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Cornouaille (Traditional province, Brittany, France)

Kernev, Kernew, Bro Gernev

Last modified: 2023-09-02 by olivier touzeau
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Flag of Cornouaille - Image by Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

See also:

Presentation of Cornouaille

Cornouaille,located in the south-west of Brittany, is an ancient bishopric and county with Quimper (Kemper) as its capital.

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

Flag of Cornouaille

The flag of Cornouaille, designed by Yoran Delacour in 1996 and approved by the Breton Vexillological Society, is blue with a white ram. The design is based on the flag of the Swiss cantons of Grishun and Schaffhausen. The ram is thus projecting and has a more combative bearing.
The canting arms of Cornouaille, dating from 1426, indeed represent a ram passant. Kernev, the Breton name of the province, comes from the words kern, "a horn" and knev, "a fleece".

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez, 29 December 1999

The Breton name of the province of Cornouailles is normally spelt Kernev in the most commonly used Peurunvan "the completely unified" orthography (sometimes Zedachek from its use of ZH, plus -ek), although Kernew is possible in the Skolveuriek "the university" and Etrerannyezhel "interdialectical" orthographies.
However, the etymology kern + knev "horns" + "fleece" is wrong. In fact the same word is used for Cornwall, although usually the suffix -Veur "great" is added, on the model of Breizh-Veur "Britain". The real etymology is */kornowi:/ with i-affection giving *kernew. The element -ow- is apparently linked to the plural ending -ou in Breton (-ow in Cornish, -au, -eu in Welsh) and the whole apparently means "(land) of the horned ones", being a genitive of *kornowes. It is presumably a reference to an ancient tribal badge or perhaps a head-dress, possibly linked to the horned tribal god Kernounos (*kernowonos?). The etymology given above is a mere folk etymology, although an understandable one given the form.

Talat Chaudhri, 8 March 2005

Traditional districts

Pays Bigouden


Flag of Pays Bigouden - Image by Ivan Sache, 3 April 1998

Pays Bigouden, named for the traditional feminine cup (basically a near-cylindrical piece of lace); groups 20 municipalities spread over the three cantons of Pont-l'Abbé (capital), Guilvinec and Plogastel-Saint-Germain.

The flag of Pays Bigouden, designed by Bernard Le Brun, became official on 24 June 1996. Previous designs, also proposed by B. Le Brun, caused long-lasting debates in the district.
The colours are yellow and red, recalling the arms of Pont-l'Abbé. Red replaces orange, which was used in the first drafts of the flag as a traditional colour of Pont-l'Abbé, but later considered unsuitable from heraldic and aesthetic points of view.

The first vertical third of the flag is yellow, charged with red ermine spots representing the municipalities of Pays Bigouden. Their number varied because the canton of Plogastel-Saint-Germain includes three municipalities that do not belong to the traditional Pays Bigouden. Depending on the decision of these three municipalities to be associated or not with Pays Bigouden, the number of ermine spots shall be 20, 21, 22 or 23. One of the three municipalities rejected the association, therefore the current flag has 22 ermine spots.
The remaining part of the flag is made of five horizontal stripes, alternatively red and yellow. In early drafts, a vertical black fimbriation separated the vertical field from the horizontal stripes, but it was suppressed as unnecessary and unaesthetic.
[Ar Banniel [arb], No. 1].

Ivan Sache, 3 April 1998



Flag of Poher - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 November 2012

Poher is a small area centered on the town of Carhaix. Connecting modern Poher with the historical territory of the same name is not straightforward since reliable historical sources hardly mention Poher before the 11th century - generally speaking, the early history of Brittany is mostly known by scraps of information found in the hagiography of local saints and in the biography heads of clans.

Poher was originally known as Pou Caër, an Old Breton name that was translated into Latin as "pagus castrum" or "pagus castelli", the Castle's (or Castles') Country. André Chédeville (in La Bretagne des saints et des rois - Ve-Xe siècles, Ouest-France, 1984) believes that the name was derived from Ker Ahes, the old name of Carhaix; ker, meaning in Breton "a domain", would have been translated as "a castle". Some historians, such as Christian Y. M. Kerboul (Petite histoire du Grand Poher, Pontig, 2000), claim that Caër was indeed a fortified castle or a citadel built by Conomor. A semi-legendary character of the time, Conomor the Cursed is said to have emigrated from Britain into Brittany in the first half of the 6th century and to have built a castle in Carhaix. The Breton tradition presents Conomor as a local Bluebeard who did not spare the life of his last wife; he would further have sought help by King of the Franks Childebert when threatened by the Breton warlords and abbots, and would have eventually been killed around 560 in a battle against Chlotar, Childebert's successor. Another tradition said that Conomor beheaded his younger son, St. Tremeur, whose head was stuck back by St. Gildas; when seeing his son alive and nagging him, Conomor was terror-stricken to death. Skipping the bloody details, it is probable that the head of a clan was able to establish some kind of feudal "state" in central Brittany, with its capital in Carhaix, in the 6th century.

What happened to Poher, and, more generally, to Brittany, in the next two "obscure" centuries, is not known. At the end of the 8th century, the Carolingian kings attempted to submit Brittany; Louis the Pious, Charlemagne's son and successor, eventually defeated and killed "king" Morvan in 818, and negotiated a peace agreement with Matmonoc, abbot of Landevennec. The agreement resulted in the establishment of dioceses and the appointment of hereditary counts as local representatives of the central power. According to Hubert Guillotel (in La Bretagne des saints et des rois - Ve-Xe siècles, Ouest-France, 1984), the first Count of Poher was Rivallon. He was succeeded by his brother Nominoë (d. 851), who was faithful to Louis the Pious but subsequently challenged his successor Charles the Bald and repelled the Franks eastwards. In 913, Matuedoï, Count of Poher, emigrated to Britain under the Northmen's pressure; in 937, his son Alain landed near Dol and expelled the Northmen from Brittany, being eventually crowned the first Duke of Brittany.

Some historians, for instance Joëlle Quaguebeur (La Cornouaille du IXe au XIIe siècle), consider that the Counts of Poher dominated the whole western Brittany until Matuedoï's exile; accordingly, Cornouaille would not have emerged as a distinct entity - the County of Cornouaille - until the second half of the 10th century. The two countal lineages eventually allied in 1066, when the Count of Cornouaille married the heir of the County of Poher and inherited the Duchy of Brittany.
At the end of the 10th century, the County of Poher was split in the two Viscounties of Poher and Faou. The two entities vanished in the 12th century, being split into several feudal domains.
In 1790, the territory of the sénéchaussée of Carhaix, which matched more or less the former Viscounty of Poher, was split between the three departments of Finistère, Côtes-du-Nord - today, Côtes d'Armor - and Morbihan.
[M. Cornec. 1995. Du Poher-Cornouaille au pays du Centre-Ouest Bretagne]

The Poher Genealogy and History Center (website) has therefore defined historical Poher, in its larger territorial extent, as including 45 municipalities in Finistère, 56 municipalities in Côtes d'Armor, and 19 municipalities in Morbihan.

The flag of Poher (photo, photos, photos) is yellow with three rows of six red ermine spots each, partially concealed by a red triangle extending form the hoist of the flag to its mid fly and charged with two yellow leopards.
The arms of the lords of Poher were recorded in 1426 as "Gules two leopards or". The background of the flag is a representation of Brittany, with the traditional black and white colours changed to red and yellow to match the former arms of Poher. The triangle highlights the location of Poher in central western Brittany.

The flag was designed by Bernard Le Brun, who decided to propose a flag for Poher following the success of the flag designed for Pays Bigouden.


Alternative proposal of flag of Poher - Image by Ivan Sache, 18 November 2012

In March 1996, B. Le Brun submitted two proposals. The first proposal was red with two yellow leopards and a narrow yellow triangle placed along the hoist and charged with a red ermine spot. The second proposal was unanimously adopted on 12 January 1997 by the Vexillology Commission of the Breton Society of Vexillology (SBV). Table flags (12 cm x 18 cm) were manufactured by Yoran Delacour (Coop Breizh) and presented to the media (Poher Hebdo, June 1997).
During the 3rd Congress of the SBV, held in Dinard on 16 October 1999, it was decided to produce full-sized (1 m x 1.50 m) flags and to sell them on a subscription basis. A press conference organized on 25 October 1999 in the Carhaix Visitor's Center, fairly reported in the local media (Le Télégramme, 27 November 1999; Poher-Hebdo, 27 November 1999; Ouest-France, 30 November 1999), yielded only three subscribers. On 20 January 2000, the SBV had registered 50 subscriptions and decided to order 100 copies of the flag. The colours were prescribed as red Pantone 032 and yellow Pantone 116.
The flag was officially unveiled on 19 March 2000 in Rostrenen (Ouest-France, 21 March 2000; Poher-Hebdo, 23 March 2000; Le Télégramme, 24 March 2000; Armor Magazine, May 2000).
[P. Rault. Le drapeau du Poher. Symbole du renouveau d'un vieux pays. Ar Banniel [arb], No. 12 (2000), p. 4-12]

Ivan Sache, 18 November 2012