Bretons (Breton: Bretoned, Breton
pronunciation: [breˈtɔ̃nɛt]) are an ethnic group located in
the region of
Brittany in France. They trace much of their heritage to
groups of Brittonic speakers who immigrated from southwestern Great
Cornwall and Devon, to expand their territory
onto the continent. They also descend in some parts from Vikings. They
migrated in waves from the 3rd to 9th century (most heavily from
450–600) into Armorica, which was subsequently named
The main traditional language of
Brittany is Breton (Brezhoneg),
spoken in Lower
Brittany (i.e. the western part of the peninsula).
Breton is spoken by around 206,000 people as of 2013. The other
principal minority language of
Brittany is Gallo; Gallo is spoken only
in Upper Brittany, where Breton is less dominant. As one of the
Brittonic languages, Breton is related closely to Cornish and more
distantly to Welsh, while the
Gallo language is one of the Romance
langues d'oïl. Currently, most Bretons' native language is standard
Brittany and its people are counted as one of the six Celtic nations.
Ethnically, along with the Cornish and Welsh, the
Bretons are Celtic
Britons. The actual number of ethnic
a whole is difficult to assess as the government of
France does not
collect statistics on ethnicity. The population of Brittany, based on
a January 2007 estimate, was 4,365,500. It is said that, in 1914,
over 1 million people spoke Breton west of the boundary between Breton
and Gallo-speaking regions – roughly 90% of the population of the
western half of Brittany. In 1945, it was about 75%, and today, in all
of Brittany, the most optimistic estimate would be that 20% of Bretons
can speak Breton.
Brittany has a population of roughly four million,
including the department of Loire-Atlantique, which the Vichy
government separated from historical
Brittany in 1941. 75% of the
estimated 200,000 to 250,000 Breton speakers using Breton as an
everyday language today are over the age of 65.
A strong historical emigration has created a Breton diaspora within
the French borders and in the overseas departments and territories of
France; it is mainly established in the
Paris area, where more than
one million people claim Breton heritage. Many Breton families have
also emigrated to the Americas, predominantly to
Canada (mostly Quebec
and Atlantic Canada) and the United States. People from the region of
Brittany were among the first white settlers to permanently settle the
French West Indies, i.e. Dominica,
Guadeloupe and Martinique, where
remnants of their culture can still be seen to this day.[citation
needed] The only places outside
Brittany that still retain significant
Breton customs are in Île-de-
France (mainly Le Quartier du
Montparnasse in Paris),
Le Havre and in Îles des Saintes, where a
group of Breton families settled in the mid-17th century.
1.1 Historical origins of the Bretons
1.2 Modern Breton identity
1.3 Breton diaspora
2.3 Tro Breizh
Folklore and traditional belief
2.5.1 Breton-language media
3.2 Traditional dance
3.3 Traditional Breton music
3.4 Modern Breton music
4 Breton cuisine
5 Symbols of Brittany
6 See also
7 Images of Brittany
10 External links
Main article: History of Brittany
Historical origins of the Bretons
The Brittonic-speaking community around the sixth century. The sea was
a communication medium rather than a barrier.
In the late 4th century, large numbers of British auxiliary troops in
the Roman army may have been stationed in Armorica. The 9th-century
Historia Brittonum states that the emperor Magnus Maximus, who
withdrew Roman forces from Britain, settled his troops in the
Gildas mention a second wave of Britons settling
Armorica in the following century to escape the invading
Anglo-Saxons and Scoti. Modern archaeology also supports a two-wave
It is generally accepted that the Brittonic speakers who arrived gave
the region its current name as well as the Breton language, Brezhoneg,
a sister language to Welsh and Cornish.
There are numerous records of Celtic Christian missionaries migrating
from Britain during the second wave of Breton colonisation, especially
the legendary seven founder-saints of
Brittany as well as Gildas. As
in Cornwall, many Breton towns are named after these early saints. The
Columbanus was also active in
Brittany and is commemorated
accordingly at Saint-Columban in Carnac.
In the Early Middle Ages,
Brittany was divided into three kingdoms —
Cornouaille (Kernev), and Bro Waroc'h (Broërec) — which
eventually were incorporated into the Duchy of Brittany. The first two
kingdoms seem to derive their names from the homelands of the
migrating tribes in Britain,
Cornwall (Kernow) and
Bro Waroc'h ("land of Waroch", now Bro Gwened) derives from the name
of one of the first known Breton rulers, who dominated the region of
Vannes (Gwened). The rulers of Domnonée, such as Conomor, sought to
expand their territory, claiming overlordship over all Bretons, though
there was constant tension between local lords.
Bretons were the most prominent of the non-Norman forces in the Norman
conquest of England. A number of Breton families were of the highest
rank in the new society and were tied to the Normans by marriage.
Clan Stewart and the royal
House of Stuart
House of Stuart have Breton
origins. Alan Rufus, also known as Alan the Red, was both a cousin and
knight in the retinue of William the Conqueror. Following his service
at Hastings, he was rewarded with large estates in Yorkshire. At the
time of his death, he was by far the richest noble in England. His
manorial holding at Richmond ensured a Breton presence in northern
England. The Earldom of Richmond later became an appanage of the Dukes
Modern Breton identity
The modern flag of Brittany: Gwenn-ha-du (White-and-black)
Many people throughout
France claim Breton ethnicity, including a few
French celebrities such as Marion Cotillard, Malik Zidi,
Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, Yoann Gourcuff,
Nolwenn Leroy and Yann
After 15 years of disputes in the French courts, the European Court of
Justice recognized Breton Nationality for the six children of
Jean-Jacques and Mireille Manrot-Le Goarnig; they are "European
Citizens of Breton Nationality". In 2015, Jonathan Le Bris started
a legal battle against the French administration to claim this status.
The Breton diaspora includes Breton immigrants in some cities of
France like Paris,
Le Havre and Toulon,
Breton Canadians and Breton
Americans, along with other French immigrants in other parts of the
Americas. Some of the more notable examples include Jack Kerouac,
Celine Dion, Augusto Pinochet,
Jim Carrey and Sylvester Stallone.
The Breton people are predominantly members of the Catholic Church,
with minorities in the Reformed Church of
France and non-religious
Brittany was one of the most staunchly Catholic regions in all
of France. Attendance at 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 place
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.
Sculpted calvaries can be found in many villages.
Breton religious tradition places great emphasis on the "Seven Founder
Paul Aurelian, at
Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Breton: Kastell-Paol),
Tudwal (Sant Tudwal), at
Tréguier (Breton: Landreger),
Saint-Brieuc (Breton: Sant-Brieg, Gallo: Saent-Berioec),
Saint-Malo (Breton: Sant-Maloù, Gallo: Saent-Malô),
Samson of Dol, at
Dol-de-Bretagne (Breton: Dol, Gallo: Dóu),
Vannes (Breton: Gwened),
Corentin (Sant Kaourintin), at
Quimper (Breton: Kemper).
A Pardon is the patron saint's feast day of the parish. It often
begins with a procession followed by mass in honour of the saint.
Pardons are often accompanied by small village fairs. The three most
famous pardons are:
Tréguier/Landreger, in honour of St Yves
Locronan/Lokorn, in honour of St Ronan, with a troménie (a
procession, 12 km long) and numerous people in traditional
There is an ancient pilgrimage called the
Tro Breizh (tour of
Brittany) which involves pilgrims walking around
Brittany from the
grave of one of the Seven Founder Saints to another. Nowadays pilgrims
complete the circuit over the course of several years. In 2002, the
Tro Breizh included a special pilgrimage to Wales, symbolically making
the reverse journey of the Welshmen Paul Aurelian, Brioc, and Samson.
According to Breton religious tradition, whoever does not make the
pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime will be condemned to make it
after his death, advancing only by the length of his coffin each seven
Folklore and traditional belief
Some pagan customs from the old pre-Christian tradition remain the
folklore of Brittany. The most powerful folk figure is the
the "Reaper of Death".
Regional statistics of Breton speakers, in 2004
Main article: Breton language
Breton language is a very important part of Breton identity.
Breton itself is one of the
Brittonic languages and is closely related
to Cornish and more distantly to Welsh. Breton is thus an Insular
Celtic language and is more distantly related to the long-extinct
Continental Celtic languages
Continental Celtic languages such as Gaulish that were formerly spoken
on the European mainland, including the areas colonised by the
ancestors of the Bretons.
In eastern Brittany, a regional langue d'oïl, Gallo, developed; it
shares certain areal features such as points of vocabulary, idiom, and
pronunciation with Breton but is a Romance language). Neither language
has official status under French law; however, some still use Breton
as an everyday language (particularly the older generation) and
bilingual road signs are common in the west of Brittany.
From 1880 to the mid-20th century, Breton was banned from the French
school system and children were punished for speaking it in a similar
way to the application of the
Welsh Not in
Wales during the 19th and
20th centuries. The situation changed in 1951 with the Deixonne Law
Breton language and culture to be taught 1–3 hours a week
in the public school system on the proviso that a teacher was both
able and prepared to do so. In modern times, a number of schools and
colleges have emerged with the aim of providing Breton-medium
education or bilingual Breton/French education.
There are four main Breton dialects: Gwenedeg (Vannes), Kerneveg
(Cornouaille), Leoneg (Leon) and Tregerieg (Trégor), which have
varying degrees of mutual intelligibility. In 1908, a standard
orthography was devised. The fourth dialect, Gwenedeg, was not
included in this reform, but was included in the later orthographic
reform of 1941.
Newspapers, magazines and online journals available in Breton include
Al Lanv, based in Quimper, Al Liamm, Louarnig-Rouzig, and
There are a number of radio stations with broadcasts in the Breton
language, namely Arvorig FM,
France Bleu Armorique,
Breizh-Izel, Radio Bro Gwened, Radio Kerne, and Radio Kreiz Breizh.
Television programmes in Breton are also available on
France 3 Breizh,
France 3 Iroise,
TV Breizh and TV Rennes. There are also a number of
Breton language weekly and monthly magazines.
A fest-noz in the Pays Gallo in September 2007 as part of the Mill
A fest-noz is a traditional festival (essentially a dance) in
Brittany. Many festoù-noz are held outside Brittany, taking regional
Breton culture outside Brittany. Although the traditional dances of
the fest-noz are old, some dating back to the Middle Ages, the
fest-noz tradition is itself more recent, dating back to the 1950s.
Fest-Noz was officially registered on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 by
UNESCO on the "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
There are many traditional Breton dances, the most well-known being
gavottes, an dro, the hanter dro, and the plinn. During the fest-noz,
most dances are practised in a chain or in a circle (holding a
finger), however there are also dances in pairs and choreographed
dances with sequences and figures.
Traditional Breton music
Two main types of Breton music are a choral a cappella tradition
called kan ha diskan, and music involving instruments, including
purely instrumental music. Traditional instruments include the bombard
(similar to an oboe) and two types of bagpipes (veuze and binioù
kozh). Other instruments often found are the diatonic accordion, the
clarinet, and occasionally violin as well as the hurdy-gurdy. After
World War II, the
Great Highland Bagpipe
Great Highland Bagpipe (and binioù bras) became
Brittany through the bagadoù (Breton pipe bands) and
thus often replaced the binioù-kozh. The basic clarinet
(treujenn-gaol) had all but disappeared but has regained popularity
over the past few years.
Modern Breton music
Nowadays groups with many different styles of music may be found,
ranging from rock to jazz such as Red Cardell, ethno-rock, Diwall and
Skeduz as well as punk. Some modern fest-noz groups also use
electronic keyboards and synthesisers, for example Strobinell,
Sonerien Du, Les Baragouineurs, and Plantec.
Breton cuisine contains many elements from the wider French culinary
tradition. Local specialities include:
Crêpe – froment (sweet)
Galette – buckwheat (salty)
Chouchenn – a type of Breton mead
Fars forn (far breton) – a kind of sweet suet pudding with prunes
Kouign-amann – butter pastry
Krampouezh (crêpes or galettes) – thin pancakes made either from
wheat or buckwheat flour; usually eaten as a main course
Lambig – apple eau de vie
Sistr – cider
Symbols of Brittany
Traditional Breton symbols and/or symbols of
Brittany include the
Bro Gozh ma Zadoù based on the Welsh Hen Wlad Fy
Nhadau. The traditional motto of the former Dukes of
Kentoc'h mervel eget bezañ saotret in Breton, or Potius mori quam
fœdari in Latin. The "national day" is observed on 1 August, the
Feast of Saint Erwann (Saint Yves). The ermine is an important symbol
Brittany reflected in the ancient blazons of the Duchy of Brittany
and also in the chivalric order, L’Ordre de l’Hermine (The Order
of the Ermine).
British migration to France
History of Brittany
List of Breton authors
List of Breton poets
List of Breton saints
Images of Brittany
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Breton Brother and Sister
Paul Gauguin, Breton Girl
Émile Bernard, Breton Women at a Wall
City hall of Rennes
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
Huelgoat is the ancestral home of the
City of Quimper
City of Saint-Malo
The bagad of Lann-Bihoué of the French Navy
Breton pipe player
^ Legal population of the administrative region of
Brittany in 2007
^ Legal population of
Loire-Atlantique in 2007
^ "Populations légales 2013 - Insee". Retrieved 31 December
^ "Insee − Institut national de la statistique et des études
économiques - Insee". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ Rolland, Michel. "La Bretagne à Paris". Retrieved 31 December
^ "Ils sont 70 000 ! Notre dossier sur les
Bretons du Havre".
Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ 2011 National Household Survey; includes 4,770 people of single and
9,525 of mixed Breton origin.
^ Ed. Wade Davis and K. David Harrison (2007). Book of Peoples of the
World. National Geographic Society. p. 225.
^ Koch, John (2005). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia.
ABL-CIO. p. 275. ISBN 978-1-85109-440-0. Retrieved September
^ "Breton". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-06-09.
^ "Breton Language". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ Léon Fleuriot, Les origines de la Bretagne: l’émigration, Paris,
^ Keats-Rohan 1991, The
Bretons and Normans of England 1066-1154
^ "Marion Cotillard: 'Before my family, everything was dedicated to
the character'". The Guardian. August 2, 2014.
^ ifrance.com Archived August 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Yann Tiersen: ∞ (Infinity) & the Origin of Its Language".
Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ "Goarnig Kozh a livré son dernier combat". Retrieved 31 December
^ "Cinéma. Stallone est de Brest « même » !" (in
French), Le Télégramme de Brest, October 6, 2009
^ Bretagne: poems (in French), by Amand Guérin, published by P.
Masgana, 1842: page 238.
^ "Breton language". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ a b c "Breton language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 31
^ Allanv.microopen.org Archived May 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
Al Liamm - Degemer". Retrieved 31 December 2016.
^ Pierre Le Baud, Cronicques & Ystoires des Bretons.
Léon Fleuriot, Les origines de la Bretagne, Bibliothèque historique
Payot, 1980, Paris, (ISBN 2-228-12711-6)
Christian Y. M. Kerboul, Les royaumes brittoniques au Très Haut Moyen
Âge, Éditions du Pontig/Coop Breizh, Sautron – Spézet, 1997,
Morvan Lebesque, Comment peut-on être Breton ? Essai sur la
démocratie française, Éditions du Seuil, coll.
« Points », Paris, 1983, (ISBN 2-02-006697-1)
Myles Dillon, Nora Kershaw Chadwick, Christian-J. Guyonvarc'h and
Françoise Le Roux, Les Royaumes celtiques, Éditions Armeline,
Crozon, 2001, (ISBN 2-910878-13-9).
Breizh.net – a non-profit association dedicated to the promotion of
Brittany and the
Breton language on the Internet Breizh.net
Online Breton radio
Breton language magazine
Ofis ar Brezhoneg (l'Office de la langue bretonne)
Celtic League definition
Isle of Man
Breton nationalism (history)
Irish nationalism (incl. Republicanism)
Brythonic (Breton, Cornish & Welsh)
Goidelic (Irish, Manx & Scottish Gaelic)
Shelta & Bungee)
Britons (Bretons, Cornish & Welsh)
Gaels (Irish incl. Irish Travellers, Manx & Highland Scots incl.
Isle of Man
Isle of Man
Festival Interceltique de Lorient
Pan Celtic Festival
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