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Brittany (Traditional province, France)

Bretagne, Breizh

Last modified: 2022-03-11 by ivan sache
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Modern flag of Brittany
Left, traditional design - Image by Vincent Morley, 6 July 2000
Right, modernized design - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 30 March 2004

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Modern flag of Brittany (Gwenn-ha-Du)

The modern Breton flag, called in Breton Gwenn-ha-Du (white and black) is made of nine horizontal stripes, in turn black and white, and of 11 eleven black ermine spots, placed 4 + 3 + 4. The design of the ermine spots is subjected to several variations, two of them being illustrated above.
Once used mainly by cultural associations, autonomist and independentist groups, and considered as a separatist emblem by the French authorities, the flag is now widespread in Brittany; seen on most town halls, the flag has been officially recognized on 30 June 1997 by Region Bretagne. It is also used by the General Council of Loire-Atlantique, a part of historical Brittany subsequently placed into Region Pays de la Loire.
Despite early disputes, the Gwenn-ha-Du is now widely recognized by Bretons of diverse political, religious and cultural backgrounds. The flag is commonly flown on private boats used for sailing and fishing, which is acceptable, provided the French national ensign is also flown.
The Breton spationaut Jean-Louis Chrétien brought the flag in the space shuttle.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 January 1997

P. Rault (Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]) states that the flag's designer, Morvan Marchal considered the Gwenn-ha-Du as a modern synthesis between the traditional banner of arms of Brittany and a representation of the Breton diversity. Accordingly, the stripes represent the Breton historical regions, traditionally divided into the westernmost, Breton-speaking countries (white stripes for Léon, Trégor, Cornouailles and Vannetais) and the easternmost, Gallo-speaking countries (black stripes for Pays de Rennes, Pays de Nantes, Pays de Dol, Pays de Saint-Malo, and Penthièvre. Marchal did not assign any meaning to the number of ermine spots, which was not fixed in his earlier designs; for some Breton independentists, the 11 ermine spots represent the 11 letters of the motto Breizh dieuh, "Free Brittany".

Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

Origin of the Gwenn-ha-Du

P. Rault [rau98] gives a detailed account of the history of the modern Breton flag.
In 1923, Morvan Marchal (1900-1963), a student in architecture and a founding member of the nationalist movement Breizh Atao (Brittany Forever) designed a new Breton flag. The design seems to have been inspired by the American Stars and Stripes and the Greek flag, or by the arms of the town 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 the two designs.

[Original Breton flag]

Marchal's original design of the Breton flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

Marchal's original design has an unlimited number of ermine spots in canton, following the heraldic use (semé). The Gwenn-ha-Du was adopted by the first Congress of the Breton Autonomist Party, held in Rosporden on 10 September 1927.

[Breton flag, 1937]

Breton flag hoisted in Paris, 1937 - Image by Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

A Gwenn-ha-Du hoisted by C. Coüasnon over the Breton pavilion at the International Exhibition held in Paris in 1937, as a unusually large canton and nine ermine spots.
The Gwenn-ha-Du is captioned "Autonomist flag of Brittany" in the O. Neubecker's flag book Fahnen und Flaggen (1939) [neu39a].

Ivan Sache, 5 January 1999

The Gwenn-ha-Du was bitterly criticized by some Breton intellectuals. Promoting the plain ermine as the genuine Breton flag, the bard Léon Le Berre (1874-1946) had for 12 years a harsh quarrel with Marchal, which was aired in the newspapers Ouest-Éclair and La Bretagne à Paris. Several incidents happened, for instance when Marchal's flag was flown for the first time on the town hall of Plougastel without the French flag.

Pascal Vagnat, 13 January 1997

Vertical Gwenn-ha-Du


Vertical Breton flag - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 27 February 2001

The buildings of the TV channel France 3 in Nantes and Gwenn-ha-Du fly a vertical Breton flag.

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 27 February 2001

Erroneous Gwenn-ha-Du


Erroneous Breton flag, 1970 - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 July 2003

In Ar Banniel [arb] #11 (Spring 2000), Divy Kervella reports an erroneous Gwenn-ha-Du, having a small canton with only five ermine spots (3 + 2) and only nine stripes (five white and four black). A photo, published in 1970 in the local newspaper Le Télégramme de Brest, shows the flag hanging on the wall of a gym in the town of Lannion where members of the FALSAB (Fédération Autonome de Lutte et Sports Athlétiques Bretons, Autonomous Federation of Breton Wrestling and Athletic Sports) are training.

Ivan Sache, 25 July 2003

Proposal of "modernized" Gwenn-ha-Du


Breton flag proposed by Max Loriquet - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 January 2012

Ouest-France, 7 January 2012, presents a proposal of Breton flag designed by the amateur painter Max Loriquet, from Thorigné-Fouillard, a town located north-east of Rennes.
A "renovation" of Marchal's Gwenn-ha-Du, Loriquet's proposal has only five horizontal stripes (black-white-black-white-black) and five ermine spots in canton. The proposal conveys a political message, backing up the claim to the "reunification" of the five departments forming historical Brittany, forming today's Region Bretagne, and Loire-Atlantique, part of Region Pays de la Loire.
The designer expects to promote his design on stickers and tee-shirts.

Ivan Sache, 25 January 2012