The Use of French in Medieval Brittany
Professeur émérite d’histoire médiévale française à l’université de Nottingham, Parr’s Cottage, Main Street, GB-Norwell, Notts. NG23 6JN. email@example.com
Three main languages were spoken in the medieval duchy of Brittany: Latin, Breton and French. After briefly considering the geographical division between Breton- and French-speaking parts of the duchy, notably the way in which Breton was progressively restricted to the western half of the duchy, this paper examines how French came, with a few exceptions, to replace Latin as the principal language of record and administration in Brittany in the course of the later Middle Ages. The duchy is shown to fit into a wider regional pattern in the adoption of French in neighbouring provinces, whilst displaying its own particular characteristics. The role of the nobility is probably more significant than that of the ducal administration in explaining the initial spread in usage; the relative lack of urban influence reflects the under-developed character of Breton town life until the end of the Middle Ages. Ecclesiastical authorities also began to use or accept French for certain kinds of business from an early stage, though in the case of parish registers, introduced in the early fifteenth century, Latin was the main language, and often remained so in Breton-speaking regions until the seventeenth century. Some differences in the usage of French between different parts of Breton-speaking Brittany are noted, while the chronology of the adoption of French for different types of record demonstrates that the process occurred unevenly over a long period of time and that social, cultural and political reasons must be considered for its adoption.
Trois langues principales étaient pratiquées dans le duché de Bretagne au Moyen Âge : le latin, le breton, le français. Après un bref rappel de la répartition spatiale du breton et du français, et spécialement de la façon dont le breton fut progressivement cantonné dans la partie occidentale du duché, l’article étudie la façon dont le français en arriva, sauf rares exceptions, à remplacer le latin comme langue principale des documents et de l’administration en Bretagne durant les derniers siècles du Moyen Âge. Le duché vit se reproduire le schéma de l’adoption du français dans les provinces voisines, mais avec quelques spécificités. Le rôle de la noblesse y fut sans doute plus déterminant, dans les premières étapes, que celui de l’administration ducale ; l’absence relative d’influence urbaine reflète le retard breton en matière de vie municipale jusqu’à la fin du Moyen Âge. Les autorités ecclésiastiques elles aussi se mirent rapidement à utiliser ou à tolérer le français pour certains types d’affaires, même si les registres paroissiaux, introduits au début du XVe siècle, conservèrent largement l’usage du latin, qui dominait souvent encore au XVIIe siècle dans les régions bretonnantes. On peut noter quelques divergences dans l’usage du français entre les diverses zones qui parlaient breton, tandis que la chronologie de l’adoption du français pour différents types de documents révéle une progression lente, à un rythme inégal, soumise à l’entrecroisement complexe de facteurs sociaux, culturels et politiques.
In memoriam Hubert Guillotel
1. Breton and French
Three main languages were spoken in the medieval duchy of Brittany: Latin, Breton and French. Modern Breton, of which there is still no agreed standard version, survives in four main forms. These reflect historical differences in ways of speaking and writing the language, centring on the four western Breton dioceses of Cornouaille (Quimper), St-Pol de Léon, Tréguier and Vannes1. The French spoken in medieval Brittany also displays regional characteristics when compared with that of neighbouring Francophone regions, some even deeming the differences so marked as to form a distinct sub-language known as Gallo, Gallot or Gallèse, itself significantly influenced by Breton2. Conversely, Middle Breton (the Breton spoken from around 1100 to the seventeenth century) made borrowings from French, especially from the fourteenth century onwards3. Latin was, of course, universally used throughout the duchy during the Middle Ages, preserving its importance in certain kinds of written record, and enjoying a revival as elsewhere during the Renaissance as a literary language. But the fluctuating linguistic boundary between Breton- and French-speaking parts of the duchy – Bretagne-bretonnante and Bretagne-gallo – during our period needs discussion because of the consequences this has for any account of the spread of French as a written language, especially in administrative and diplomatic documents, which are the main focus of this paper.
Briefly (since this has much exercised literary and historical scholars), following the immigration of Britons into the Armorican peninsula between the fourth and seventh centuries AD, Breton developed as a separate language within a larger group (Breton, Cornish and Welsh) that formed one of two distinct branches (the other made up of Irish and Scottish Gaelic and Manx) of Celtic-speaking peoples inhabiting the western seaboard of Europe and the British Isles in the early Middle Ages4. I leave aside here the thorny issue of what Primitive Breton may have acquired from the indigenous Gaulish, also a Celtic language, spoken in Armorica in Roman times5. Within what from the tenth century was usually termed the duchy of Brittany, there is place- and personal-name evidence that Breton was at least briefly spoken as far east as the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel on the north coast and in the Pays de Guérande at the mouth of the Loire on the south coast. Following work by Paul Sébillot and the great Celticist Joseph Loth, since 1886 a line, often termed the Loth line, drawn southwards from the mouth of the Couesnon next to Mont-Saint-Michel, passing through Hédé, then to the west of Rennes and Bain de Bretagne to reach the Loire just east of Donges, has been taken to indicate the extreme eastern limits of Old Breton speech 6.
2. The retreat of Breton
By the later Middle Ages there had been a significant retreat westwards, a development that was certainly by then venerable. Around 1500, the equivalent of the Loth line for the Middle Breton then spoken ran southwards from the western side of the Bay of St-Brieuc, east of Quintin, west of Loudéac and Josselin, east of La Roche Bernard and reached the sea near modern St-Nazaire7. Subsequent centuries have seen a further slow shift to a parallel line some 15 or 20 kilometres further west marking the limits of Modern Breton speech, though between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries the linguistic frontier was for long apparently static before shifting again, especially dramatically, in the twentieth century8. By 1976 it ran south-eastwards from the north coast, west of Plouha, Corlay and Mur de Bretagne, and east of Pontivy, to reach the sea on the Golfe du Morbihan, the most significant recent regression being the withdrawal of Vannes and the Presqu’île du Rhuys from the area in which Breton was still extensively spoken as late as 19419. From at least the mid fourteenth century, administratively the medieval duchy was divided into Haute- and Basse-Bretagne, Bretagne-gallo and Bretagne-bretonnante, roughly approximating to the linguistic division of 1500 sketched above, which was first depicted cartographically in Bertrand d’Argentré’s Histoire de Bretagne in 158810. The church too had by then long recognized distinctions in speech between the various Breton dioceses. This means that the eastern Breton dioceses of Dol (apart from its enclaves along the northern coast), Nantes (apart from the Guérandais), Rennes and St-Malo were French-speaking while St-Brieuc and Vannes had both French- and Breton-speaking populations, and Quimper, St-Pol de Léon and Tréguier were essentially Breton-speaking11.
Evidence from written sources provides a particular gloss on the way in which French came to be used more extensively for administrative purposes, even in nominally Breton-speaking areas in the later Middle Ages. This is chiefly provided by documents produced, in the earliest periods, by monastic scriptoria, more sparingly by cathedral chapters, then increasingly by the embryonic ducal administration, eventually with its chancery, a surge in records relating to the secular affairs of leading noble families and a wealth of other documents concerning every aspect of life in town and countryside. No attempt is made here to look at the place of literary works which can be shown more or less convincingly to have been written by authors or scribes writing in French in Brittany. An early example might be the Roman d’Aiquin, a mediocre chanson de geste relating the adventures of a Saracen prince, whom the Du Guesclin family took to be among their ancestors12. This was probably composed in the diocese of St-Malo around 1200 and is traditionally attributed to a jongleur Garin Trousseboeuf. Others might include poems attributed to Peter Mauclerc, duke of Brittany (1213-37) or his son, John I (1237-86) in contemporary chansonniers13, though it is not until the mid and late fourteenth century that more significant historical and literary works in French by Bretons begin to proliferate convincingly14. In passing, we may note too that there are few substantial Breton Latin chronicles from the High Middle Ages, the most important being the Chronicle of Nantes, though this has come down to us in fragmentary and macaronic form, largely thanks to Pierre Le Baud (d. 1505), the most significant Breton historian of his generation15.
3. Monastic records and language
I shall now concentrate chiefly on the period when French came to stand alongside and then largely replace Latin for administrative purposes, except in certain categories of document (for example, notarial instruments16), that is the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, but with some forays outside these centuries. Inevitably the way in which written records were first principally preserved by religious houses and cathedral chapters has skewed the sample towards the ecclesiastical evidence. But sufficient survives to make some distinctions between the use of the vernacular by lay authorities and ecclesiastical ones, and to trace the physical spread of French usage as a language of record throughout the duchy.
Brittany is relatively poor in terms of charters dating before the mid eleventh century, but there is one major exception – the Cartulary of the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Sauveur of Redon, founded in 83217. This cartulary, compiled between c. 1070 and 1161, is chiefly remarkable for copies of nearly 350 charters of the ninth and early tenth centuries. Located close to the linguistic boundary between Breton- and French-speaking areas in the eastern Vannetais, but relating to properties scattered in a radius of upto 70 kilometres from the abbey, the Latin charters of the Carolingian period provide rich evidence in place- and personal-names and in terms for a variety of social and economic practices, some of Celtic origin18. They suggest that Breton was currently widely spoken on the estates coming into the monks’ hands and was clearly understood by the clerks responsible for drafting the original charters. There is less evidence in these charters for early Romance-speech in the Redon region, though there is some. By the time the Carolingian charters were copied into the cartulary itself (around 1070), after a period of disruption brought about by the Vikings, the later copyist/s were now largely ignorant of Breton, an early indicator of the retreat of Breton speech to the late medieval Loth line19.
Two other monastic cartularies contain a substantial number of Latin charters from Breton-speaking areas – those of Landévennec (compiled shortly before that of Redon c. 1047-1055)20 and Sainte-Croix de Quimperlé. This latter, first compiled around 1127 and added to until the late thirteenth century, is especially valuable for showing the survival of distinct Breton customs in Cornouaille in the twelfth century whether this is with regard to naming-patterns, rents, weights or measures21. Of other surviving Breton cartularies (there are some 13 medieval ones, and five others compiled between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries)22, the majority come from areas where French was the predominant spoken language by the time they were made. Published examples include those of the female Benedictine abbeys of St-Georges de Rennes, founded c. 1030, and St-Sulpice-de-la-Forêt, founded c. 1117, both of which held their main properties in the Rennais, though St-Sulpice did acquire the priory of Locmaria at Quimper23. Of abbeys that lay closer to the linguistic frontier, original charters or cartulary copies for the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have been published for most of the major houses in the modern département of Côtes-d’Armor (Beaulieu, Beauport, Bégard, Bocquen, Bon Repos, St-Aubin-des-Bois)24, though considerable unpublished material survives for some like Bégard and Beauport. The major, incompletely published, Breton cartulary is that of St-Melaine de Rennes, finished in 1344, for which there also exist a large number of original charters25. It is unfortunate that surviving evidence for monastic houses founded in Cornouaille and Léon in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (perhaps Daoulas apart) is particularly poor26, though some priories belonging to Marmoutier or other Loire valley houses in both Haute- and Basse-Bretagne have left useful records.
4. Cathedral records
Of the nine medieval Breton cathedrals, Dol and Quimper have preserved the best collections of medieval documents made in the course of the Middle Ages. The evidence for the others is very partial before the fifteenth century. At Dol, especially from the thirteenth century, efforts were made to compile registers of deeds and other records of importance to the bishop or chapter, of which the most important surviving example is the fourteenth-century Livre rouge. This serves as an obituary book, chapter act book and cartulary, whilst another fragmentary cartulary of the fifteenth century, known as the Alanus, also survives. It contains mainly thirteenth-century material27. The most extensive cathedral cartulary extant is that of Quimper. It survives in three overlapping volumes, the first compiled in the thirteenth century, and then in a revised form in two further volumes which Bishop Alain an Gall ordered to be made in 1352, with further additions into the fifteenth century. It is especially rich for the fourteenth century but has material dating back to the eleventh28. Among known lost Breton cartularies was one for the cathedral of St-Pierre de Rennes29.
5. Early lay records
Efforts to preserve ducal or seigneurial records before the late fourteenth century is not very evident. There may have been some registration of outgoing ducal letters from the latter years of John IV’s reign (1364-99) and the first inventory of ducal archives was drawn up in 1395, but the first fragmentary registers to survive come from 1404-830. Then there is a break before a virtually continuous series of registers begins early in the reign of Francis II (1458-88)31. These registers run on well into the sixteenth century. Lay cartularies are extremely rare but that compiled for the lordship of Fougères by the counts of Alençon around 1330 (known now only from later copies) is a major exception32. One for the neighbouring lordship of Vitré was compiled in the early fifteenth century33, while Prigent de Coëtivy, admiral of France (d. 1450), had an important cartulary drawn up shortly after he had acquired the great lordship of Rays by marriage34. Its earliest record is dated 1160, and it includes several early French documents. Of surviving original records from medieval seigneurial archives in the duchy, the richest but scattered collection from the standpoint of this particular paper, is that of the vicomtes de Rohan because it also incorporates much documentation deriving from the powerful families of Léon and Avaugour and thus relates chiefly to central and western Brittany in the later Middle Ages35.
6. The co-existence of Latin and the Vernacular
There are many contemporary references to the general fact that two vernacular languages were commonly spoken in the medieval duchy. Appropriate arrangements were made to provide interpreters or those with the requisite language skills according to need. It was normal to appoint Breton-speaking clerics to benefices in Bretagne-bretonnante, or to order that Francophones should learn Breton within a certain time limit or lose their livings unless they acquired papal dispensation36. As early as the reign of Salomon (857-74) it was necessary to restore to sees in Brittany bishops who spoke the same language (that is Breton) as the ruler, following a purge against Simoniacs in 84937. The last duke to speak Breton as a native was probably Alain Fergent (1084-1113/16); his successors were almost certainly monolingual French speakers38. In 1208 Pope Innocent III allowed the Cistercian abbey of Beauport to provide Breton- or English-speakers to their livings on either side of the Channel39. In the later Middle Ages, public announcements were made when necessary in both French and Breton as a document of 1326 implies40; it appears that around this time, some synodal statutes of St-Pol de Léon may have been translated into Breton, though no other evidence of them now survives41. At the inquiry at Tréguier into the sanctity of St-Yves Hélori in 1347 at least four Breton interpreters were needed to take testimonies from Bretonnants; at Angers in 1371, Alain Tardif, lector at the Franciscan convent of Angers and Even de Haya, esquire, Brittones Brittonizantes, acted in the same capacity at the inquiry into the sanctity of Duke Charles de Blois42. In 1432 Jean Malou, escripvain, was paid 20d by the chapter of Tréguier ‘pour avoir escript la tablieu en Breton de la messe du duc’43; shortly before 1440 a youth from Brest went to the Pays de Rays to learn French, where he fell victim to the notorious paedophile Gilles de Rays44; soldiers at the sieges of Fougères and Pont de l’Arche in 1449 and Guingamp in 1489, or those sacking the manor of L’Hermitage en Allineuc (22) in 1468, were reported as speaking in Breton45; other too numerous examples could be cited46. However, no medieval administrative documents now survive in Breton, if they ever did, and it is rare indeed even to find a phrase recorded in that language. An inquiry at Vannes in 1400, for instance, relates a few words spoken in Breton during a disturbance47. But this is an extremely unusual example in my experience of forty years acquaintance with Breton archives, while Jean Kerhervé confirms ‘nous n’avons jamais rencontré au cours de nos dépouillements d’archives le moindre document financier en breton’48. Middle Breton survived essentially as a spoken rather than a written language until the late fifteenth century when the first major work to use Breton was Jean Lagadeuc’s trilingual dictionary (Breton, French, Latin), of which a manuscript version of 1464 is known and the first published edition was in 149949.
7. The spread of French in administrative records
What then of French? The general pattern for administrative documents in the kingdom of France was classically sketched by Giry more than a century ago. Beginning in the north-east in the very late twelfth century or early thirteenth century (examples occur at Douai in 1204, Tournai in 1206 and St-Quentin in 1218), by the 1230s the use of French had spread more widely to embrace not only northern France but also Aunis and La Rochelle (1219), Saintonge (1229) and Bas-Poitou (1230). By the mid century it was common too in Anjou, Touraine and Berry for documents concerning not only seigneurial affairs but also towns.50 Brittany fits neatly into this scheme. The first surviving letters from the royal chancery in French, issued by Louis IX in 1254, in fact concern Breton affairs51, where both the duke and some leading nobles had already been using it for some years. On 22 September 1240, for instance, an agreement between John de Dol, lord of Combour, and the Chapter of Dol over forest and other rights was recorded in French52; the partition of the vast Porhoët succession among three heiresses in 1248 was similarly recorded in that language. Two exemplars of this agreement appear to be the earliest original French documents from the duchy to survive, while the confirmation by John I on 6 February 1249 is the earliest known ducal letter in French although it only survives in a later copy53.
By the 1260s, at least in eastern Brittany, French was increasingly the language used in ducal documents relating to the nobility as by the lords themselves54. This has been seen by some commentators as deliberate policy by the dukes and their advisers to extend their control and achieve centralisation of the duchy’s government. This may well be the case, especially after the expansion of the ducal financial administration from the mid fourteenth century55. But before then, much of the enthusiasm or pressure for using French in Brittany derived rather from the aristocracy and their officers: in 1255 the countess of La Marche’s seneschal of Penthièvre was issuing letters in French56; in 1257 Raoul, vicomte du Poudouvre and his wife, did likewise when renouncing rights at Saint-Suliac-sur-Rance in favour of St-Malo de Dinan57; in 1258 and 1260 Duke John I did so when asked to confirm two baronial accords in the Nantais as he had in 1249 confirming the Porhoët agreement58, while in Bretagne-bretonnante as early as 1262 an accord between members of the Léon family was drawn up in that language at Daoulas in distant Cornouaille59. Around 1270 an inquiry by Alain de Trégaranteuc, alloué of the vicomte de Rohan, in the castellany of Corlay into whether a certain Guillaume Giquel was ‘taillable’ was recorded in French60; arbitrations of noble disputes by fellow nobles were similarly delivered in French.61
8. The role of the nobility and towns in promoting use of French
It also came to be routinely used for other aspects of seigneurial life: a French epitaph occured on a now-lost tomb at the abbey of La Meilleray (44), with the date 1 May 1242 and on another dated 1250, old style62. Other early examples come from further lost noble tombs at the abbey of La Villeneuve-lès-Nantes (44), recorded by Roger de Gaignières63. A French version of a ducal Assise des pledeours of 1259 exists, though it is probably a later translation64; more convincingly an agreement by the duke to abolish aveux (1275) and the famous Assise de Rachat (1276), relating to wardships and reliefs owing on the death of noble vassals, exist in contemporary French exemplars which was their original language65. The relatively speedy acceptance of the use of French by aristocratic families in Bretagne-bretonnante in the late thirteenth century is clearly demonstrated in the Léon-Avaugour-Rohan chartrier66. By the early fourteenth century it was increasingly unusual for lords throughout the duchy to issue documents (marriage contracts, divisions of succession, delivery of dower, financial accounts67) in anything but French, an excellent illustration of Michael Clanchy’s comment on ‘how written language was not usually derived directly from the speech of the majority of the people but from tradition, political authority and social status’68.
Evidence for the use of French in Breton towns at this stage is limited by the very poor survival of early records, though there are indications that it was certainly used for commercial purposes in Bretagne-bretonnante. In 1280 a burgess of Hennebont was involved in an agreement concerning the Rohan family over properties around Usel and Loudéac (22)69; in 1296 when the vicomte d’Avranches carried out an inquiry in the duchy on behalf of Philip IV into various acts of piracy, he apparently experienced little difficulty in interrogating witnesses in a number of coastal towns in Basse-Bretagne70. During the course of his investigation the vicomte revealed his thoroughness, if not hidden linguistic abilities, by interviewing at least one Italian and men from Bayonne. In more modern times, such towns represented islands of bilingualism in contrast to the surrounding countryside71, a state of affairs probably already evident by 1300. We also have hints at the end of the Middle Ages of social divisions later reflected in language differences with those speaking French tending to come from higher social groups, whether the aristocracy or the haute-bourgeoisie, with trilingualism most evident among the clergy and those exposed to higher learning.
9. Use of French by the dukes of Brittany and their administration
Like their nobility, the Breton ducal family recorded family matters (marriage alliances, dower arrangements) from the 1250s in French72, but the employment of French in the ducal administration was more hesitant. It was used for some diplomatic purposes in the 1260s: both John I and Duchess Blanche wrote in French to Louis IX and to Henry III of England73. From around 1270 we find Rivallan du Temple, seneschal of Nantes, writing fairly regularly in French, even to ecclesiastics74. French also came to be used in various ducal courts from this point. Many letters were issued under seals of contracts established in demesne centres or towns under ducal control; petitions and legal inquiries were also increasingly recorded in French75; similarly documents relating to the business of the Breton parlement from the late 1280s76. A list of military obligations owed to the duke by his leading vassals was famously drawn up in the Livre des Ostz, following a muster at Ploërmel in August 129477. By the early fourteenth century French was used even in ducal courts in Bretagne-bretonnante; the earliest letters issued by that at Morlaix I have found dates from 1302, Lesneven from 1310, Carhais from 1321 and St-Renan from 132978. The early fourteenth century saw several further important ducal legal documents issued in French,79 though the Très ancienne coutume of c. 1325 was an unofficial compilation put together by practising lawyers80.
The earliest ducal financial records also demonstrate the measured pace of linguistic change: the first surviving accounts come from the 1260s and 1270s and are exclusively in Latin81. There is then a gap until 1300 by which time the surviving rolls are chiefly in French, though some still contain items in Latin82. After 1308 there is an almost complete dearth of ducal financial records until the reign of John IV, by when they are almost all without exception kept in French, though occasionally Latin was used in the auditing process by the Chambre des comptes or for memoranda83. In the interim, French had also become the main language for seigneurial household or estate accounts and estate surveys84. If there was a political agenda in the ducal use of French, it must be acknowledged that this only came about slowly and had been anticipated by seigneurial usage.
10. A wider adoption of French in the later Middle Ages
How did other authorities and institutions react to the spreading use of French? The extent to which religious houses (whether older Benedictine monasteries, the important group of eleven major Breton Cistercian houses, or even the many newer mendicant foundations dating from the 1230s onwards) used French varied, and not simply as a function of their relative position to the linguistic frontier between the two halves of Brittany though this is influential in the initial spread. It is thus not surprising that in Haute-Bretagne, monastic archives show that French was used occasionally from the mid 1250s: at Bocquen from 125585, St-Malo de Dinan (1257)86, St-Aubin-des-Bois (1262)87, Geneston (1264)88, St-Sulpice (1267)89, Montonac (1272)90, Buzay (1275)91 and St-Magloire de Léhon (1278)92. But in some major cartularies from Haute-Bretagne the appearance of the first French document is relatively late: at St-Melaine de Rennes it is in 128193, at St-Sauveur de Redon (1289)94, St-Georges de Rennes (1294)95 and Notre-Dame de Jugon (1295)96. By then French is evident in some houses in Bretagne-bretonnante, most interestingly at Relecq in Haut-Léon by 128497 and Bon Repos (1289)98, though it would be the early fourteenth century before it reached Beauport (1303)99 and Bégard (1308)100 in the Trégorrois, or made its appearance in Quimper’s cathedral cartulary (1321), only to be used sparingly for the rest of the century101. Indeed as late as 1489 we find the chapter of Quimper paying for a list of taxable tenants to be translated from French into Latin102. At the abbey of La Joie de Hennebont, founded by John I and his wife, French was used from 1282103 but this is less surprising since it was a nunnery drawing most of its members from an aristocratic milieu, and it has long been known that female houses favoured use of the vernacular104.
11. Which language to use ?
The erratic survival of records (most notably those relating to Bretagne-bretonnante which has lost a disproportionate number of once existing ecclesiastical documents) precludes any statistical approach to the relative use of French or Latin by religious institutions in the later Middle Ages, or of how this changed when a choice between them was acceptable105. My impression is that once established in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, French was regularly but not excessively used in the affairs of most houses, since Latin remained important in the administration of estates and protection of rights, and naturally for divine service and any business with the papacy. But a majority of documents emanating from the ducal chancery in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and dealing with cathedrals, monasteries or mendicant convents, including general confirmations of privileges or more particular favours, like the licence to crenellate which John III granted in 1332 to the monks of St-Mathieu de Fineterre106, deep in Bretagne-bretonnante, were in French107. Chapter records at Vannes were being kept in French by the late fourteenth century108, so were accounts for the chapter of Tréguier in the fifteenth109. At Quimper, too, which in many respects seems to have been conservative and resistant to the spread of French110, as early as 1326, an obit for Guillaume, archdeacon of Poher, was established under the contracts seal of the town in French111. At Beauport abbey, accounts were being kept in French by 1406112. Additions in French were first added to the Necrology of Daoulas abbey in the 1440s113. Elsewhere Officialities had tentatively begun to use French from the 1250s and did so regularly by the fourteenth century114; bishops too might issue letters in French like Maurice de Trésiguidi, bishop of Rennes, who related the terms of the marriage contract between Hervé, eldest son of Hervé, vicomte de Léon, and Catherine de Laval in May 1265115.
On the other hand, parochial registers of births, marriages and deaths, precociously introduced into Brittany in the early fifteenth century by Henry Le Barbu, bishop of Nantes, previously Chancellor of the duchy116, and soon used in all other Breton dioceses, were initially kept in Latin. In the earliest still extant register, that from Roz-Landrieux, diocese of Dol, which now contains details for the period 1451-1523, only those for the years 1479-83 are recorded in French117. But other registers from Dol, Nantes and Rennes show French being used from 1462, as it was in the dioceses of St-Malo and Vannes from the early sixteenth century118. But it is only from the mid-century that it occurs in registers from St-Brieuc and Tréguier, while it is not until the early seventeenth that some in Cornouaille and St-Pol de Léon finally employed French; Latin indeed remained the language for some parish registers in Tréguier, Quimper and Léon dioceses until the late seventeenth century whereas it had all but disappeared from all other dioceses by the mid century.
12. An example of hesitant adoption : wills
Another important category of record, wills, also shows that the replacement of Latin by French was a slow and incomplete process in the later medieval period. The first full Breton noble will of which we have record is that of André de Varades in 1196119, and another informative one was made by Guillaume Le Borgne, seneschal of Goëllo in April 1220120; like most thirteenth-century Breton wills, these are in Latin, though that made on 17 June 1248 by André III, lord of Vitré, survives only in a late medieval French translation121. On the other hand, that made by Jeanne, comtesse de la Marche, dame de Fougères, containing many legacies to Breton churches, drawn up on 20 May 1269, is a French original but drafted in the Saintonge122. But even among the Breton aristocracy who were most influenced by French culture, it was rare to leave testaments in French before the mid fourteenth century123, and as late as the sixteenth century a proportion were still drawn up in Latin. But after 1400 it was unusual for any lay person to have a Latin will, even in Bretagne-bretonnante124, though clerics throughout the duchy were likely to do so into the sixteenth century. An important exception is the French will of Christophe de Penmarc’h, bishop of Saint-Brieuc, of 1505125.
Trilingual in speech, only evidence for Latin and French used for administrative purposes survives from late medieval Brittany. This brief survey has shown that after French became fashionable for various purposes in the mid thirteenth century, different chronologies of usage co-existed for differing types of record whether used by lay or ecclesiastical authorities. Social and geographical factors can be used to explain some of these differences; the influence of the high aristocracy in promoting the use of French in Brittany for certain purposes is especially clear. Some differences continued to be influenced obviously by that broad division between the spoken vernaculars of Bretagne-gallo and Bretagne-bretonnante, or even between the different varieties of Breton speech (for example, the conservatism of Cornouaille as opposed to the precocity of Léon in accepting the use of French for certain purposes)126. Other institutional developments in church and state require further consideration: for instance, the importance of the fact that until the later fourteenth century, two key administrative institutions, the ducal chancery and the Chambre des comptes, only existed in very embryonic form needs to be clearly recognized. Naturally, Latin remained very important for ecclesiastics but as this survey has shown, from a relatively early point the church was prepared to accept the use of written French and not simply for its dealings with the laity. In Bretagne-bretonnante this also inevitably meant that the majority of clerics needed to be verbally trilingual even if they did not write in Breton127; civil servants found this competence useful on occasion, especially when carrying out inquiries in Basse-Bretagne128. Comparisons and contrasts with other nearby regions where trilingualism was significant at the end of the Middle Ages (Flanders129, England130, Wales131) might be profitably pursued but not on this occasion.
The Plainte de Pierre Leet to the vicomte de Rohan following an assault by Alain de Lanharmoyt and others (shortly before 1300).
A. Nantes, Médiathèque (formerly Bibliothèque municipale), MS 1710, original parchment, late 13th c., 165 x 118 mm.
B. ibid. MS 1069/3, n° 28, paper, 19th c. copy after A.
Plainte de Pierre Leet contre Alain de Lanharmoyt et autres portée devant le seignour de Rohan pour réparation de voies de fait exercées sur la personne du plaignant.
Cez sunt ceux des quex Pierres Leet132 se deut en denonciant a vous mon seignour de Rohan133 comme a excellen seignour e a bonne justice, qui furent en force, e en ayde e en conseil de le ferir de le batre e de le fouler leement o batons, o espees e o piez e o poinz, en vostre chemin qe est en vostre garde, e ou pelerinage de Saint Jame de Saint Leon134 qe est en vostre terre, pour quoy il vous supleye comme a seignour que vous li faciez ce a mender, vous en enfourmant par qui vous verrez que bien sera comme de fet notayre.
E premierement se deut le dit Pierres de Alain de Lanharmoyt e de Olichon, son freyre, et de dous batarz de Lanharmoyt, e de Alain le fuiz Olivier de Pouquomar, comme de Guillou le fuiz Henri, du fuiz Olivier le Foul de Saint Guen135 e de plusours autres que ledit Pierres Leyet ne quenoet pas.
E cez sunt les tesmoinz, monseignour de Rohan, par qui vous vous pourrez enformer de vostre ofice de la denonciacion que Pierre Leyet vous a fete davant a lancé. E premier par Guillaume du Treu e par Alain de Beauboys136 e par Gullemet fuiz mons. Gef’ Budes137 e par Guillon Faramus de Plesalla138 e par Robert Guehenec e par Robert le Forestier de Moncontour139, tavernier en la ville, e ses serjanz, e par Olivier le Breton de la paroesse de Trebrit140 e par la fame Eon des Fossez141 e par Jamet le fuiz Gef’ le Neyr de Pleren142 e par Pierres de la Ville Marie e par Collinet Gilles e par Alain Rolant de Penthevre e par plusours autres qe vous verrez qe bien sera comme de fet notayre.