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_La Presse,_ 20 September 1972
Section E
"On Brittany's Shores"

When you cross from Austrasia to France, France's impoverishment is
clear. In the European context, "impoverishment" is a loaded word,
inaccurate by world standards, for despite the Republic's attempts to
reject the European heritage France is still a European country; the
Pyrenees have not been moved north and east to the line of the Meuse.
Generations of Frenchmen past may have rejected all restraints imposed
upon them--constitutional monarchy, the Church, convention--but they are
still part of the European fabric. It is France's misfortune that it was
never an insular country like Britain; if it were, the French may have
had a happier history.

France is an exhausted country. It was once a vivacious land, full of
energy, and when the German states were prostrated first by the
divisions of the Reformation then by the horrendous mutual slaughter of
the Thirty Years War France had a chance to emerge triumphant on
Europe's western fringe. Instead, it failed--perhaps because its eastern
frontier was much too exposed, because France was not protected by the
English Channel from the energies of a recovering Germany. Since the
last decade of the 18th century, French energies have been spent in
repeated destructive bursts, in the pursuit of a discredited republican
radicalism after the Mexican model
without Mexico's strong states and effective decentralization. [1]
(Franco-Mexican hatreds, indeed, can be explained as much be their
eerily similar political systems as by their wars.) 

Now, Yvette Fanchon, the great-granddaughter of Marshal Fanchon--_la
[2] she has been called--was appointed Premier by the National Assembly
[3], two years ago. In her inaugural speech, she promised to "be a
uniter, not a divider," in short to manage her country's energies, to
aid France in the development of a new stability, a new regime that will
control the limited energies of France and allow for some kind of
prosperity. Perhaps Yvette Fanchon will do that. For the time being,
there is little to suggest that her reign might end as quickly as that
of her famous ancestor, that the energies France displays will not be
dissipated yet again in a revolution--against her, against Germany,
against anyone that the mobs can find. France might be irretrievably
lost; its energies displayed under _la Fanchonette_ may only by the
energies of crystallization, of the heat released by water molecules
before they become crystals of ice trapped in a lattice.

Crossing from Normandy to Brittany, though, you find something
different, for the energy of Brittany is different. It is not, as in
France, the latent heat of crystallization. In Brittany, the energy is
indigenous and self-generated; Brittany's energy is produced by a people
united and
determined to achieve some great project. The Bretons are a people who
might have had the chance to find themselves part of France _de jure_,
but they do not consider themselves French. Concrete proof of these lies
in the fact that when I descended from my car at the Rennes station, the
sign welcoming me to Rennes, and to Brittany, was written in several
languages: Breton,
first, then Gallo--the east Breton French dialect--, then German, and
only then the French of Ile-de-France. 

And, framing the text to left and right, seven feet in length, are
Brittany's iconic spears: Celtic in design. Simple, modern, yet achingly
ancient and traditional. They appear everywhere. There was an
archeological excavation at a site outside of Vannes in the mid-1950's;
an old Gallic
chieftain's site of the Roman era, the current academic consensus is.
The original pair of spears was found, buried alongside a man who was
presumably the chieftain, buried alongside his immaculately preserved
Roman trade goods, preserved wonderfully in the bare rock hermetically
sealed from the outside. This pair of spears was seized by imaginative
Bretons everywhere,
as a symbol of the strength of the ancient Celts and their modern
nation's own revival. A skeptical few wonder if the model spears were
really so large, but Bretons are content with their size, for they are
Brittany's, and Brittany deserves only the largest spears.

*       *       *

The Bretons are a Celtic people. As their name suggests, they are
descended--at least in part--from the Britons, from Britain's Romanized
Celts who had fled the Anglo-Saxon barbarians [4] in the 5th century in
the search for some refuge. Certain historians, by no means all
pro-French, suggest that there was some melding with the remnant Gauls;
certainly the Bretons as they have developed are a composite nation. The
Bretons are a people created by motion: To this day, they are a people
who have been defined by the decision of their forebears to flee for the
one land which they could call their own. [5] And thus, Roman Armorica
became a "Little
Britain" far truer to the original than its modern namesake.

Despite the modern rhetoric of "nos ancêtres les Gaulois" [6], and
despite the fact that Brittany is densely permeated by French
culture--indeed, the eastern half of Brittany has never been peopled by
anyone but speakers of _Gallo_ and French--the French and Bretons have
never gotten along. In the Carolingian Empire that was the first
incarnation of Western civilization, the Bretons were a restive march
only nominally subordinate. Their king Dommonnée held Brittany together,
long enough for the Breton people to survive. During the Middle Ages,
Brittany was a free duchy; to be sure, the Grand Duke and his parliament
at Rennes paid a nominal sort of homage to the French Crown, but then
the Bretons never limited themselves to France until they were forced

I was talking to André Le Glouannec at the Rennes gare. Le Glouannec is
a journalist for the _Courrier de Rennes_, one of Brittany's leading
daily newsjournals. Bilingual, in Breton and Gallo. He is a man in his
forties, young enough yet to remember the endpoint of the Fanchonist
regime and Brittany's second renaissance, knowledgeable enough about the
fate of the Basques and Provençals to be happy with Brittany's position
while wanting to enjoy the same freedoms as the Flemish or the

The Bretons, as a people, have had an unfortunate tendency to
illiteracy: While their mighty lords wrote in the French of Paris, the
Breton peasants laboured in their lords' fields. The Gallo-speaking
peasants, at least, could talk to their lords and understand and be
understood; the
Breton-speaking peasants always needed intermediaries, and were always
oppressed. Brest--the largest Breton-speaking city in the world by
population and land area both--was likened by one of the French navy
captains whose ship was based in that city as a French colonial outpost
in a
hostile land.

"Brittany's problem is that we're not an island, like England. So, we
had a navy; definitely, we had a navy under our Dukes, just like the
English. But we couldn't use it to hold off the French." The Bretons
tried to get allies; but then came a French invasion in response, and
the battle of
St-Aubin-du-Cormier in 1488 which forced Duc François to plan to give
his daughter in marriage to the French king. This daughter, the Duchess
Anne, was a brilliant queen much-loved by the Breton people; if
Brittany's line of sovereign rulers had to end, Anne was as good an
ending as any.

And them came torpor: The 16th and 17th centuries were peaceful in
Brittany, and the trans-Atlantic trade from Brest and Nantes prospered,
and Breton emigrants made their way to the rude settlements along the
shores of the St. Lawrence. But nothing happened, politically or
culturally. Brittany remained, despite its vestigial parliament, an
appendage of France; Brittany's staunch Catholicism and conservatism
remained inert, unactive, lacking the catalysts that were to transform
Catholicism elsewhere. Only stagnation and decline. And then, as the
18th century drew to an end, Brittany was dragged into the wars of
France, of which the most disruptive
was the Trans-Oceanic War: Rare was the Anglo-French naval battle not
fought off of one Breton coast or another.  And so this barren state of
affairs lasted well into the 19th century.


Nantes is Brittany's ancient capital; yet, in many ways, it is the least
Breton area of Brittany. Before the Global War, Breton was a language of
only a small minority of Nantais--migrants from the west of Brittany and
natively Gallo-speaking Breton patriots, for the most part. Even before
the Trans-Oceanic War, Nantes' profited from its trade with the rest of
France, conducted through the Loire that even now passes through the
city in its seven separate channels. [7] Nantes overseas trade was
equally significant, though to the embarrassment of modern-day Nantais
the slave trade was preeminent in this element. Nantes had its own ties
which did not
necessarily tie it to the rest of Brittany; not for nothing was Nantes
known as a little Paris to visitors. 

And now, Nantes has become a little Paris in truth, for it is once again
the centre of Brittany. Nantes like all of the other cities of Brittany
was damaged by British bombing raids during the Global War, but the
Bretons take pride in their past and were able to rebuild their capital.
The Château des Ducs looks just as it did in the days of the Duchess
Anne, its low ramparts
rising over the widespread town of a half-million souls. There are no
more dukes, but the Parlement meets in the Château now, as it has ever
since its restoration after the Fanchonist interregnum and the Global
War in 1947.

"Brittany developed differently from all of the other regions of France
before the Franco-German War," Le Glouannec told me over a light dinner
of Breton seafood at a restaurant by the Place Royale. "We were never
tied into France--France is a geographical oddity, a centre stretching
>from the Austrasian border south to Limousin and only as far west as
Lower Normandy. Brittany was a periphery, an outlier; nothing happened
here, France's industry developed in the interior as Brittany's trade
declined, or shifted to Gascony or Normandy ..."

"So, Brittany stood out," I state.

"Very much so." La Glouannec reaches over to his glass of wine--a
Rhineland vintage--and takes a sip before continuing. "It was different
>from the rest of France in the same way that Québec was in British North
America. We a Celtic enclave, you a Latin enclave; we strongly Catholic
in an increasingly anti-clerical France, you strongly Catholic in an
increasingly Protestant North America. And didn't you Québécois turn in
on yourselves at the same time--colonize your hinterland, resist
incorporation into the Confederation as a colonial partner, try to find
out who you were and what this meant for your relationship with your
neighbours ..." Another sip of the wine, a white. "The only problem for
Brittany, though, was that we didn't have the same freedoms that you
Québécois enjoyed."

I wonder: "The Confederation was a democracy; imperfect, and hard on the
Indians, but a democracy nonetheless. France--what, Bretons had to
exploit the gaps in the Bourbon monarchy? Old privileges, gaps in the
monarchy's coverage, exile on the Channel Islands?"

"Exactly," and he smiles. "You've got it down exactly." And as he goes
on to tell me, the Breton revival continued because of the French
monarchy's weakness. The Act of Union of 1532, passed at Vannes, did
subordinate Brittany to France, but it did give the former a certain
autonomy. As the French monarchs in Paris, weakened by the Trans-Oceanic
War and their own incapacity, declined, so did Breton ambitions and the
scope of Breton abilities expand. The Catholic Church served, here, as
the vanguard for a new innovative Breton culture; if the traditions of
the rest of France lent themselves to unbelief, then, the Church
determined with relative naivete, best to bolster the traditions of the
pious Breton peasants and to solve their problems.

The Breton peasantry needed money and land? Fine, then let the Church
arrange credit cooperatives like our _caisses populaires_ from which
peasants could borrow to improve the yield of their meagre lands, and
investigate the new methods for reclaiming the lands of the Breton

The culture of the Bretons resisted unbelief? Fine; best to support
those Breton traditions which did not contravene the doctrine of the
Church, since their pardons--their grand religious gatherings, in honour
of one saint or another [8]--were, after all, perfect expressions of
Celtitude and piety alike.

The language of the Bretons lacked a standard written form? Fine, then
scholars of the Breton revival, lay and clerical alike, sat down to draw
out from the researches of Gonidec earlier in the century a written
standard for Breton. (This innovation was delayed by the standards of
other languages, since the earliest Breton texts date from the late 8th
century long before the 842 Oaths of Strassburg that see the first
appearance of French. Still, better late than never.)

The Bretons needed education? Then, let the Breton Parlement and the
Church find the teachers and the funds necessary to school Breton
children, in whatever language they might speak.

"This all changed, of course, with the Franco-German War," Le Glouannec
continued. "Some Breton soldiers did fight in Lorraine against the
Germans with their units, but those units were destroyed. Brittany was
never occupied by the Germans, not like even Normandy or Burgundy [9],
but we'd been bled. Ten thousand Bretons killed in a war that was never
our own, the battles in the Channel between French ships manned by
Bretons and German ships ... And then, when the King and his family were
exterminated by the Paris mob--that's when we had to make our _own_
constitutional arrangements."

Brittany and the Bretons might not have been strictly French, but the
Bretons were hardly regicides. Naturally, then, and despite the seeming
appeal of socialism to the Breton peasantry, Brittany--led by the Church
and its nobles and the conservative bourgeois of Nantes--declared for
the King. Not that Brittany hosted the King, or that Brittany's role in
the incessant French civil wars over the next generation was anything
but strictly defensive, aimed at keeping any number of republican,
socialist, or even over-zealous monarchist armies from ravaging Brittany
just as the Loire or Normandy had been ravaged.

"Perhaps Brittany should have declared independence. Certainly by the
end of the 1880's we had all of the infrastructure of a state--the
Parlement was meeting again as a law-making body, we had our own army,
we had our own public schools ... There was even talk, I can show you
the papers later, of restoring the Duke. Perhaps even an alliance with
Germany--naval rights at
Brest would certainly have been enough to have our independence
guaranteed." And now, a weak smile. "But we were too busy, and we had
our own problems."

"Later always seems like a good time," I commiserate

"But then, the economy was doing poorly and we were trying to stem the
emigration, the hemorrhage ..." A sigh.

Brittany may have been founded by immigration; since the 17th century,
though, Brittany has been a land of emigration. We Québécois know this
full well, as our nation is but one product of the first Breton
diaspora, in the 17th century, which ensued when life become too hard on
the rocky Breton shore and other, softer destinations--the Loire,
Poitou, even Canada--appealed. But in the generation after the
Franco-German War, this movement took on a new strength, for a
half-million Bretons emigrated. [10] Mainland France received few
emigrants despite the ties of history and sovereignty. Rather, this new
wave of Bretons went overseas. 

We in Québec received our own large contingent, of course, in the
Saguenay frontier in the 1890's, even now, the Breton language is still
spoken by a minority of Saguenéens, and this Brittany-in-America
thrives, as do the smaller Breton-founded settlers in the far west, and
to the fishing villages of our east. Indeed, the blood of the ancient
Breton seafarers may be the reason why sometimes the blood of the modern
Quebecois will sometimes call him to the sea. [11]

Less known is the movement across the Channel to Wales, as Welsh
coal-mine owners looked for cheap labour as England's own emigrants
preferred the Confederation or Australia. This migration, a reversal of
the ancient migration of Britons to Little Brittany, has proved quite
interesting in its own right, bolstering as it has the Welsh language
and the ties between the
two shards of the Briton peoples in the face of official hostility,
while inspiring a new Welsh Catholicism that has become a national faith
alongside Methodist Protestantism. These migrations and others--of
workers to England, of students to Austrasia, of missionaries to central
Africa--had the signal effect of strengthening Brittany's ties with the
world outside France.

Breton independence might have come in time. But then, Henri Fanchon's
coup intervened in 1909. The feuding French provinces rallied behind
Fanchon's grandiose nationalism of course but Brittany resisted. And
Brittany's reluctance to give up its independence cost it a brutal
invasion, the first aggression of Fanchon as Bretons remind anyone who
asks. Nantes fell quickly
even as the Parlement and the nobles evacuated to Brest, from which
desperate and futile efforts were made to enlist protection of Brittany
by a foreign power--perhaps the British, perhaps the Germans, perhaps
even the Mexicans. These failed, though, and the Breton diaspora of
intellectuals and politicians, merchants and nationalists from Brest to
points overseas--Québec, Brussel, Berlin, Strassburg, Cardiff,
London--robbed Brittany of its brightest. 

Fanchon treated Brittany as a conquered country; the Breton language was
outlawed, robbed of its past generation of official sponsorship, while
Gallo was downgraded to a mere dialect. After all, those languages were
the "languages of federalism and separatism" as Fanchon himself said,
and the "unity of political France can be assured only by the unity of
cultural France." [12] Brittany's nascent industries were bought out by
Parisien industrialists, Brittany's fragile agriculture overwhelmed by
cheaper imports, efforts made to redirect the flow of Breton emigrants
to help repeople a France experiencing low birth rates. In short,
Brittany was made
a colony.

It escapes Le Glouannec why the French are outraged that the Bretons
rose up against French rule as soon as the first German troops crossed
into Lorraine in the Global War: "Did they think that we wanted to be
French, that we liked having our culture and languages spit upon, our
society rebuilt for their ends? They talk about German imperialism while
forgeting their own." 

It took a while for the Germans to notice this; Brittany remained under
military occupation for quite some time, though more because of its
strategic situation opposite Britain than because of its population. It
was only in 1944, when Paris rose against the Germans while the Bretons
remained quite, that the Germans noticed the potential for Brittany. And
after 1946, when Bruning fell to be replaced by von Richter, German
plans for Brittany took on a coloration quite attractive to the Bretons.
After all, their Parlement had, mostly, sought refuge in Austrasia and
Germany, as had their Catholic nobles; resuming Parlement's sessions in
Nantes, and bringing the nobles back to their homes, was but the first
step in the restoration of a truly autonomous Brittany.


And now, the Breton flag flies across Brittany. It is an attractive
banner: In the upper left-hand corner is the yellow star of the sea of
St. Anne, while below and to the right of the star are five white and
four black stripes representing the nine dioceses of Brittany. [13] It
was devised
during the first period of independence, banned during the Fanchonist
occupation, and revived on a massive scale during this second period of
independence. The Bretons are proud to be Breton, quite proud. (The
ermine is popular, too, but that belongs to an older Brittany.)

The French link remains, as always for the latest generation of Bretons,
an irritant. It isn't as if Paris can interfere in Brittany, by any
means; French powers in Brittany are largely limited to the need for all
of the Breton ministries to prepare reports updating the French
bureaucracy on
local events, since the French bureaucracy lacks its own agents on the
ground. But the Bretons have never been able to declare independence.
Von Richter's rationale, supposedly, was that a France which lost
Lorraine could never abide the loss of Brittany, and besides that the
current situation was quite near to independence. And so, the Bretons
have abided.

The Bretons have resumed their old links with the wider world, aided by
German technological expertise and the Outer Empire's vast markets;
Breton agriculture thrives, geared for export, while Brittany's
stability has attracted manufacturers deterred by France's instability.
The old hemorrhage of Bretons has ceased; if anything, Brittany's
demographic problem is the possibility of a large French immigration.
The Sleeveforce--the German garrisons on the Channel--is hated by
Normans and isn't particularly welcomed by the Flemish on either side of
the Austrasian border. In Brittany, though, the Sleeveforce base at
Quimper is well-integrated into the local community. German soldiers
supposedly queue for Breton language lessons so they can enjoy their
leave in a friendly community; Breton women marry some of those same
soldiers, either staying in Brittany once the German's term of duty is
up or following their loved one across the Empire. Brittany, in short,
prospers, no less than Slovenia does inside the Inner Empire. [14]

"The Slovenes, though, can count on stability; the Empire's not going to
have a revolution, or invade and cancel their autonomy. But France? Who
knows what will it do?" This has particularly become a concern since the
rise of _la Fanchonette._ The old laissez-faire relationship rested
heavily upon German domination of France; Nantais worry about the
possibilities of a German withdrawal leaving Brittany open to a second
Fanchonist invasion. The Bretons don't want to be colonized again, they
want to be free. And if they have to declare independence to do so, I
don't doubt that they will. Perhaps even a German alliance and the
maintenance of the Quimper base, for old time's sake?


I was going to travel beyond Nantes, in Brittany. I was going to visit
the Breton countryside; I was going to see Brest; I was going to see a
field or two of dolmens; I was going to see the old Acadien settlements
on Belle-Isle-sur-Mer. But then, in the Norman town of Bayeux early in
afternoon on the 23rd, a German soldier by the name of Karl-Heinz
Schuschnigg was assassinated, apparently by French-speaking foreigners.
As a French-speaking foreigner of some note, I was brought in by the
German military police.

I was not mistreated during my one-day detention. There was only one
occasion, as I was being taken to the interrogation room, that I
seriously feared for my safety, when the fat mustachioed man who was
standing by the door punched me in the chin for not moving quickly

"Hit me, you baby," I said fiercely to the stupid-looking German
interrogator, "just one more time, and you'll see ..."

He never got the chance, for his superior had walked up behind him to
monitor the interrogation. The last I heard, he was being reprimanded
for his mistreatment of a prisoner, in particular, of a prisoner from a
neutral country which enjoyed pleasant relations with Germany.

Nonetheless, upon my departure from the military police station in
Nantes, I decided I wanted to go visit Ireland. A change of scene was
what I required, rather urgently.


[1] Maeterlinck, like many foreign observers, believes the Mexican
political system to be far more decentralized than it is in reality.

[2] "the little Fanchon"

[3] See FAN #38.

[4] Perhaps a bit harsh to Bede's predecessors, but allow Maeterlinck
this rhetorical flourish.

[5] The precise history of Breton ethnogenesis is as yet unknown. As
described in Patrick Gaillou and Michael Jones' _The Bretons_ (Oxford,
United Kingdom: Blackwell, 1991), the main schools of thought assume
that the Bretons are mostly descended from 5th and 6th century CE
refugees from Britain, or that they developed frothe only Gaulish
population unromanized
by the Roman Empire, or that they are a mixture of Briton refugees and
Gaulish remnants.

[6] "our ancestors the Gauls"

[7] In OTL, five of these channels were filled in as recently as the
1930's, by German labour imported as part of Germany's war indemnities
following the First World War.

[8] See the Catholic Encyclopedia's article "Pardons of Brittany," at , for more detail.

[9] See Michael Howard's _The Franco-Prussian War_ (1981) for the
provinces occupied OTL by Germany. Given the even greater disparity
between French and German power in the Franco-German War, a broader area
of temporary occupation before the declaration of peace works.

[10] Jack Reece's 1977 _The Bretons against France: Ethnic Minority
Nationalism in Twentieth-century Brittany_ cites a figure of 400
thousand Breton emigrants during the Third Republic, two-thirds of whom
ended up in Paris.

[11] Thank you, Carlos.

[12] See for the original
quote, by the revolutionary Barère in 1794: "[F]ederalism and
superstition speak Breton, emigration and hatred of the Republic speak
German, counter-revolution speaks Italian and fanaticism speaks Basque.
Let us break these instruments of injury and error."

[13] The four Breton-speaking dioceses are Leon, Gerne, Gwened, and
Treger. The five Gallo-speaking dioceses are St Brieuc, Dol, St Malo,
Rennes, and Nantes.

[14] See FAN #55.

[Note] See for a general guide
to Breton history, and the soc.culture.breton FAQ at