The division of the province of Brittany into five departments

The division of the province of Brittany into five departments

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Title: Geometric map of Brittany ... with the boundaries of future departments

Creation date : 1771

Date shown: February 26, 1790

Dimensions: Height 57.05 - Width 79.05

Technique and other indications: and the approval of the Breton deputies, February 26, 1790.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: NN / 182/54

Geometric map of Brittany ... with the boundaries of future departments

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Unanimous agreement

The original map, engraved in its graduated frame, was dedicated in 1771 to the Duke of Duras (1715-1789), a noble and high-ranking soldier then in charge of order in Brittany. It was reused by the Breton deputies to color the layout of the new administrative divisions decreed by the Constituent Assembly between December 1789 and February 1790: five departments with geographical names (Finistère, Côtes-du-Nord, Morbihan, Ille-et -Vilaine, Loire-Inférieure) and forty-five districts [1], defined around towns of some importance, are superimposed on the bishoprics of the former province. Only a slight dispute [2] at the south-eastern end was the subject of brief negotiation: "You will have to follow the route indicated by the black line. "From February 26, 1790, with speed and enthusiasm, the deputies endorsed from Paris the new face of Brittany, which they validated by their signature -" approved this card with the duplicate of this to serve as minute of the division of the province of Brittany into 5 departments and 45 districts, in Paris, February 26, 1790 ”.

Image Analysis

Five departments in Brittany

This beautiful map was drawn up twenty years earlier by the engineer and geographer Jean Ogée (1728-1789), a specialist in the representations of Brittany. We find several copies on emigrants in 1795, during the failed attempt to land the emigrated royalists in Quiberon. It is precise in its topographical details (sandy or rocky coast, ports, islands, courses and mouths of rivers, forests, main roads, localities and abbeys, boundaries of dioceses) and neat in its cartouche or its writing. But its double interest lies elsewhere: in the disappearance of province and the first appearance of departments, as well as in the unanimous and precocious ensemble with which the founders of this new score sign it.


Deputies, architects of a new organization

The division of Brittany into departments, sections of the state all managed in the same way, was not the most difficult part of the work of the Constituents, which was more contested in regions with less clear contours. The agreement of the Breton deputies is given on the very day of the decree implementing the law on new administrative districts. All of them adhere to the new conception of administrative organization: “The state is one, the departments are only sections of the same whole; a uniform administration must therefore embrace them all in a common system. »(Instruction of January 8, 1790).

Several of the signatory deputies, magistrates from the bourgeoisie of dress, traders or men of the Church, representatives of a province quite protesting vis-à-vis the royal power, are eminent and known members of Breton society [3], united unreservedly in the first egalitarian manifestations of the beginnings of the Revolution, which they approved and supported, such as Jean-Denis Lanjuinais (1753-1827), one of the founders of the Breton club, future Jacobins club, Guy Leguen de Kerangal (1746-1817), fervent supporter of the abolition of privileges, or Abbot Louis Alexandre Expilly (1742-1794) elected in 1790 as the first constitutional bishop of Finistère.

Subsequently, the hardening of revolutionary ideas, authoritarian dechristianization, the levy en masse for the benefit of the armies of the Republic, will lead many to revolt or death; others will pass the various political regimes, and will be invested with administrative or judicial functions. One of them, Jean-Pierre Boullé (1753-1816), will be the first prefect of Côtes-du-Nord.

In the 20th century, new changes in administrative organization appeared. Loire-Inférieure, which became Loire-Atlantique, was attached to the Pays de Loire during the development of the regions, from 1972. This break with the historic unity of the province of Brittany has been contested for three decades. Due to history or economic attraction, two centuries after the division into departments, voices are rising to unite in one and the same region the five departments born of the province of Brittany.

  • administration
  • Constituent Assembly
  • Brittany
  • cards


Marcel RONCAYOLO "The department", in Pierre NORA (under the direction of) Memorial place , volume II “La Nation” Paris, Gallimard, 1988, rééd.coll. “Quarto”, 1997.Jacques REVEL “The Region” Paris, Gallimard, 1988, rééd.coll. "Quarto", 1997.Collective The Department, yesterday, today, tomorrow. From centralization to decentralization , colloquium of September 24-26, 1991Grenoble, PUG, 1994, 575 p.


1. Created by the law of January 26, 1790, the 544 districts of France will then be suppressed by the Constitution of year III.

2. For the south of the Clisson district.

3. Several accompany their signature with three small dots which undoubtedly show their membership of a Masonic lodge: Perret de Tregadonc, Binot, Poulain de Corbion ...

To cite this article

Cécile SOUCHON, "The division of the province of Brittany into five departments"

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