The Renaissance

Going global

Picture 1 The Renaissance Picture 2 The Renaissance Picture 3 The Renaissance

Major changes occurred in Brittany as the 15th century turned into the 16th, and Gothic styles gave way to the Renaissance. The feisty duchy lost its independence to the French crown while Breton traders led the way in international commerce and organised vast fishing expeditions to Newfoundland. As to Jacques Cartier, he ‘discovered’ Canada.

The last duchess 

At the end of the 15th century, Anne, last duchess of Brittany, found herself forced to marry two French kings in a row, but did keep control of the Breton reins. However, under her daughter Claude, married off to yet another French monarch, François Ier, Brittany was officially joined to France in 1532. From that time, the region was firmly controlled by a centralising monarchy.

Cartier discovers Canada 

At this time, some Bretons were casting their eyes much further afield, most famously Jacques Cartier. Brought up in the great sea-faring city of St-Malo, he embarked young on fishing expeditions across the Atlantic. Gaining a taste for exploration, he became the European to put Canada on the map. At ParamĂ© outside St-Malo, you can visit Cartier’s house, now a museum.

Parish pride

Exports flourished with large-scale production of cloth made from Breton flax and hemp. Wealthy merchants ordered not just fine homes, but also ornate churches, their closes embellished with elaborate additions, in particular complex calvaries. Follow the enclos paroissiaux trail across the FinistĂšre to get the picture. However, Brittany, like the rest of France, was rocked by the Wars of Religion, pitching the new Protestants against the traditionalist Catholics. The conflict ended with the Edict of Nantes of 1598.

Did you know ?

Brittany’s unique outdoor calvaries tell the story of Christ’s life and death with cartoonish but profoundly moving carvings in granite that have been worn down by the elements.

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