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Like the Dukedoms of Bretonnia itself the faction suffered badly from neglect, it’s models outdated and its background often feeling tacked on or cobbled together.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!