Bretonnian Week: The Knight

This week Warhammer: Total War sees the arrival of the Bretonnians as a playable faction (for free no less!). Having been unloved and under-supported by Games Workshop for a very long time before their crushing demise during the End Times this must come as rather good news to fans of chivalry, honour and the constant oppression of ugly peasants.

I must confess that my interest in the peoples of fair Bretonnia has been slight at best and, although I was half expecting them to be reinvented to cash in on the resurgent interest in all things medieval in the wake of Game of Thrones I wasn’t entirely surprised when they went to meet Madam Guillotine instead.

The trouble with the Bretonnians was the lack of a distinct Warhammer flavour that left them looking like the odd man out in the setting. The Warhammer world always suffered from being cobbled together from whatever ideas the developers fancied in the early days, creating a miss-matched muddle that later generations had to wade through . From that point of view it’s no wonder they decided to kill it. Over time however some of those races evolved into distinctly Warhammer-y creatures – casting off, to a greater or lesser degree, their influences and standing on their own two feet/paws/hooves/whathaveyou. Not so the Bretonnians who remained stubbornly the medieval French. Now that’s not to blame the Bretonnians, a few more updates would have helped a lot, nor is it intended to do down the French (I’m spending all week with them) – but they certainly stand out like a sore thumb when battling against a Tolkien-esque walking tree and a scheming bio-mechanical ratman.

Like the Dukedoms of Bretonnia itself the faction suffered badly from neglect, it’s models outdated and its background often feeling tacked on or cobbled together. Often one was left with the impression that Games Workshop themselves didn’t know what to do with it – was it a pit of decadence and corruption, as in the early years, or a shining beacon of heroism and virtue? The latter hardly seemed to fit in with the general grubbiness of Warhammer in general, both in the Old World and 40k, whilst the former might very easily have been taken as a pinch of cross-channel sneering on the part of GW. Too much of the Bretonnian history and map also owed its origins to real world history – a problem that was quite widespread in the Old World – mixed up with Arthurian legends in a way that did nothing to help it gel with the wider background. The Knights, for example, are often obsessed with questing after the Grail – presumably unaware that Corbulo of the Blood Angels has it. Yet it’s never been particularly clear to me how said Grail fits into Warhammer and the culture of a non-Christian people like the Bretonnians. And let’s not forget the time when GW decided to cash in on their Nottingham base by shoehorning in Robin Hood (plus Merry Men). The result was a nation that appeared to have escaped from Monty Python and sat rather uncomfortably on the edge of the limelight, the unwanted guest that GW regretted inviting but doesn’t know how to evict without causing a scene.

However, having bashed the Bretonnians severely, perhaps I owe it to them to give them a second chance. After all once upon a time, long ago now, I even regarded them highly enough to consider starting an army of them. That may never have happened but this week I’ll be trying to redress the balance with a series of models dedicated to all things Bretonnian. Continuing the theme I’ll be away all week in Bretonnia’s real world equivalent  – France – so don’t expect me to be that quick at replying to comments. Fear not however, put your thoughts in the box below anyway and I shall feast on them when I return!

In the meantime let’s set the ball rolling with this knight, the only finished miniature from that long abandoned Bretonnian project. Coconut shells at the ready – here we go!

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8 responses to “Bretonnian Week: The Knight

  • imperialrebelork

    A very interesting read mate. As bizarre as it sounds I only started getting into Bretonnians in the last few weeks of their existence. I purchased some men at arms and a battleforce. I have actually used a lot of the bits for other conversions but I do intend to build the knights. I like them. I agree, they do seem a little out of place but I like the whole human hero against all manner of ghouls and monsters. I think it helps me connect or relate to the fantasy world. Lovey work mate. More please!!

    • Wudugast

      Fear not – more are on their way! I too need human heroes (and the less superhuman the better) to really connect with a setting, it’s just that in the main I found that box was ticked by the Empire and Bretonnian remained the poor cousin. If only it had been allowed to grow beyond it’s roots but alas that was not to be. Would have loved to have seen some of the other human factions expanded upon as well (Border Princes, Tilea et al) – perhaps then Bretonnia would have stood out less. For any of them to work though they needed to be brought out of the shadow of their real world equivalent – as the Empire was and Bretonnia now, sadly, never will be.

  • Alex

    Very nice – I must admit to having a soft spot for the Brets… shame they weren’t more of a thing really. I suppose one could argue that the Stormcast are kinda sorta knights, (turned up to 11), so maybe the idea lives on?

    • Wudugast

      I recall a few conversations from around the time AoS first launched regarding (in a purely speculative manner) how the Stormcasts might have been introduced to the setting without the destruction of the Old World. A lot of people seemed to think that a reinvented Bretonnia would have been the best bet which made me strongly consider a Stormcast based knight, or perhaps a Stormcast/Bretonnian hybrid for one of this week’s models. Didn’t go with it in the end but it’s one I may come back to all the same.

  • Ann

    One good thing about them is they are certainly suitable for other games. Couldn’t they be used in AoS as stand-in’s for the Free People’s faction? I don’t think it’d be that much of a biggie if the knights ride horses with horse heads instead of horses with bird heads. 🙂

    • Wudugast

      Aye that’s true. I think the relationship could go both ways actually – even if we have seen the end of new official models for the Bretonnians there’s plenty being released for AoS that convertors could make use of. Some of the new Stormcast models for instance would look amazing if added to a Bretonnian army (swapping out the Stormcasts themselves for knights and keeping the steeds for example). Not only would it allow Bretonnian fans to expand their collections but it would bring a more fantasy feel to the army that would help to tie it in to the rest of Warhammer.

  • Azazel

    Nice work, and it’s a shame that I never really got into the Bretts while they were still supported (and missed out on a battleforce). I look forward to seeing a lot more!

    They owe their existence to Ansell’s decree that the new game they were working on (that became Warhammer) should incorporate all of Citadel’s miniatures of the time. Hence the Swiss and Germanic Renaissance models became Empire, and the HYW-ish models became Bretonnia, with others split between the two. The Empire became the centre of the world, and as you’ve said, Bretonnia started as a land of rich and poor and corruption but despite the shiny and noble overhaul became a largely forgotten one in favour of their Germanic neighbours.

    • Wudugast

      Ah – that’s very interesting, I wasn’t aware of that part of the story. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the change to AoS which has seen a lot of models ported across just because they’re new/nice models/popular (which I’m all in favour of – much better than them just being discontinued) but has led to the incorporation of models that don’t entirely seem to fit the new setting. Ironically the Bretonnians were ported into Warhammer where they didn’t quite fit and then didn’t get carried over to AoS where the complexity of the universe and the number of possible human factions mean’s there was actually a lot more room for them.

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