Brittany: the continental Domnonée for example? Not from Gregory of Tours. He speaks only of "the Bretons". Not from Fortunat, Marius of Avenches, nor the local Chronicle of Saint-Brieuc. By what miracle has Domnonée been granted an existence in continental Europe?

The only sources are:

  • The Saints' Lives: Mostly written in the 10th and 11th centuries. These usually attempt to project their authors' own feudal based ideas back into the past, often up to four centuries before they were written.
  • The King-Lists included in Abbey Charters in order to prove the legal basis of their foundations.

On the one hand, the abbeys seem to know all about the ancestry of supposed kings. On the other, all contemporary historians, especially Gregory of Tours, recognise only a single "King of the Bretons" who appears to have used this very title. Fredegaire, the continuator of Gregory's work, deals with "Iudicael, King of the Bretons". Ermold the Black, although writing under the rule of the Carolingians, confirms Procope's statement saying that "The Bretons have never paid tribute". The Merovingian Kings only had one interlocutor at a time (Waroch, Iudicael) who each time is recorded as King of the Bretons. But the absolute evidence is to be found in the Expedition of the Duke Wido through Brittany. Around 800, this Frankish chronicler wrote, "The country of Brittany has been conquered by the Franks, a situation never seen till today". This shows that, for centuries prior to this, Brittany had been a single independent kingdom. In fact, it remained so for some time after this, for the second half of the chronicler's statement is far from the truth. 9th century Breton history shows that Brittany was never conquered. If it had been, why would Charlemagne and his successors have sent so many expeditions against the Bretons?

One could put forward an argument against this assertion, for Gregory of Tours writes, "...since the death of King Clovis, the Bretons have always been under Frankish domination and their chiefs are named Counts and not Kings". However, I am convinced that this sentence has been added at least three centuries after Gregory's lifetime, since:

  • In Gregory's time, a Count was only a minor official of the city in charge of fiscal and judiciary functions with little power. Only under Charlemagne did the Count become the chief of a territory, ie. the Marche.
  • The Carolingians wanted to dominate Brittany absolutely, but they never succeeded in this. The sentence was therefore included in order only to assert supposed rights, not to show the true situation.

In conclusion, it is clear that, in the past, French historians (most famously La Borderie in the 19th century) have been far too influenced by the Church. They willingly accepted the historicity of the Saints' Lives, and were thus able to extrapolate a history of supposed Kings of Domnonée, Léon, Broërec and Cornouaille based on the monastery founders mentioned therein. Opposition to such accepted ideas does not mean these characters never existed, just that they were merely local landowners not Kings.

The Kings of Brittany following Waroch.

If these conclusions are correct, however, how is it that Judicaël became King after Waroch? Let us go back to Conomor. His first wife was the widow of Iona (alias Jonas) seen above as so-called ruler of "Domnonée", father of Judual and grandfather of Judael (alias Juthael). It is possible that Conomor married Iona's widow because Iona was his own brother (as he was obliged so to do according to the Holy Scriptures). Conomor's wife is recorded in the Life of St.Gildas as Triphine the daughter of Waroch, and thus aunt of the younger Waroch (above). Judual can be equated with Widimacle who is recorded by Gregory of Tours. The name is Wiomarch in Breton. I believe that, as attested by the regnal date mentioned above (635), Judicaël was the successor and therefore the probable son of the above Judael (and grandson of Judual-Wiomarch). He succeeded to Waroch's kingdom through his great grandmother, Triphine.

Reconstructing a list of the Kings of Brittany: the ancestry of Roiantdreh.

Roiantdreh was a 9th century noble woman who is best known for a bizarre, yet important political act: the adoption of the King Salomon of Brittany in 869. Her ancestry is given as:

 JUDICAËL

URBIEN

URBON

JUDON

CUSTANTIN

ARGANT

JUDUAL

LOWENAN

ROIANTDREH

Was Rioantdreh adopting Salomon as heir to the Kingdom of Brittany? If her pedigree is accepted as that of the Breton Kings, it raises three problems:

  • The Carolingian historians record a King Morvan (or Murman) in c.815, not listed above.
  • The king after Morvan is attested as Wiomarch (818-826), also not listed above.
  • There are no records to unequivocally identify the above Judicaël with the previously mentioned king of that name reigning in 635.

We must not forget, however, that the list is a mere pedigree (from father to son), not a king-list. We may therefore suppose Morvan to be a brother of Judual. Secondly, we have already seen (above) that the name Judual is to be identified with Wiomarch. While it is evident, to the pedigree's scribe, that it is the King Judicaël that he is recording: the adoption of King Salomon, successor of the obscure Nominoe and Erispoe, could only have been undertaken by a royal princess.

I propose that the Genealogy of the Breton Kings can therefore be reconstructed thus:

Canao's Dynasty

 

 

 

<Brothers and Sisters>

 

CANAO (560-c. 570)

MACLIAU (c. 570-577)

Triphine

 

WAROCH (c.577-594?)

 

 

Jonas' Dynasty

 

 

 

 

 

JONAS (c. 500)

m. Triphine m.

CONOMOR (died 560)

 

JUDUAL (born c. 530)

 

 

JUDAEL (born c. 560)

 

 

JUDICAËL (c. 636)

 

 

URBIEN (c. 670)

 

 

URBON (c. 700)

 

 

JUDON (c. 730)

 

 

CUSTANTIN (c. 760)

 

 

ARGANT (c. 790)

 

MORVAN ( -826)

<Brothers>

JUDUAL (818-826)

 

 

LOWENAN (826-837)

 

 

Roiantdreh (attested 869)

 

Erispoe's Dynasty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erispoe

 

Rivallon

<Brothers>

NOMINOE (837-851)

SALOMON (857-874)

 

ERISPOE (851-857)

Adopted by Roiantdreh

 

 

And the research goes on ...

For Nominoe was certainly related to the other Kings of Brittany: in 850, a letter from the Frankish Bishops reproaches Nominoe for having crossed the frontiers of his ancestors!

The principal sources available for reconstructing a History of the Breton Kings are:

  1. The Lives of the Saints written between from 7th to the 13th century: though their historical value is often doubtful.
  2. Several "historical" books: Historia Brittonum (pseudo-Nennius), Historia Regum Britanniae (Geoffrey of Monmouth) and a now lost work quoted in the Life of St Goueznou: the Historia Britannica.
  3. Bishop Gregory of Tours who continued to write his History of the Franks until his death in 594.
  4. The classical historians: Jordanes and Procope.
  5. The Ancestry of the Lady Roiantdreh: a very important document included in Redon's Cartuliary.
  6. The King-Lists within various cartuliaries as discussed above.

  

    Jean-Michel Pognat 2002. All Rights Reserved.