|St GENGULPHUS – HIS REMOTER ANCESTRY |
Gengulphus did not place his trust in his high birth, but rather – by his own merits – surpassed
the generosity of his lineage.* [Hroswitha]
| Contents of this page: |
– Gengulfus ‘Advocatus’ of Bèze
– Gangulfus Lord of Langres
– A Hypothetical Tree
– Gangulfus Bishop of Constanz
Both Vita I and even more particularly Hroswitha are at pains to insist that their subject comes from a distinguished family:
The godly man Gengulph was born of distinguished parents and sprang from the illustrious blood of the Burgundian nobility. [Vita I]
This man, gentle and amiable, stood out above all others. Some indeed held that he sprang from the seed of kings, and was of royal stock – such were his outstanding qualities. [Hroswitha]
It is notable, however, that neither author pretends to be able to furnish us with any details of his ancestry. And Hroswitha’s sententious observation:
He did not put his trust in possessing an honourable ancestry, but rather surpassed the nobility of his descent by his own good works. [Hroswitha]
This is surely intended to chasten a natural curiosity which she knows that she is unable to gratify.
Although we know very little indeed about St Gengulph’s origins, there are two historical figures of local importance of the C7th and C8th bearing the name Gengulf or Gangulf. Both of these have been identified with the Saint or with his father. Given their dates, these identifications are either unlikely or impossible, but they remain the strongest candidates we have for his ancestors.
| Gengulfus – Advocatus of Bèze|
The first is Gengulf, a local lord, who was appointed advocatus of the monastery of Bèze by Clothaire
III in 667. The reasons behind the making of this appointment are (from the point of view of the
history of the monastery), complex and extremely interesting. As they have a certain relevance to the
history of the family of the Saint I attempt to condense them.
In the year 665 Waldelen, the abbot of the prestigious and extremely well-endowed monastery of
Bèze, was obliged to secure from Clothaire III a confirmation of the possessions with which the
monastery had been endowed. These considerable endowments had in fact been granted to the
abbey by Waldelen’s father, duke Amalgaire, when he founded the abbey in 630. The great wealth
with which he endowed it had come to him largely as a reward from king Dagobert for his part (with
two others) in the murder of Dagobert’s brother’s uncle Burnulfe – who had appeared a threat to
Dagobert’s power. The murder was instigated by le bon roi himself, and the founding of the
monastery of Bèze can be understood as an attempt by Amalgaire to expiate his involvement in this
Following the death of Amalgaire in 660 the abbey was attacked and pillaged ‘by wicked men‘, and
lost those vital documents whose deficit Waldelen sought to remedy in 665 by applying to Clothaire
for a confirmation of their endowments.
When 667 matters still remained unsettled Waldelen petitioned the king that the Honourable
Gengulfus [inluster vir Gengulfus] should take control of all matters concerned with the advancement
and restoration of his monastery.
On 18th August 667, the king granted the petitioner’s request, permitting that Gangulfus should
undertake – enduringly and as long as either party wished – the office of advocatus. This charter is
preserved in the Chronicle of Bèze. The chronicler, expressing his own understanding of the
arrangement, introduces the text with these words: the Most Honourable Gengulfus [Gengulfum
virum illustrissimum] is made both defensor and advocatus of the aforesaid monastery.
This charter, and the incident surrounding it, have been a fertile source of misleading information
concerning St Gengulph and his (putative) ancestry. In sources too numerous to mention it is
claimed, on the basis of the charter of 667, that this Gengulf was an ancestor of the Saint; that he
was a duke; that he ruled great territories; that he was lord of Bassigny; that he protected the
frontiers of the state, etc. etc.
Yet these statements have no foundation whatever and the aura of solidity that they have acquired
has been generated solely by their frequent and uncritical repetition. It cannot be stated too strongly that the only information concerning this Gengulfus that we learn from the charter of 667, is that
which is given above, namely that he was an inluster vir or vir illustrissumus, who was invited to
exercise his secular authority for the benefit of the monastery of Bèze.
Vir illustris and its variants had been, since the time of the late empire, an indefinite and widely
used honorific title for holders of some office or dignity – its use does not furnish evidence that
this Gengulfus was a Duke or a Count.
| Gangulfus – Lord of Langres|
The second figure who has been adduced as a likely ancestor is Gangulf, the ‘Lord of Langres’, who
in the year 717 offered hospitality and welcome to St Ceolfrith or Ceolfrid, the celebrated abbot of
Monkwearmouth, as he made his way to Rome to die. This pious intention was, in the event,
frustrated by his death within hours of his arrival at Langres where, prior to a subsequent translation, he was buried in the church of the Holy Triplets or Saints Géosmes.
The encounter is described in the anonymous Life of St Ceolfrith:
Ceolfrid set out from his monastery on Thursday 4th June […] [He] reached Langres about the
third hour of the day on 25th September […] When he arrived at the countryside around the
city, he was gladly received by Gangulfus, lord of those parts [Gangulfo regionum illarum domino]. He indeed had previously met Ceolfrith on the way and invited him to come and stay with him and
assured him of a warm welcome even if he himself were not present. He earnestly pressed him not to depart until he was well, or, if God so willed it, to await his entry into the life of heaven by the
tombs of the holy martyrs.
It happened on the very day that he arrived that he departed to the Lord at about the tenth hour. On the next day, with a great company of his own followers and of the local inhabitants,
his body was borne for about three miles to Gangulfus’s monastery [monasterium eiusdem
Gangvulfi] – about a mile and a half from the city [of Langres] on the south side. It was buried
in the church of the holy martyred brothers whose names were Speusippus, Eleusippus and
Meleusippus, who were born triplets of their mother, and who were crowned with martyrdom
there in times gone by.
[…] The companions of the most reverend abbot found such great favour with Gangulfus
[Gangvulfum] that he entertained them all to a splendid feast after the funeral, and also
provided those who departed in various direction with guides, as well as with provisions for
The Venerable Bede also describes these events; but his account, based on that of the anonymous
Life of St Ceolfrith, omits all reference to Gangulfus, and adds nothing to our knowledge of him. Some authorities, such as P. Bégasse de Dhaem, have incorrectly attributed this information to Bede.
Again, one must add the caveat that there is no evidence whatsoever that this Gangulfus was an
ancestor of the Saint. Neither is there the remotest suggestion that Gangulfus ‘lord of Langres’ was a Count or a Duke – and it is scarcely credible that the anonymous author of this lively and
circumstantial narrative would have failed to notice and preserve such an impressive detail.
A Hypothetical Tree
It is possible and even probable that these two figures were related to the Saint, and may have
been his direct ancestors. A plausible reconstruction of their relationship – if they are to be placed
in a direct line – is given below. The presumption of an arbitrary 25 year gap between generations
allows the abovementioned figures to be in their forties at the date when they are recorded as
having some eminence, and brings the age of the Saint to about 35 at the time of his martyrdom –
which seems a realistic age for him to have been the victim of a crime of passion following a
military career and a slightly late marriage.
The following tree is merely hypothetical; there is no surviving documentary evidence for the
proposed relationships, and such little material as is not entirely speculative is presented in bold
type. Whilst the giving of the same name to consecutive generations of males would become
increasingly common from the C10th onwards, such a practice was virtually unknown in the C7th
and C8th. On the other hand there is a discernible tendency at this period for the same name to
reappear in alternate generations as, for example, with the Pépins.
1) Gengulfus, born say 625, appointed advocatus of the monastery of Bèze in 667
in his early 40’s
2) Unrecorded offspring of the above, born say 650 ?
3) Gengulfus son of the previous, born say 675, as a local lord, in his early 40s, offers his support
to St Ceolfrid in 717 ?
4) Unrecorded offspring of the previous born say 700 ?
5) Saint Gengulph, son of the previous, born say 725, married Ganea(?) say after 755 (sufficiently
old at 30 for his unmarried state to have caused the disquiet described in Hroswitha) died without
issue ca 760 aged about 35 (sufficiently young to have been a convincing victim of a crime of
Gangulfus Bishop of Constanz
A further figure, whose dates coincide with the above, is the Gangulfus who was bishop of
Constanz 676 – ca 681. Apart from the dates of his episcopate, no biographical information
concerning him survives. If he was consecrated in 676 at the canonical age of 30, he might
have been a son of Gengulfus advocatus of Bèze. There is, however, no evidence whatever
to support such a conjecture and, as has been remarked before, the practice of giving
consecutive generations the same name is extremely uncommon at this period.
*Germinis et tanti sese non credit honori, Sed transit meritis almitiem generis.
© Paul Trenchard
all rights reserved
Page last revised 14.09.08