One striking difference between Vita I and Hroswitha is the social status that they accord to their subject.
The earlier document, Vita I, tells us very little beyond that the Saint was born into a respectable and well-connected family, that the paternal estate to which he succeded was a considerable one, and that he had a proprietory interest in (or perhaps himself had founded) the church of St Peter at Varennes sur Amance. There is not in Vita I the remotest suggestion that Gengulph was himself either a duke or a count, and the writer is content with the inexplicit statement that he
was born of distinguished parents, and sprang from the illustrious blood of the Burgundian nobility.
Neither does Vita I suggest that there was any unusually close connection between Gengulph and Pépin le Bref, beyond that he served the king in a military capacity.
The blessed Gengulph served Pepin faithfully as a soldier,
and was sent by him in the company of his most powerful troops,
because he was energetic of mind, strong in body, vigorous in arms,
and highly accomplished in all the military arts.
Hroswitha, on the other hand, has decidedly higher ambitions for her subject's status, and relentlessly prosecutes this interest throughout the poem. She introduces the first cautious hint of his exalted rank and background in the opening lines of her poem:
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. [ll 26-28]
And shortly goes on to make the more specific statement that the youthful Gengulph was made a proconsul or Count through the patronage of Pépin le Bref:
Whilst still a beardless youth, and advancing in all righteousness,
Gengulph was summoned (as he deserved) to take his place in the royal court.
This was through influence of Pepin, that generous prince,
whose heart held a warm esteem for such a worthy youth.
The King, most justly and beneficently, made him
even in those early years, a proconsul.
Gengulph, however, was not puffed up with haughty pride,
at being enriched by this magnificent reward… [ll 47-54]
On all subsequent occasions proconsul is forgotten, and Hroswitha refers to Gengulph indifferently as dux or consul.
It should be noted that Hroswitha's use of the words consul and proconsul is neither anachronistic nor consciously archaic. Both words were frequently (but inconsistently) used in mediæval Latin to represent various contemporary offices including, typically, those of count and duke.
On two occasions in the poem the title dux rendered as duculus. The use of this affectionate diminutive is necessitated by the demands of the metre, and does not imply a different or lesser rank.
Hroswitha also scatters the poem with frequent less explicit references to Gengulph's high status. During, for example, his interview with the peasant whose spring he purchases and miraculously transports to Varennes sur Amance he is referred to as vir regalis:
Et contra vir regalis pie talia fantis
Suscepit dicta pro bonitate sua… [ll 131-2]
The royal personage, for his part, listened good-naturedly
to the speaker’s dutiful sentiments. [ll 131-2]
And on his arrival at Varennes his home is described as atrio… purpureo - a 'regal residence'.
Hic Christi carus gressum direxit amicus,
Mente libens atrio currere purpureo
Following the miraculous proof of his wife's adultery Hroswitha finally introduces the title princeps:
Sed tristis meritam mentis mitigaverat iram
Princeps Gongolfus, arbiter egregius…
But in the sadness of his heart prince Gengulph,
that noble judge, tempered the wrath he rightly felt…
When she introduces the subject of Gengulph's marriage, Hroswitha makes it clear that she conceives his 'dukedom' in terms of the great hereditary feudal fiefs which would have been familiar to her in the C10th, but which are far removed from the situation in the age of St Gengulph himself:
The Eastern Franks were indeed filled with joy
at the great merits and goodness of their duke.
And this man - beloved of Christ, and in every way worthy of his people -
was urged by strong representations from his chief courtiers
to take to himself a suitable young woman
to join in lawful wedlock as is fitting,
lest the noble line of the royal family
should come to an end through lack of issue. [ll 339-346]
Ne finem caperet subducta posteritate
Inclita regalis prosapies generis. [ll 344-346]
Unfortunately, however, the eminent ducal dynasty envisaged by Hroswitha has left not the slightest trace on the page of recorded history, and is best attributed to Hroswitha's enthusiasm for her subject, aided by her inventive powers which were not inconsiderable. No contemporary record or charter either mentions Gengulphus, or gives us any reason to suppose that he was a duke or a courtier. The latter comment also applies to the earlier figures of the same name - Gengulfus 'Advocatus' of Bèze' and Gangulfus 'Lord of Langres' - who are sometimes adduced as possible ancestors of the Saint.
In so far as any weight can be given to the later narrative of the Miraculous Lighting of the Lamp, which is varyingly inserted into certain manuscripts of Vita I, and which depicts Gengulph sleeping in the presence of Pepin le Bref, the most natural deduction from this arrangement would be that Gengulph was acting as a bodyguard - a rôle consonant with his abilities, status and trustworthiness as depicted in Vita I.
The last word on the matter of St Gengulph's rank is perhaps best left with the hagiologist Pedro de Ribadeneira whose sober and realistic résumé of the Saint's biography begins simply: 'Saint Gengoult était gentilhomme français, natif de Bourgogne, et issu de très-illustres parens.'
© Paul Trenchard