“There was no honor in war, less in killing, and none in dying. " Michael Scott
“Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong – that is your oath.”
Bretonnia is one of the main factions in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It is a human nation roughly modeled on a combination of medieval France, a tiny pinch of England and every medieval tale of chivalry ever (especially the legends of King Arthur). They are easily Games Workshop's least creative race, in any game, ever. And yes, that includes
Judge Dredd Adeptus Arbites. One of their special characters is called The Green Knight, and their goddess is the Lady of the Lake (later revealed to also be part of the Elven pantheon). Even the name of the kingdom is derived from Britannia (Roman Empire-ruled Britain). Yeah. It's that lazy.
Bretonnian armies basically consist of knights. Lots and lots of knights. And everyone, from the lowliest Knight Errant to the living-god Grail Knights, rides the same. Damn. Horse. Except for the ones that ride Pegasi. There are also some lowly, filthy peasants that support the knights (by which we mean they're meatshields).
The army is currently very old and very out of date, although still readily available, there are some rumors concerning them though. This is unfortunate, since WFB 8th edition nerfed cavalry pretty hard. They're still workable, but they're hurting pretty badly. Some denizens of /tg/ argue that Bretonnia should just be squatted, as they don't have anything over any other army. Seriously, the Empire (ostensibly an infantry-based army) has better cavalry than these guys.
For what it's worth, they're still a major player in the fluff, arguably sharing the "protagonist" stage with the Empire (or at least being the co-star) in the Glottkin End Times book, though the plot material of "Thanquol" seems to have finally done in the nation as an independent entity.
As of March 26th, 2016, the entire Bretonnian range has been added to Games Workshop's 'Last Chance to Buy' section, so it seems like the Brets are finally gone for good. Though due to the aforementioned fading relevance as an army, lack of creativity and stand-out characters, some actually arguing for squatting, and all that even before the End Times and Age of Sigmar, few can honestly say they didn’t see this coming. Compared to Tomb Kings, outrage over the loss seems to be rather lukewarm (likely because the Tomb Kings were the first to get axed, no-one was expecting it to happen, Tomb Kings were one of GW's more creative races, lorewise it makes more sense that at least some of the Tomb Kings would make it to Age of Sigmar than Bretonnians and it would've made sense to keep at least some Tomb Kings units in the new game setting, such as the Sphinxes, rather than axe them all. Some may say it's also because the Tomb Kings were more popular than the Brets but that's subjective).
Long before Bretonnia was known, the land was inhabited by the lizard men, but they were driven back by chaos and was taken by the high elves from Ulthuan. During the
War of the Beard War of Vengeance, the land was a major battlefield between the dwarves and high elves. The conflict weakened the high elves so much that the new Phoenix King, Caradryel (to replace the one slain in the war) ordered the retreat of every high elf back to Ulthuan. Some high elves refused and retreated to a nearby forest (later known as Athel Loren) and became wood elves. With no elves in sight, humans began to settle the land. It was first inhabited by some pagan hippies who played with rocks, but they got their shit kicked by a badass nomadic human tribe called the Bretonni (hence the name Bretonnia) from the worlds edge mountains, who fought both humans and orcs on occasion, that Bretonni teach these rock playing sissies and took over the land, because only the strongest strives. Like every human tribes, the Bretonnis was given an invitations by Sigmar to be united as a whole, but they refused because MUAH CULTURE differences (Thanks a lot asswipe). Seriously, the Bretonni can't even evolve to use metalwork without consult to the dwarfs who live in the nearby mountain.
Bretonnis was later raided by a large number of nearby Orc WAAARGH and tomb kings led by Settra. Unable to properly unite to face the threats, the Bretonnis are now facing annihilation (if only they had joined Sigmar in the past). Then an awesome guy name Giles le breton rallied Duke Thierulf d'Lyonesse and his best friend Duke Landuin d'Mousillon to fight the orc. Still they failed due to the army size and was forced to retreat to a nearby forest. It is at this time, Giles Le Breton met the lady of the lake while drinking waters from her lake. Giles le breton facing desperation and madness, asking the lady to bless him with strength and he was fully restored (thus the holy grail). Duke Thierulf d'Lyonesse and Duke Landuin d'Mousillon did the same thing and the three of them became the
wood elves slave the first three grail knights.
With the power to finally pull some awesome asskicking, Gilles le Breton and others kick the shit out of the Orcs back to their settlement, united the Bretonnis and founded "Bretonnia".
KNIGHTS. Want something besides knights? BETTER KNIGHTS. Seriously. If there was a culture in the Old World with more of a one trick pony (HA!). Bretonnian culture is all about fancy soldiers on fancy horses making fancy war. Based on the WHFRPG splatbook on the place, Bretonnia loves horses more than is strictly sane. Even peasants at least know how to ride and there's entire sub-breed of horses designed to be easily ridden and cheaply fed, like a medieval Honda Civic. One of the most common punishments for nobles who manage to commit a crime serious enough for anyone to care is to be forced to ride in a carriage rather than on a horse like a manly man.
Outside of horses and the people with sharp metal that ride them, pretty much any French stereotype you can think of will probably be accurate aside from surrendering. They like fancy cheese, they like wine and they never use one vowel when five will work. The splatbook also says they like truffles. So much so that they breed a special truffle hound for finding them. There's a highly suspect bit (from the 2e Warhammer RPG sourcebook on Bretonnia) that says that once a Bretonnian truffle hound gets a taste of some, he'll go psycho-territorial and try to bite off the junk of anyone nearby. Sadly no game rules exist (yet) to allow Emperor Karl Franz to lose his Sausage of Sigmar to a horny dog.
Ironically, Bretonnians actually changed quite drastically between editions before being all but abandoned. The original rendition of Bretonnians, before they became the "Chivalric Romance Knights In Shining Armor" faction was basically the French under Louis XVI - incredibly corrupt, self-centered aristocrats (with a massive problem with Slaanesh cults) ruling over dirty, downtrodden peasants. And, well, the abysmal lot of the peasants remained, but the aristocrats themselves got polished up brighter, to try and present a more sympathetic/heroic interpretation of them.
Aside from being strictly feudal, the biggest difference between Bretonnians and the Empire is that the Bretons worship only a single deity; the Lady of the Lake, a mystical woman who gave their first ruler the power to forge the united kingdom of Bretonnia. Editions have insinuated to varying degrees that the Lady of the Lake may, in fact, actually be a Wood Elf mage and that the Wood Elves are secretly manipulating the entire Bretonnian culture to use them as expendable pawns. This is why, for example, they are subtly biased against the higher technologies used in the Empire, which would make them more inclined cut down Athel Loren for firewood.
- Knights Errant: You thought you started your career as being a squire? Nope. Nobles who are old enough to wear their armour and sit on a horse are designated as Knights Errant, and told to go off and earn glory however they can. Usually by dying. Of course, a few Knights Errant manage to survive, which earns them the rank of...
- Knights of the Realm: Your basic knight. Someone who's gotten some combat experience and respect already, they're given a bit of land to look after and some peasants to work it. This is often as far as anyone will go, unless they're obscenely rich or lucky, in which case they become...
- Pegasus Knights: Though not technically higher in rank than Knights of the Realm, these guys are fuck-off rich enough to afford a giant, bloodthirsty flying horse instead of your garden variety land-bound kind. Bretonnians are not known to be exactly healthy when it comes to their love of horses, but it gets really insane with the winged ones: peasants can't even touch the animals, and one of the dukes actually killed any peasant that looked at his steed.
- Questing Knights: For any number of reasons, a knight may give up all his lands and titles, lay down his lance, and become a Questing Knight. These guys spend the next 10 years or so wandering around the world, looking for the Lady of the Lake while slaying big, nasty stuff along the way. Most die. Horribly, alone, and far from home. Fortunately they all carry giant weapons (mostly greatswords), so their death is guaranteed to have a minimum amount of win. Of course, very few knights succeed in the quest to find the right lake. If then they are skilled enough to defeat the Green Knight they get to see the Lady, drink some Powerthirst from the grail, and become...
- Grail Knights: The living gods of Bretonnia, they get to live for several hundred years and kick all kinds of ass. All kings have to drink from the grail, which means that unlike in other nations there is always a badass in charge. In fluff grail knights can have all sorts of awesome powers, from killing evil creatures with a touch to healing wounds almost instantly, but on the table all they get is magical attacks (except for the king, he also gets regeneration).
Questing Knights and Grail Knights are technically outside the usual hierarchy (with the exception of the Grail Knights who decide to regain all their titles after completing their quest, as all kings do) but, especially in the case of the latter, their word carries great weight, because they are closer to the Lady of the Lake than all others (with the exception of damsels and prophetesses of the lady, the magic-users of Bretonnia). Knights also tend to have a superiority complex that would put most high elves to shame, which means that no Questing Knight would allow himself to be directly led by a Knight of the Realm and Grail Knights only accept other Grail Knights as leaders (usually the king or a duke). Knights that actually deign to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with peasants are so rare they are considered exemplars of empathy.
Incidentally, there's only one restriction on being a Duke or lord of Bretonnia: you have to have proved yourself first. That is, you have to be at least a Knight of the Realm, but after that it really doesn't matter. It's worth mentioning, too, that you don't inherit solely based on your parentage. If you're at least slightly capable, you'll inherit, but if a lord's son is a complete pussy, someone else will take over. This at least prevents the similar issues faced by planetary lords in the Imperium in 40k then, as this acts to weed out at least the worst of the worst (if not all the worst unfortunately sigh).
It's not easy being a peasant in Bretonnia. Peasants can only ever keep one tenth of what they earn, which means that either peasants earn a lot or they are all, in fact, undead, which would explain their lack of skill at arms; otherwise they wouldn't have enough to sustain themselves. Where the hell that other 90% ends up is a mystery, though this could be yet another example of Gdub making things unnecessarily Grimdark without any thought to reality. The splatbook for playing the first edition of the WHFB RPG in Brentonnia would go on to clarify this a little: as a peasant your lord does indeed take 90% of your harvest, but then redistributes part of it back to you so you can survive (sort of). He's probably still going to give you just enough to survive and don't think just because you grew something really nice he's not just going to give you a bag of low-quality grain and some knight spit to cook it in. So basically feudalism with a nice big flavoring of Stalin-era socialism.
If you are a peasant, you also live in complete filth with other peasants in disgusting holdings and you can't ever change your miserable position*. But hey, things are not so bad, you can always join your Lord's men-at-arms and receive enough shinies to set you for life! Or so they told you at the time, but they forgot to mention that you had to pay for all your equipment, so you were left with squat. Still, if you work hard enough, you might become a yeomen, which may earn you the privilege of riding the retarded/maimed horses no noble would dare to look at.
Naturally, under such conditions, many peasants simply snap. Some become bandits, but those who do not wish to be hunted down for the rest of their likely short lives instead find a ragtag band of other loonies, a dead grail knight and a pointy stick to become pilgrims, hoping to earn the blessing of the Lady (usually reserved only for nobles) by fighting for truth, justice and the Bretonnian way while carrying the dead knight around. If there is no dead grail knight around, I am sure that one over there won't recover from his wounds...
- Technically the King or the Fay Enchantress, the hot female pope of the Lady, can raise you to nobility, but this has only happened thrice in all history of Bretonnia (one case was a peasant named Huebald who saved a noblewoman from Beastmen; he was killed in his first battle, the second was Repanse de Lyonesse AKA Joan of Ark), and your children will still be peasants. It's also possible that pretentious nobles will dislike the upstarts and arrange for them to not survive their first battle.
Suddenly, Total War
Although the Bretonnians got squatted twice over (first by being removed from the game, and then by the entire game being removed from the game), they've recently got a new lease on life from their appearance in Total War: WARHAMMER, where they're not only playable, but also get entirely new units that they never had in tabletop, including Hippogryph Knights, Blessed Trebuchets loaded with holy water, Foot Squires, and a more defensive-minded version of Grail Knights called Grail Guardians.
- Tactics/Bretonnia, in which we explain you how to best bash skulls in, chaos warrior style, only from a horse.