Nominoë, Tad ar Vro, "father of the country", the Bretons, the Franks and the Battle of Ballon in 845

22 November 845, the Frankish army of King Charles the Bald was defeated by the Breton lord Nominoë, ad ar Vr, "father of the country", at the Battle of Ballon near Redon in northwestern France.

“The Franks entered Brittany and engaged in battle with the Bretons, November 22. Helped by the difficulty of the wetland location, the Bretons proved the better." (First Annales de Fontenelle, probably after 872)

A woodblock print created by the Breton artist Jeanne Malivel (1895 – 1926), showing her imagination of the Battle of Ballon.

It was actually not only one but several villages of indomitable Gauls that were still holding out against the invaders in the year 50 B.C. Or rather Armoricans, who shared a complicated cultural web with the Celtic princes of Southwestern Britain, the Dumnonii, Belgae and Durotriges dwelling as far to the east as the Solway, and probably caused Caesar to try to invade the place twice while the Island Celts still continued to support their cousins on the mainland. 500 years later, in the historical twilight of the end of the Roman Empire in the West during the days that gave birth to the legend of King Arthur, the Armoricans did not only get waves of British immigrants that led to Armorica being called Brittany, Little Britain, but their own cultural hero as well, who was kin to Arthur, Conan Meriadoc, the mythical ancestor of the Breton princes. And they continued to be fiercely independent. The Merovingian Franks who ruled the rest of old Gaul had to establish the Breton March, a fortified cordon sanitaire along the borders to keep raiders from the three principalities of Brittany out of the Maine and the Loire valley. The most famous Frankish marcher lord was probably Charlemagne’s nephew Roland and not even the early Carolingians could subdue old Armorica, but they certainly tried to.

Carolingian heavy cavalry, from the St Gallen Golden Psalter, 9th century 

Home policy in Little Britain, however, was a mess. Three Principalities, two of them stemming from the British immigrants of the 5th and 6th century, one from the native Gallo-Romans, with 34 influential clans ruled by their machtierns, clan chiefs, each probably as stubborn as the other and only of one mind when it was raid-the-Franks season, were a neighbourhood that was even harder to tolerate by the Carolingians than the Danes, Slaves and the Arabs in Spain. A local chieftain, the lord of Vannes, or Gwened to the Bretons, with the melodious name of Nominoë was obviously loyal enough to get appointed by Louis the Pious at Ingelheim as Duke of almost all of Brittany in 831. Nominoë continued to support Charles the Bald, Louis’ successor to the western third of the Carolingian Empire. They fell out around 843, though, and it was raid-the-Franks time again in Brittany, especially inconvenient for King Charles since he had to get through a continuous feud with his brothers Lothar and Louis the German, the Norse were raiding down the Seine and the Loire and Aquitaine was in rebellion.

Jeanne Malivel: "Nominoe Triumphant: Tad ar Vro"

It took Charles two years to respond to the Breton threat, but after having settled matters in Aquitaine, he detoured from participating in the festivities of St Martin in Tours and hurried north with 3,000 men, most of them probably his heavy household cavalry. Nominoë had about 1,000 light horse at his disposal, traditionally fighting as skirmishers, raining their enemies with javelins from horseback, time-honoured hit-and-run tactics. Drawing Charles into the marshes north of Redon at the confluence of the rivers Oust and Aff, Nominoë had the Franks where he wanted them and even with the few contemporary sources of the event being rather sketchy, it is not hard to imagine the Frankish knights staggering through the swamp through a hail of November rain and Breton javelins and loosing the battle that ensued on 22 November near the Abbey of Ballon. Nominoë was crowned King of the Bretons around 848 in Dol and raid-the-Franks remained a popular pastime even after his death in 851.

And more about the battle on: