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Brittany (Traditional province, France)

Bretagne, Breizh

Last modified: 2002-01-18 by ivan sache
Keywords: brittany | bretagne | breizh | ermines: 9 (black) | ermines: 11 (black) | gwenn-ha-du | ermines: 11 (yellow) |
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[Flag of Brittany]by Vincent Morley

Traditional version

[Brittany]by Michel Bolloré

Version recommended by the Breton Vexillological Society

See also:

The Gwenn-ha-Du (White and Black)

The flag is called the Gwenn-ha-du which means "white and black". The Bretons say that it is the only flag in the world which doesn't have any colours, which is wrong (see Fribourg, Ceuta, etc.), but surely it is the only flag in the world which in a parade is carried at arm's length over head. The dimensions are not really fixed. They vary from 9:14 cm to 8:12 m. The flag is not only used by cultural associations or autonomists but really by everybody, and this quite often: you can even see it on town halls in the region. Because of the absence of legislation concerning regional flags in France the flag is also flown on sail and fishing boats. This is tolerated, but the French flag must also be flown. The design of the ermine spots can vary but the most frequently seen is that on the above drawings.

Over the years, the authorities considered the flag as separatist but things have now changed and the flag can appear everywhere, even on public buildings along with the French flag. It no longer has any political connotations. The Gwenn-ha-du is now the flag of the Region Bretagne. It is also used in the department of Loire-Atlantique, although this belongs to the Region Pays de la Loire, because the territory of Loire-Atlantique is historically part of the province of Brittany. Nantes (Naoned), its prefecture, was once one of the two capital cities of Brittany.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 January 1997

Meaning of the Gwenn-ha-Du

The explanation of the flag given by its designer Morvan Marchal (see below) was:

  • A canton seme with ermine spots (therefore according to heraldry rules, in an unlimited number);
  • Nine alternating equal black and white stripes. White stripes stand for the bretonnant countries (where Breton was spoken) : Léon, Trégor, Cornouailles,Vannetais. Black stripes stand for the gallo countries (where French was spoken) : Rennais, Nantais, Dolois, Malouin, Penthièvre.
  • This flag is supposed to be a modern synthesis between the traditional banner of arms and a figuration of the Breton diversity.

There are a lot of variations of the Gwenn-ha-Du, but the current version has eleven ermine spots, this number being without any specific meaning (except for some Bretons the 11 letters of Breizh dieuh [Free Brittany]).

Source: P. Rault. Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]

Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

Origin of the Gwenn-ha-Du

In 1923, Morvan Marchal (1900-1963), a student in architecture and founding member of the nationalist movement Breizh Atao [Brittany forever] designed a new Breton flag. His own explanation of the flag has been given above.

The design seems to have been inspired by the American Stars and Stripes and the Greek flag, or by the arms of the city of Rennes. Interestingly, the arms of the Irish Marshall clan are very similar to Marchal's design. There is however no evidence of a direct relationship between both designs.

The original design had an unlimited number of ermine spots in canton:

[Original Breton flag]by Ivan Sache

The Gwenn-ha-Du was adopted by the first congress of the Breton Autonomist Party, held in Rosporden on 10 September 1927. It was hoisted over the Breton pavilion at the Exposition Internationale of Paris in 1937 by C. Couäsnon. The canton of this flag had nine ermine spots and was unusually large:

[Breton flag, 1937]by Ivan Sache

The Gwenn-ha-Du was described as "autonomist flag of Brittany" in the flag book Fahnen und Flaggen by O. Neubecker (1939) [neu39a].

Despite early disputes, the Gwenn-ha-Du is now widely used by Bretons of all political, religious and cultural orientations. It was also present in the space shuttle, brought by the Breton spationaut Jean-Louis Chrétien.

Source: P. Rault. Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]

Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

The birth of the flag was not straightforward: some intellectuals, like Léon Le Berre (a bard), criticised this creation a lot. He wanted the Breton flag to be herminois plain only. The dispute between him and Morvan was very harsh and the newspapers Ouest-Eclair and La Bretagne à Paris (not separatist minded at all) filled their pages for years with the dispute, which lasted 12 years!. I won't mention here all the incidents which happened, like when Morvan's flag was flown for the first time on the town hall of Plougastel without any French flag, but his flag won over the other.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 January 1997

Vertical Gwenn-ha-Du

[Vertical flag]by Michel Bolloré

In Brittany, one can find some vertical flags. In particular on the building of the television channel France 3 in Nantes. The Breton flag in this format is beside the French flag with the same format, the flag of region Pays de la Loire and the logo of the channel.

European Gwenn-ha-Du

[European Breton flag]by Michel Bolloré & Ivan Sache

A Gwenn-ha-Du with black replaced by yellow and white by blue was seen in Rennes, and reported in Ar Banniel [arb], #6 (Summer 1998), p. 20.

Ivan Sache, 27 February 2001

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