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Little Britain

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Little Britain or Britain the Less is a name used in various medieval texts for the region in France now called Brittany in English. In Welsh it is called Llydaw. The older name for this region was Armorica.

The Name ArmoricaEdit

The Gaulic phrase are-mori means ‘on/at [the] sea’ and was made into the Gaulish place name Aremorica (*are-mor-ika ) 'Place by the Sea'. The suffix suffix -ika was to used to create adjectival forms and then, place names . Thus Aremorica meant something like ‘sea-coast region’. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (2.17.105), claims that Aremorica was the older name for Aquitania and states that Aremorica’s southern boundary extended to the Pyrenees.

By the 5th century the e in Aremorica has dropped out, at least in Latin use, and the name “Armorica” had become restricted to the north-western sea-coast region of Gaul, to what was then sometimes called the Armorican peninsula.

Settlement by the BritonsEdit

Legendary Foundation of Little BritainEdit

The legendary settlement of Armorica by the Britons begins with the British father-in-law of the emperor Magnus Maximus, who is named Octavius in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and is named Eudaf in Welsh tradition. Geoffrey gives to his Octavius a son named Conan Meriadoc. Welsh tradition instead gives to Eudaf two nephews named Cynan and Gadeon, this Cynan being identical to Geoffrey’s Conan Meriadoc.

According to Geoffrey’s account, when Maximus first crossed over to Gaul in 383, he conquered the Franks of Armorica and then gave Armorica to Conan Meriadoc as his own kingdom. A hundred thousand men and women and thirty-thousand solders are summoned from Britain and distributed among the Armorican tribes. Then, when Maximus is slain, the remnant of his army flee to Conan’s land. In the Welsh Dream of Macsen Wledig, Cynan and Gadeon conquer Rome for Maximus and in return Maximus gives them an army to conquer whatever land they wish. Cynan and Gadeon spend years in conquest. Eventually Gadeon and many of his men return to Britain, but Cynan and many others remain in the land they have conquered, which is the country of Little Britain.

According to the Dream of Macsen Wledig, Cynan and his men cut out the tongues of the women of Armorica, so that the British language will remain uncorrupted. Therefore the country is henceforth called Llydaw, the name Llydaw here understood as lled ‘half’ + taw ‘silent’.

Early Kings of Little BritainEdit

The Armorican penninsula had been much devastated by the plague by the middle of the 5th century, and so proved a welcome haven for Britons from the island searching for a region where they might better themselves, or fleeing from Saxon invaders. They soon became dominant in their new land, creating the coast lordships of Léon, Achm, and Quimper on the western coast, a lordship surrounding the city of Carhaix in the center, and the eastern lordships of Dumnonia in the north and Vannes in the south.

Names are given to the rulers of these lands in some saints lives and other sources. Some of the following may be fantasy.

In the 6th century, the rulers of Quimper are said to be two brothers, Budic and Maxentius, the sons of Daniel Dremrud, the son of Riothamus. The kingdom of Quimper became known in the 8th century as Cornoaille, that is Cornwall. Budic’s son Meliau ruled in Léon.

Carhaix was ruled by King Conomor, notorious for his many marriages, including one to the King Budic of Quimper's daughter.

Vannes was ruled by King Canao who slew three of his brothers. The fourth, named Macliavus, was sheltered by Kng Conomor of Carhaix. Macliavus joined the clergy and became a bishop in the kingdom of his murdering brother Canao. When Canao died, Macliavus became king of Vannes and married his sister to King Conomor.

Budic made an agreement with King Macliavus of Vannes, that on the death of either, the survivor would protect the rights of the son of the deceased. But when Budic died, Macliavus drove Budic’s son Theodoric from Quimper and took over the kingdom. Meliau, the son of Budic who ruled in Léon had married the daughter of King Riwal of Dumnonia. Riwal, now invaded Léon, slew his son-in-law Meliau, and took Léon as his own. Melor, Melau's son, took refuge with King Conomor of Carhaix, but was assassinated by Riwal’s agents.

Conomor then invaded eastern Domnonia and slew the king, but the son of the king, named Iudwal, fled to King Childebert in Paris. When King Riwal of western Domnonia died, Conomor took over his kingdom as well, which included the formerm kingdoms of Achm and Léon, and married King Riwal’s widow. Conomor then accepted the title of Prefect of the King of the Franks from Childebert, which reognized his right to his conquests.

Rulers of Little Britain in Arthurian TalesEdit

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and accounts based on it, a king named Aldroen rules in Little Britain early in the 5th century. Aldroen’s brother Constantine is father to Uther Pendragon, father to Arthur.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and accounts based on it, a king named Budic rules in Little Britain early in the 5th century. The sons of King Constantine of Britain, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, are brought up in his court. The same name is given to the father of Howel the Great in Geoffrey and in most accounts based on Geoffrey. They may be presumed to be the same person.

According to the Prose Lancelot, near the end of Uther Pendragon’s reign, the King of Little Britain is Aramont, surnamed Howel, whose power extends to the borders of Auvergne and Gascony, and should extend east to include the city of Bourges, but King Claudas of Bourges refuses to recognize him. Uther Pendragon agrees to aid Aramont in his war against Claudas and the King of Gaul in return for being proclaimed King over Aramont and his land. From thence forward Little Britain was properly subject to the kingdom of Logres.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and accounts based on it, a king or duke named Howel the Great rules in Little Britain in Arthur's time. This Howel is King Arthur’s nephew in Geoffrey and Wace, athough Lawman’s [[Brut]] makes this Howel to be only a relation of King Arthur. The King Howel of Little Britain who rules from Carhaix in the folk version and prose version of the Tristan story is to be identified with this Howel. His father is Budic, according to Geoffrey and most derived sources, but the Welsh Bruts and Welsh tradition in general makes Howel to be son of one Emyr Llydaw, though this is probably in origin just a general term meaning ‘King of Little Britain’.

The first continuation to Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval introduces King Caradoc of Vannes and Nantes and his step-son Caradoc Short-arm.

In the prose, cyclic versions of the Tristan story, Tristan’s father is King Meliadus of Leonois, this kingdom seemingly being the historic kingdom of Léon within Little Britain. In the courtly versions of the Tristan story, Tristan is son of King Rivalin of Armenie or Ermenie or Parmenie within Little Britain, bordering on Normandy.

One of the kingdoms of Little Britain is named Dumnonia, the same name as the kingdom Dumnonia in Great Britain, though this latter was later named Cornwall in English and Cornoaille in French. Another kingdom in Little Britain, associated with the city of Quimper, was named from the 8th century onward, Cornoaille. Accordingly a king of Cornwall in an Arthurian story may sometmies be a king of Dumnonia or Coronoaille in Little Brtiain rather than king of the insular Cornwall, or could be king of both.

The Latin Life of St. Paul Aurelian presents King Conomor as reigning both in Great Britain and Little Britain and claims he was also known as King Mark. This may be a historically valid tradition, or may be a false identification of the legendary King Mark associated with Arthur with an historical king of Cornwall who reigned during the Arthurian period. There is a sixth century inscribed Christian monolith in the Tywardwreath parish in Cornwall which reads:

DRUSTANUS HIC IACIT CUNOMORI FILIUS

The translation is: “Drustan lies here, son of Cunomor”. This suggests to some that Tristan was historically a son of the historic Conomor.



There is a confusing passage in the Vulgate Merlin in which the lands belonging to the lords who are in rebellion against Arthur have been attacked by the Saxons. The lords agree to fortify the lands through which the Saxons must come, principally the city of Wissant and the city of Nantes and also the city of Garles. The first city to be fortified by King Yder of Cornwall is Nantes in Britain or Brittany, near Cornwall, which sounds like Nantes in Brittany near the kingdom of Cornoaille in Brittany. The second city to be fortified, by King Neutres of Garlot, is Wissant. Here the location appears to be Little Britain and France. How fortification of cities in this region would cause problems to the Saxons is not clear. Possibly an account of basing navies at these locations was in a source tale.

The “Agravain” section of the Prose Lancelot introduces King Caberentin of Cornwall who also appears in the Vulgate Mort Artu. The name may be a corruption of the long form of the name of the city of Quimper, namely Quimper-Corentin, in which case the character may in origin be an unnamed king of Quimper-Corentin in Cornoaille in Little Britain.

The Prose Tristan begins with a history of various kings of Leonois and Conoaille, which are two adjoining kingdoms from which one can ride to Paris and back. They must be Léon in Little Britain and either Cornoaille in Little Britain or Dumnonia in Little Britain.

After King Arthur's reign, Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions Duke Howel of Little Britain, son of Howel the Great. He could be identified with the unnamed Duke of Little Britain in the courtly version of the Tristan story, where the story is set following King Arthur’s reign. In Gottfried von Strassburg’s version this unnamed Duke of Little Britain is transmorgified into King Jovelin of Arundel.

Some Name VariationsEdit

Little BritainEdit

FRENCH: Petite Bretaigne, Bretaigne la Menour; LATIN: Britannia Minor; ENGLISH: Lytyl Bretaigne, Litill Bretayne, Littyl Bretayne, Litle Brittaine, Litle Britaine, Lute Brutaine, Lyte Bretayne, Bretayne þe Lyttyl, Lasse Brutane, Lasse Britayne, Lasse Breteine, Lesse Breteigne, Bretayn the Lesse ; MALORY: Lytyl Bretayne, Lytyll Brytayne, Petyte Bretayne; SPANISH: Pequeña Bretana; PORTUGUESE: Pequena Bretanha; ITALIAN: Petita Bretagna, Pittita Brettagna, Petetta Bretagna, Picciola Brettagna.

ArmoricaEdit

LATIN: Armorica; FRENCH: Amorique; ENGLISH: Armorica, Armoryk.

LlydawEdit

WELSH: Llydaw; LATIN: Letavia; IRISH: Letha.

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