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Léon (Traditional province, Brittany, France)

Bro Leon

Last modified: 2021-01-16 by ivan sache
Keywords: leon |
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Flag of Léon - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

See also:

Presentation of Léon

Léon, located in the north-west of Brittany, is an ancient bishopric and county, with Saint-Pol-de-Léon (Kastell-Paol ) as its capital and Brest as it largest town.

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

In the 12th century, Brittany was under Plantagent influence; since King of England Henry II had in 1181 his son Geoffrey marry Constance, the grand-daughter of the last Duke of Brittany from the house of Cornouaille. Léon, then a county, acted very independently from either England or Brittany; the counts even led several expeditions against Henry II, until the death of Count Guyomarch IV in 1179. Part of his domain was confiscated by Henry II and Geoffrey, which established:
- The Viscounty of Léon, granted for the oldest son, Guyomarch V. The last Viscountess sold her domain to the Duke of Brittany in 1298.
- The Lordship of Léon, granted to the youngest, Hervé I. In 1363, the lordship was transmitted to the last lord's sister, and then to her son, who held the name of Rohan from his father. From then on, the heirs of the Rohan family use the title of lord of Léon before becoming Viscountx of Rohan. In 1530, the lordship was styled a principality by the Viscount of Rohan, whose heirs rise to the rank of Duke in 1579.
[Généalogie des vicomtes de Léon; La seigneurie de Léon aux XVe et XVIe siècles]

Corentin Chamboredon, 15 January 2017

Flag of Léon

The flag of Léon, designed by Yoran Delacour in 1996 and approved by the Breton Vexillological Society, is a banner of the traditional, canting arms of the province, a black lion morné (without claws, tongue and teeth) on an orange field, dating from 1276. Leon means lion in Breton.

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

Morné means in French heraldry "without claws, tongue and teeth". Cognate with the English verb "to mourn", morné originaly meant "blunted" or "saddened".
It seems quite reasonable to think that this coat of arms was in fact a memory of the loss of power of the house of Léon: as years passed, the rulers became more and more helpless and harmless. As it happened while heraldry was appearing, the lion of Léon might have lost its teeth and claws, which were never restored. Seals and armorials of the time did not always depicted the lion as morné.
[Rôle d'armes de l'ost de Ploërmel, province de Léon (1294)]

The Belgian heraldist Goethals wrote in 1866 about a tournament organized in Cambrai (Flanders) in 1238. A knoght from the house of Léon bore "Argent, a lion sable lion armed and langued gules". This different coat of arms was perhaps used because the Count of Flanders already bore "Or, a lion rampant sable armed and langued gules", very similar to the coat of arms of Léon.
[Dix-huit chevaliers bretons à un tournoi en 1238]

Corentin Chamboredon, 15 January 2017

Traditional districts

Pays Pagan


Flag of Pays Pagan - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 6 March 2016

Pays Pagan (in Breton, Bro Pagan; pagan means "pagan" in Breton) is limited by the villages of Plouguerneau (west) and Goulven (east). The region is quite isolated and navigation is made difficult by storms, rocks and cliffs; accordingly, its inhabitants were considered as corsairs, pirates, smugglers, or even wreckers, therefore their nickname of "pagans".

Bristled with rocks and cliffs, the coast has been the site of several wrecks, the most (in)famous wrecked ship being the Amoco Cadiz, sunk off Portsall on 16 March 1978; the wreckage resulted in the largest oilspill of that kind ever recorded. Like the inhabitants of other dangerous coasts of Brittany (for instance, Pays Bigouden and the islands of Molène and Ushant), the "pagans" have been traditionally described as wreckers.
There is indeed historical evidence that the inhabitants of the coasts plundered wrecks and considered everything brought to them by the sea as their property. This "right of wreck", challenged by the local lords, was eventually suppressed by Colbert in 1681; the same Ordinance prescribed the set up of watch posts and rescue stations on the most dangerous places. Louis Gallouédec (Annales de Géographie, 1892) reports the wrecking of the Vendée on 3-4 February 1889, describing "bunches of men, women and children standing on the shore and, nearly blind drunk, drinking from the barrels that had pierced". The author adds that "such events still appear from time to time, in spite of punishment".
The wrecker's black legend was propagated by the renowned historian Jules Michelet (Tableau de la France, 1832): "Not only they expected the wreck, it is asserted they had prepared it. Often, it is said, a cow with a moving lamp tied to the horns, drove the ships to the reefs. God only knows the night scenes! We have seen some who, to get the ring from the finger of a woman about to drown, cut her finger with the teeth." Guy de Maupassant (En Bretagne, 1883) also reported the use of a cow, adding the animal was shackled so that it limped and simulated another ship. The folk culture also reported wrecker's trick. A traditional lament (gwerz) curses the inhabitants of Penmarc'h (Pays Bigouden) who set up a fire atop the village church to lure the seamen.

The flag of Pays Pagan was designed in 2006 by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, with the following description: "It is pitch dark on Pays Pagan, a Breton country par excellence, stylized by an ermine spot issuing from the ground. A ship sails off the coats on a stormy sea, but the fire on the coast lures her to the wrecker's land."

The flag was eventually produced in 2015 in the cloth by Jean-Claude Kerdraon and flown in several places, the Town Hall of Plouguerneau included.
[Bannieloù Breizh, 19 May 2015]

Ivan Sache, 6 March 2016