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Breton identity, which future?


Breton identity is, in a way, an outlaw identity because the French conceptions of the citizenship do not allow any double affiliation, as a federal system would : we are French citizens, and that's all.

Therefore, the favourite targets of the French State, in its secular strain to destroy the Breton's identity, give an unmistakable indication of the components of this identity.

Obviously, these components are history, language and territory.

The assaults against these three components of Breton identity are obvious : Brittany's history and language are not taught and its territory has been amputated of its historical capital, Nantes (Naoned).

This matter of facts usually involves highly evil psychology, and even economic, back-effects but provokes also some violent awakening reactions which will lead to the opposite of the the goal aimed by the French State.

It is now clear, relatively to the international context, that this goal cannot be reached, that Breton identity is absolutely undestructable, to the contrary of what superficial observations could lead to believe.

These reasons compel the French State, in its own interest as well in ours, to take into consideration this undeniable actuality.

The preservation of Breton identity is, actually, the source and the motivation of the Breton movement. Thinking of what this identity means, trying to understand why it deserves to be defended and to be safeguarded, is absolutely essential.

This assessment of the situation has led to the declaration of Identité bretonne in Rennes (Roazhon), on the 10th of June 1996, as a non-lucrative association, the reason of which is the promotion of the different components of Breton identity.



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From the early 3rd century, the Bretons fled both the overcrowding of the land as well as the invasions of the Saxons. They left the British Isles to settle in Armorica and gave her her name - Brittany. The first saints came with them and they evangelized the new country ; they were namely : St. Corentin, St. Gwénolé, St. Ronan, St. Pol, St. Brieuc. Progressively the Breton language took over from the vernacular Latin. From the 7th century, the Franks tried to force the Bretons to submit to their power.

The Bretons refused to bend under the yoke and to become the vassals of their powerful neighbours: they regularly overcame the domination of the Franks. In order to put a stop to these rebellions. Louis-le-Pieux, the king of France, appointed Nominoë as the first Duke of Brittany and the Chief of the Vannetais (824). Although Nominoë had been a loyal liege of Louis-le-Pieux during hid reign, he acted as an independent king as soon as the throne was acceded to Charles-le-Chauve. The armies of the Frank king were defeated at Ballon, near Redon (845), and the ambitious Nominoë, not settling for only one victory, went on to boldly conquer Rennes, Nantes, as well as the provinces of Maine and Anjou.

The Breton territory had by now spread into Frank lands where the Breton language was not spoken. It is from these victories that the history of the Dukes of Brittany really begins. In order to gain even more freedom. Nominoë snatched Brittany from the archdiocese of Tours on which she was suffragan; he founded the archdiocese of Dol, in order to establish a self governing Breton church which could continue and support the traditions of the Bretons.

Nominoë's successors, from Erispoë to Alain Barbetorte, vigorously applied themselves to the protection of the independence of the Dukedom from the Franks and Norsemen. Under the control of Duke Salaün (857-874), Brittany was even expanded as far as the Cotentin and Laval. In 1203, in order to stave off the ambitious English expansionism, the Breton bishops and barons chose a French prince from the "Capétiens" House as their duke: Pierre de Dreux, otherwise known as Pierre Mauclerc.

On account of his origins, it might have been imagined Pierre de Dreux would devote himself only to the French interests. Actually, he acted in such a way as to protect the independence and the prosperity of Brittany from both England's and France's advances. Pierre de Dreux introduced the Ermine as the heraldic symbol of Brittany. Under his reign, Brittany enjoyed a long period of peace a century during, and asserted herself as an autonomous dukedom. Four dukes, Jean the lst, Jean the 2nd, Arthur the 2nd and Jean the 3rd succeeded the late Pierre de Dreux, until 1341.

When Jean the 3rd died, a war of succession broke out between the two pretenders to the throne : Jeanne de Penthièvre (Jean the 3rd's niece) and Jean de Monfort (the step-brother of Jean the 3rd). Since Jean de Monfort married Jeanne de Flandre, this period was called the war of "Deux Jeanne". This civil war between the Bretons allowed the involvement of England as a supporter of Monfort, and France as a partisan of Jeanne de Penthièvre. The war lasted 24 years, and in spite of the support of Du Guesclin for the Penthièvre family, the Monfort family finally won the war after the battle at Auray, 1364. The Treaty of Guérande (1365) granted the throne of Brittany to Jean the 4th, the son of Jean de Monfort.

With the accession of the Monfort to the throne, Brittany was at the height of her power and of her thriving prosperity. The XVth century is regarded as the Golden Age of Brittany. The Duke was now the King-of-his Land. He acted as the Chief of an independent state; he developed his own diplomatic relations; he minted legal tender. Homage to the king of France was but the ceremonial act of standing up and the bearing of sword. Trade and business, the humanities and the arts, the building of cathedrals were all promoted and fostered; a university was founded in Nantes in 1460. Ermine was heralded as the national symbol of Brittany.

However, King Charles the 8th had not given up the old dream off the Capétiens that being the complete submission of Brittany. In 1487, the royal army failed to overcome the Bretons in Nantes; but on July the 28th 1488, the duke's troops were defeated at St.Aubin du Cormier, near Rennes. That heralded the end of the independence of Brittany : the Treaty of Le Verger, near Angers, was signed on August the 20th 1488. François the 2nd, the duke of Brittany, was compelled to accept the clause of the Treaty which stated that his daughter, Anne, the only heiress of the Dukedom could marry only with the consent of the king of France.

On the death of her father, Anne, the now Duchess of Brittany was forced to marry Charles the 8th (the king of France), in 1491 ; and later, his successor, Louis the l2th, in 1499. However, the Dukedom was still her personal property. On her return to Brittany, she received a triumphal welcome from the people for whom, she was still their beloved duchess, because of her simplicity and her closeness to her people. She died in 1514, and her wish to have her heart enshrined in Nantes was fulfilled. In 1506, her daughter Claude, was also forced to marry François d'Angoulême who became King François the lst. In this way, the kingdom of France and the dukedom of Brittany were irrevocably bound together.

In order to appease the Breton barons, François the 1st signed the Treaty of " Everlasting Union ", the " Traité d'Union Perpétuelle ", in 1532; which pledged the Freedom and privileges of Brittany within the kingdom of France. Officially t:he treaty ratified the union of two independent States; in fact, it only confirmed the submission of Brittany to France. The free Dukedom of Brittany had seen its last days, and France concentrated on the slow yet irreversible assimilation of Brittany.

Actually, from then onwards, the absolute power of France and later the zealousness of Jacobinism did not cease the trimming of the liberties of the Bretons, even if they were legally protected by the Traité d'Union. In 1675, Louis the l4th against the will of the Bretons, prescribed an unpopular income-tax on stamped paper.

This injust decision provoked riots throughout the Breton countryside. This rebellion of the so-called " Les Bonnets Rouges ", the Red Caps, was drastically quelled : villages were pillaged, the countrymen were tortured and hung; and from 1689, an administrator was appointed to keeÞp the province in line in which " the minds of its people cannot be ruled like others ".

The Revolution of 1789 deprived Brittany of any legal administrative existence: the territory was divided into five " départements ". In an effort to protect their traditions, some Bretons called on the king's aid as the last resort and the warranty of their liberties against Jacobinism : it was at this Lime that Chouan Rising is born, led by Cadoudal. During the XIXth century, Brittany is sidestepped in any economical development; the Third Republic strived to quell Breton Nationalism ( the affair of Conlie in 1870 ) and to eradicate the Breton language.

Eventually, in 1941, the Vichy Government divided Brittany and the Pays Nantais. And despite all of these attacks, the cultural spirit and the traditions of Brittany are still alive and teeming in the XXth century.

In 1932, in Rennes, the monument representing the Treaty of Everlasting Union between Brittany and France, was blown up by the clandestine organization " Gwenn ha Du " (meaning the White and Black, the colours of the flag of Brittany. In 1981, the newly elected French Socialist Party made allowances for the recognition of the Breton language ; this gesture was considered insufficient by the sovereignty of a kingdom that formaly enjoyed self government and prosperity.

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