Brittany (Fr. Bretagne), an ancient province of France, consisting of the large triangular peninsula which, projecting into the Atlantic, forms the western extremity of that country. Washed on three sides, N., W., and S., by the sea, it joined on the E. the provinces of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Poitou. Its coast line, indented by numerous bays and harbors, was about 500 m. in length, extending from the bay of Cancale, on the confines of Normandy, to that of Bourgneuf, some 20 m. S. of the mouth of the Loire. Its greatest length from S. E. to N. W. was 185 m.; greatest breadth, 105 m.; area, 13,085 sq. m. It is now divided into the departments of Loire-Inferieure, Ille-et-Vilaine, Morbihan, Cotes-du-Nord, and Finistere. The broken hills by which the interior of the country is intersected, its narrow valleys, its partly unnavigable streams, its vast and thinly populated heaths, its old castles standing on solitary hillocks with their dismantled walls and dilapidated towers, its extensive forests so closely associated with the rites of the ancient druids, its sandy shores or rugged reefs, the strange garb of its herdsmen and their harsh Celtic language, all combine to stamp the region with a strange and striking character. - Originally independent and known as Armorica, Brittany was indebted for its new name to colonies from Great Britain, which settled at various periods on its territory.
These emigrations can be traced as far back as the 3d century; but it is probable that the definitive change of appellation took place only about the middle of the 5th century, when numbers of British families left the island on account of the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Under Charlemagne the paramount power of the Frankish crown over Brittany increased; but its princes, availing themselves of the weakness of his successors, regained their independence, and the principal of them was acknowledged as a king by Charles the Bald. There prevailed among them something of a feudal organization, the counts of Rennes, Nantes, and Cornouailles being the most powerful, and one of them being generally accredited as the chief of the confederation. About the middle of the 12th century Conan IV. succeeded in bringing all parts of the country under his own control, calling it the county of Brittany. His daughter and heiress Constance married Geoffrey, third son of Henry II. of England, to whom she brought the title and power of count.
His son and successor Arthur was assassinated by his uncle, King John of England, when Philip Augustus tried to seize upon Brittany, as he had done with Normandy; but the Bretons resisted, and declared for Alix, a daughter of Constance by her third husband, Guy of Thouars. This Alix married Pierre de Dreux, called Mauclerc, who took the title of duke of Brittany and ruled until their eldest son became of age. This prince, John I., surnamed Rufus, born in 1217, became the head of the ducal family, which reigned until the beginning of the 16th century. On the death of John III., in 1341, his brother John of Montfort and Charles of Blois, who had married the niece of John III., contended for the possession of the duchy. This civil war lasted 24 years. Charles having been killed at Auray in 1364, the ducal crown was secured to the son of John of Montfort, who reigned under the name of John V. Francis II., who reigned from 1458 to 1488, left his daughter Anne heiress of the duchy of Brittany. She was married by proxy to Maximilian of Austria, then king of the Romans; but Anne of Beaujeu, who governed France under the name of her brother, Charles VIII., prevented the alliance from being consummated; she forced the duchess to marry the young king of France, so that Brittany was for the first time united to the kingdom (1491). On the death of Charles VIII., Loillis XII. hastened to divorce his first wife, and to marry his predecessor's widow, thus securing the union between France and Brittany. But it was not till 1532, during the reign of Francis I.,, that Brittany was declared to be an integral part of the French kingdom.
Although losing its independence, it persevered in maintaining the rights and privileges which had been secured to it by the treaty of union. The royal power was limited here by a representative government called the estates of Brittany. The assembly, the sessions of which were held every other year, consisted of the three orders, the clergy, the nobility, and the tiers etat. The king was not allowed to lay any tax, this being regulated by the assembly, which voted for the support of the royal government what was called a gratuitous gift. The province had also its own courts of justice, the highest of which was known as the parliament of Rennes, with four seneschalic jurisdictions. More than once Brittany was compelled to stand in defence of its immunities; but its people, while vindicating what they thought their rights, showed great devotion to their French sovereign; and when the revolution occurred, the Chouans of the province fought the last battle in behalf of royalty. Brittany has never been distinguished for commerce or manufactures, but its seamen • are among the boldest in the world; those of St. Malo, Brest, and Lorient are to be met in the most distant waters, more generally engaged in fishing than in trade.
The province was usually divided into Western or Lower Brittany and Eastern or Upper Brittany.