©Ploermel Communauté

Ploërmel Ducal City History and Heritage

Ploërmel is one of the oldest Breton cities. Dolmens and menhirs attest to the presence of man since the Neolithic period. During the Celtic period, a druidic site would have been erected on the site of the current Saint-Antoine chapel. The people who inhabited the region of Ploërmel were the Coriosolites or Corsiolites. In Roman times, Ploërmel was called Néodunum.

Nevertheless, it is said that the history of Ploërmel dates back to the 6th century with the arrival of a missionary monk. Chased by the Saxons, Armel arrived from his Britain with the mission to evangelize the population. He left his name to our town: Plou Armel (the parish of Armel) after having “converted” the beast of Guibourg and made an inexhaustible spring flow.

City attached to the bishopric of Saint Malo in the IXth century, it was honored from the XIIth to the XVIth century by the presence of the Dukes of Brittany and occupied an important place because of its strategic position. While Henry II Plantagenet, king of England had seized Brittany under the pretext of the engagement of his son Geoffrey with the daughter of Conan IV, Count Eudon du Porhoët, recovered Ploërmel in 1173. Fortifications appeared in the 12th century and the city developed until its peak in the 16th century (fairs, very important markets, courts and prisons, presence of religious orders) thanks to the regular presence of the Dukes of Brittany. On several occasions, the city hosted the parliament and then the states of Brittany gathering the highest dignitaries and knights of the duchy.

Engaged in the Hundred Years War through the War of Succession, it was the witness of the famous battle of the Thirty* on March 26, 1351.

In the 16th century, the city became part of the royal domain. The wars of the League were at the origin of the destruction of the Carmelite convent* which was later rebuilt. After the revolutionary period marked by a series of ambushes.

The foundation in 1824 of the congregation of the Brothers of Christian Instruction by Jean Marie de La Mennais, the commissioning of the electric factory on the edge of the Lac au Duc and the arrival of the railroad in 1882 revived the activity of Ploërmel, which became a small sub-prefecture for a few decades, playing its commercial, administrative and judicial role. In 1904, in reference to the law of separation of church and state, the brothers of La Mennais were expelled by the army and returned a few years later to develop and promote education in Ploërmel.

The 39-45 war, will also mark the city, the German occupation then the bombing of June 12, 1944 by the Americans, which destroyed the old Ploërmel and cost the life of tens of Ploërmelais.

It was not until the 1960’s that an economic recovery was observed and it is from this period that the great upheavals began: the reorganization of the land, which brought about the end of small farms and also of villages, customs and traditions.

The city develops, and multiplies its population by 2 in 50 years. Today it has more than 10,000 inhabitants. Its geographical location makes it an essential crossroads in Brittany, a real road junction because of the important roads that cross it, which were converted into the N24 and RN166 expressways at the end of the 20th century. It is also a small nerve center of a whole territory: at the same time economic, social and educational pole (5000 pupils of the 4 corners come to study there). Thus Ploërmel, land of legend, ancient ducal city bordered by the lake to the duke which is animated reminds forever who it is!

Remarkable buildings

Ploërmel developed and the first written traces of fortification can be found in the charter of Conan III dated 1116 which speaks of “the stronghold of Ploërmel. The ramparts were made necessary by numerous wars in the middle of which Ploërmel found itself in the hands of the French allies of the king of France, of the French allies of the ligueurs (prostestants opposed to the king), in the hands of the English. Ploërmel had to undergo many sieges between 1341 (death of Duke Jean III) and 1594. Why are there so few fortifications left today? From the moment the wars stopped, they became useless. They began to be destroyed in the 18th century to use the stones in the construction of houses.

The Thabors tower, a vestige of the fortifications is part of the walled city’s surrounding wall, the surface area of which was about two hectares. Shaped like a horseshoe, these walls were crenellated, protected by moats and flanked by twelve towers, six of which were large at the corners. The other six coupled two by two protected the three gates.

The foundation of the Carmelite monastery dates back to the 13th century. Duke Jean II of Brittany, returning from the crusades, built a sumptuous Carmelite monastery which rapidly expanded. It was the first in France! From the 13th century onwards, the Dukes occupied apartments there and abandoned their residence in the walled city. On several occasions, the Carmelite monastery housed the Parliament and then the States of Brittany.

Of flamboyant gothic and renaissance style, it stands on the site of a 15th century building of which some remains (north-east corner) were used during its construction from 1511 to 1602. On the outside, appreciate the rich ornamentation of the north portal, the imposing square tower (1733-1741), the numerous gutters… Inside: the wooden vault decorated with richly sculpted beams and runners is exceptional. Notice the irregularity of the choir, the magnificent stained glass windows (the tree of Jesse – 1552, located above the south portal and the tombs of the Dukes Jean II and Jean III, of the chancellor of Anne de Bretagne, Philippe de Montauban and his wife Anne de Chastellier

In the Middle Ages, this hotel was part of the ramparts and was used as a residence, since 1182, by the Duchess Constance, then by the Dukes Geoffroy, Jean I, Jean II, Arthur II, the Duchess Anne and the Duke of Mercœur. The latter had a chimney built there which bears his coat of arms. The states of Brittany were held there in 1186, 1240, 1294 and 1309. It became in 1679 the “Hôtel de l’Ecu de France”.


In 1341, the Duke of Brittany, John III, died without a direct heir. His half-brother, Jean de Monfort, and his niece, Jeanne de Penthiève, each claimed the ducal throne. The party of Montfort was supported by England and the other, that of Blois, by France. The English, under the pretext of defending the Montfort cause, ransacked and pillaged Brittany. In 1351, Jehan de Beaumanoir, a Breton baron, captain of the castle of Josselin supporting the family of Blois, reproached the English for their odious conduct. He addressed Bemborough, governor of Ploërmel, the stronghold of the English: “God be judge between us! Let each of us choose thirty or forty champions to support his cause. One will see on which side the right is “.

The meeting took place at the oak tree of Mi-voie, on the territory of Guillac, between Josselin and Ploërmel, on March 26, 1351:

About 11:00 a.m., the battle began. Lined up face to face, the combatants clash in a “hand to hand, hand to hand” melee, armor clashes, swords glint in the light. At the first shock, the Bretons bend but they quickly recover. Suddenly, pierced by the lance of Alain de Keranrais, Bemborough collapsed, hit to death. Beaumanoir, wounded in his turn, asks for a drink. “Drink your blood, Beaumanoir, and your thirst will pass!” replied Geffroy de Bois. Beaumanoir and his Bretons got their act together and rushed at their opponents, keeping control of the field. It is a real hecatomb!

The treaty of Guérande (1365) put an end to the war of successions and Jean de Montfort (son) was recognized Duke of Brittany under the name of Jean IV.

Ciliciam vero, quae Cydno amni exultat, Tarsus nobilitat, urbs perspicabilis hanc condidisse Perseus memoratur, Iovis filius et Danaes, vel certe ex Aethiopia profectus Sandan quidam nomine vir opulentus et nobilis et Anazarbus auctoris vocabulum referens, et Mopsuestia vatis illius domicilium Mopsi, quem a conmilitio Argonautarum cum aureo vellere direpto redirent, errore abstractum delatumque ad Africae litus mors repentina consumpsit, et ex eo cespite punico tecti manes eius heroici dolorum varietati medentur plerumque sospitales.

Nec piget dicere avide magis hanc insulam populum Romanum invasisse quam iuste. Ptolomaeo enim rege foederato nobis et socio ob aerarii nostri angustias iusso sine ulla culpa proscribi ideoque hausto veneno voluntaria morte deleto et tributaria facta est et velut hostiles eius exuviae classi inpositae in urbem advectae sunt per Catonem, nunc repetetur ordo gestorum.

Emensis itaque difficultatibus multis et nive obrutis callibus plurimis ubi prope Rauracum ventum est ad supercilia fluminis Rheni, resistente multitudine Alamanna pontem suspendere navium conpage Romani vi nimia vetabantur ritu grandinis undique convolantibus telis, et cum id inpossibile videretur, imperator cogitationibus magnis attonitus, quid capesseret ambigebat.

The Second World War also marked the city, which was occupied for 4 years by the Germans before being bombed by the American allies on June 12, 1944, who destroyed the old part of the city and caused 40 victims. Many young Ploërmelais fell in the fighting of the Resistance symbolized by the maquis of Saint-Marcel.