The Middle Ages

Feudal feuding

After the Breton kingdom came the Breton duchy. First harassed by Vikings, the region’s leaders then had to contend with powerful neighbours and niggling infighting. A bitter Breton civil war broke out in the 14th century. Forts sprang up through the period, and towns were protected behind strong walls, while mighty new Gothic cathedrals arose in the cities.

Picture 1 The Middle Ages Picture 2 The Middle Ages Picture 3 The Middle Ages

Warring and Infighting 

Through medieval times, Brittany’s dukes had difficulties not just standing up to their powerful Norman and Angevin neighbours, but also to tricky local lords. Problems reached boiling point in the 14th-century Breton War of Succession. This conflict was like a violent sideshow to the Hundred Years’ War. Two formidable Breton warriors, Bertrand du Guesclin and Olivier de Clisson, went off to fight on a wider front leading the French army. In Brittany, the de Montfort family triumphed, establishing a strong administration for the 15th century.

Fortification and beautification 

One fine legacy from this bellicose period is the forts and fortified towns built around Brittany. Sensational castles guarded the coasts, such as Fort La Latte or Suscinio; certain ports were given great ramparts like St-Malo and Concarneau; many medieval towns developed along well-protected rivers splendid examples of which include Dinan, Morlaix, Quimper and Vannes. Fougères and Vitré on Brittany’s eastern flank were stunningly fortified too.

A strong religious spirit 

Through the Middle Ages, the religious spirit was strong in Brittany. New Gothic cathedrals marked the cities, while modest churches and chapels mushroomed up in the countryside. All are still a delight to behold. One exceptional figure distinguished himself in the 13th century: the lawyer Yves of Kermartin who defended the interests of the poor. Buried in Tréguier cathedral, he would become patron saint of Brittany.

Did you know ?

The Tro Breizh, the pilgrimage round the nine Breton cathedral cities, became popular in the Middle Ages and has been revived in recent times.

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