Masculinity without Conflict: Noblemen in Eighth- and Ninth-Century Francia

  • Rachel Stone
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


Around the middle of the eighth century near Langres, in eastern France, a crime passionelle allegedly took place. The wife of Gangulf, a Burgundian noble, began an affair with a cleric, but her husband discovered their wrongdoing. The cleric then murdered Gangulf. What is unusual is how we know about this story: Gangulf, a cuckold and a murder victim, became a saint.1 The church of Melun received relics from him at its foundation in 809 and St-Pierre de Varennes was rededicated to him by 870.2 Several versions of his life were composed: the first surviving one dates from the end of the ninth or early tenth century, and over 60 copies of this text survive.3 His cult became widespread in Lorraine and Germany. In the second half of the tenth century Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, author of a number of religious poems and plays, composed one on Gangulf; a collection of Gangulf’s posthumous miracles was also written at Liege in the eleventh century.4 Although Gangulf’s fame continued for centuries, however, I want to focus on the first vita (the written ‘life’) and its implications for our understanding of masculinity in the Carolingian empire, the vast area (eventually stretching from the Pyrenees to Croatia) ruled by Charlemagne and his successors between 768 and the end of the ninth century.5


Ninth Century Eleventh Century Eighth Century Late Antiquity Church History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. The following abbreviations are used in this chapter: MGH = Monumenta Germaniae Historica; MGH Cap. = Capitularia regum Francorum, 2 vols, ed. Alfred Boretius and Viktor Krause (Hanover, 1883–1897); MGH Epp. = Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini aevi. MGH Epistolae, III–VIII (Berlin, 1892–1939); MGH SRG = Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi (Hanover, 1871-); MGH SRM = Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, 7 vols, ed. Bruno Krusch and Willhelm Levison (Hanover, 1885–1951); PL = Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina. 221 vols, ed. J.-P. Migne (Paris, 1841–1864); VG = Vita Gangulfi martyris Varennensis, ed. Willhelm Levison (Hanover, 1919) (MGH SRM 7), pp. 155–170.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    VG. A French translation is given in J.-P. Royer and M. Goullet, ‘La vie de saint Gengoul (BHL 3328)’, Annales de Bourgogne, 75 (2003), 351–73.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    J.-P. Poly, ‘Gengoul, Léepoux martyr. Adultère féminin et norme populaire au Xe siècle’, La femme au Moyen Âge, Collection des journèe de la Facultè de droit Jean-Monnet, 2 (Paris, 1992), pp. 47–63, on p. 53.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    M. Goullet, ‘Les Vies de Saint Gengoul, époux et martyr’, in M. Lauwers (ed.), Guerriers et moines: conversion et sainteté aristocratiques dans l’Occident medieval (IXe–XIIe siècle) (Antibes, 2002), pp. 235–63, on p. 237.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    J.-P. Poly, ‘Gengoul’, pp. 54–7. On Hrotsvit see K.M. Wilson, Hrotsvit of Gandesheim:The Ethics of Authorial Stance (Leiden, 1988).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    In this chapter ‘Francia’ is used to refer to this imperial area as a whole, rather than in its narrower sense of the traditional heartlands of Frankish power. For an overview of Frankish political history in the period, see R. Collins, Early medieval Europe 300–1000, 2nd edn (Basingstoke, 1999), pp. 262–364.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Cf. J.A. Schultz, ‘Heterosexuality as a threat to medieval studies’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 15 (2006), 14–29, arguing that ‘heterosexuality’ is not a useful concept for the medieval period.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    On the reform movement in general, see R. McKitterick, The Frankish Church and the Carolingian Reforms, 789–895 (London, 1977). On the specific moral demands made on laymen see R. Stone, ‘Masculinity, nobility and the moral instruction of the Carolingian lay elite’, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London, 2005).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Missi cuiusdam admonito (MGH Cap. I no 121 p. 240): Mulier sunt subiecti viri sui in omni bonitate et pudicitia, custodiant se a fornicatione et beneficiis et abaritiis… Nutriant filios suos in Dei timore… Viri diligant uxorem suam, et inhonesta verba non dicat ei, guberne domus suas in bonitate… Filii diligant parentes suos et honoret illos; non sint inobedientes. On the genre, date and authorship of this text, see T.M. Buck, Admonitio und Praedicatio: zur religiös-pastoralen Dimension von Kapitularien und kapitulariennahen Texten (507–814) (Frankfurt am Main, 1997), pp. 157–238.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For an overview of lay authors, see P. Wormald and J.L. Nelson (eds), Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2007).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    P.J.E. Kershaw, ‘Eberhard of Friuli, a Carolingian lay intellectual’, in Wormald and Nelson (eds), Lay Intellectuals, pp. 77–105, on p. 102.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    R. Stone, ‘The invention of a theology of abduction: Hincmar of Rheims on raptus’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 60 (2009), 433–48, on 445–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    R. Stone, ‘“Bound from either side”: the limits of power in Carolingian marriage disputes, 840–870’, Gender and History 19 (2007), 467–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    For the Roman tradition of the leno, the husband-pimp, see T.A.J. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome (Oxford, 1998), pp. 171–94.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Regino of Prüm, Chronicon, ed. Friedrich Kurze (Hanover, 1890) (MGH SRG 50), s.a. 883 p. 121. Compare Hincmar of Rheims, Epistola 135 (MGH Epp. 8, pp. 81–7), discussing the case of Ingiltrude, wife of Count Boso of Italy, who, having run off with a lover, refused to return to Boso, claiming she feared for her life.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    VG 7, p. 162; Gerald is associated with springs: he has previously miraculously relocated one after purchasing it (VG 4–5, pp. 159–61). Gangulf’s testing of his wife’s innocence is a miraculous version of the ‘ordeal by cauldron’, a method of proof often used in the Carolingian period: see R. Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986), pp. 4–9.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    T. Bitterauf (ed.), Die Traditionen Des Hochstifts Freising, 1 (Munich, 1905), no. 634, p. 539.Google Scholar
  18. 36.
    Alcuin, Epistola 84, p. 127: Viriliter domum aedificate vobis sempiternam in caelis. K. Heene, The Legacy of Paradise: Marriage, Motherhood and Woman in Carolingian Edifying Literature (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1997), pp. 248–53.Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    C.J. Clover, ‘Regardless of sex: men, women and power in early northern Europe’, Speculum 68 (1993), 363–87, on 379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 40.
    J.M.H. Smith, ‘Gender and ideology in the early Middle Ages’, in R.N. Swanson (ed.), Gender and Christian Religion, Studies in Church History 34 (Woodbridge, 1998), pp. 51–73, on p. 59, argues for this.Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    On Theodora, see L. Brubaker, ‘Sex, lies and textuality: the secret history of Prokopios and the rhetoric of gender in sixth-century Byzantium’, in L. Brubaker and J.M.H. Smith (eds), Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300–900 (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 83–101. On Fredegund and Brunhild, see J.L. Nelson, ‘Queens as Jezebels: the careers of Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian history’, in D. Baker (ed.), Medieval Women (Oxford, 1978), pp. 31–77; I. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450–751 (Harlow, 1994), pp. 123–36.Google Scholar
  22. 45.
    See, for example, P. Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York, 1988); M. Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity and Christian Ideology in late Antiquity (Chicago, 2001).Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    Differing interpretations of these reforms are given by, for example, J.A. McNamara, ‘The Herrenfrage: the restructuring of the gender system, 1050–1150’, in C.A. Lees (ed.), Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages (Minneapolis, 1994), pp. 3–29; M.C. Miller, ‘Masculinity, reform, and clerical culture: narratives of episcopal holiness in the Gregorian era’, Church History, 72, (2003), 25–52; and R.I. Moore, The First European Revolution, c. 970–1215 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 65–111, but the overall effects are agreed.Google Scholar
  24. 49.
    See, for example, P. Wormald, ‘Bede, “Beowulf” and the conversion of the AngloSaxon aristocracy’, in R.T. Farrell (ed.), Bede and Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1978), pp. 32–95.Google Scholar
  25. 50.
    See, for example, D.M. Hadley, ‘“Death makes the man”? Burial rites and the construction of masculinities in the early Middle Ages’, in D.M. Hadley (ed.), Masculinity in Medieval Europe (London, 1999), pp. 21–38; G. Halsall, ‘Gender and the end of empire’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 34 (2004), pp. 17–39.Google Scholar
  26. 51.
    See M. de Jong, ‘Imitatio morum: the cloister and clerical purity in the Carolingian world’, in M. Frassetto (ed.), Medieval Purity and Piety: Essays on Medieval Clerical Celibacy and Religious Reform (New York, 1998), pp. 49–80. On the regulation and instruction of secular clerics see C. van Rhijn, Shepherds of the Lord: Priests and Episcopal Statutes in the Carolingian Period (Turnhout, 2007).Google Scholar
  27. 52.
    J.L. Nelson, ‘Monks, secular men and masculinity, c. 900’, in Hadley (ed.), Masculinity in Medieval Europe, pp. 122–42. It is debatable how many of Nelson’s undoubtedly anxious young men can be regarded as ‘Carolingian’: see Stone, ‘In what way’. I do not discuss in this paper Lynda Coon’s claims of the continuity of late antique and early medieval monastic views on gendered bodies (see, for example, L. Coon, ‘Somatic styles of the early Middle Ages’, Gender and History, 20 (2008), 463–86). The discourse she identifies seems to me to have had little impact on the more ‘public’ discussions of gender in which laymen participated.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 53.
    See, for example, Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, pp. 293–94; McNamara, ‘Herrenfrage’. S.F. Wemple, Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500–900 (Philadelphia, 1981) makes a rather unconvincing attempt to fit the Carolingian evidence into this consciously oppressive pattern.Google Scholar
  29. 54.
    See K. Cooper, The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, MA, 1996), p. 17; K. Cooper and C. Leyser, ‘The gender of Grace: impotence, servitude and manliness in the fifth-century West’, Gender and History 12 (2000), 536–51, on 539.Google Scholar
  30. 55.
    K. Cooper, ‘Insinuations of womanly influence: an aspect of the christianization of the Roman aristocracy’, Journal of Roman Studies, 82 (1992), 150–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 57.
    See, for example, Cooper, Virgin and the Bride, pp. 10–12. On the impact of the ‘linguistic turn’ on women’s history and gender history more generally, see E.A. Clark, ‘The lady vanishes: dilemmas of a feminist historian after the “linguistic turn”’, Church History, 67 (1998), 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 60.
    Cooper and Leyser, ‘Gender of grace’, pp. 542–46. On the use of this metaphor in the Carolingian world, see in particular D.H. Green, The Carolingian Lord: Semantic Studies on Four Old High German Words: balder, fro, truhtin, hêrro (Cambridge, 1965).Google Scholar
  33. 62.
    D. Elliott, Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality and Demonology in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 19–21; D. Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock (Princeton, 1993), p. 91.Google Scholar
  34. 63.
    On oblation see M. de Jong, In Samuel’s Image: Child Oblation in the early Medieval West (Leiden, 1996).Google Scholar
  35. 66.
    A. Diem, ‘Organisierte Keuschheit: Sexualprävention im Mönchtum der Spätantike und des fruhen Mittelalters’, Invertito 3 (2001), 8–37.Google Scholar
  36. 68.
    For conflicts between bishops, counts and abbots, see J. Nightingale, Monasteries and Patrons in the Gorze Reforms: Lotharingia c. 850–1000 (Oxford, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 70.
    D. Hägermann, ‘Zur Enstehung des Kapitularian’, in W. Schlögl and P. Herde (eds), Grundwissenschaften und Geschichte: Festschrift für Peter Acht, Münchener historische Studien, 15 (Kallmünz, 1976), pp. 12–27, lists the key texts.Google Scholar
  38. 72.
    See C. van Rhijn, ‘Priests and the Carolingian reforms: the bottlenecks of local Correctio’, in R. Corradini, R. Meens, C. Possel and P. Shaw (eds), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna, 2006), pp. 219–37, on p. 223.Google Scholar
  39. 73.
    J.L. Nelson, ‘Gender, memory and social power’, Gender and History 12 (2000), 722–34, on p. 722. On one Carolingian mother’s wide-ranging understanding of this pastoral role, see J.L. Nelson, ‘Dhuoda’, in P. Wormald and J. L. Nelson (eds), Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 106–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 74.
    J.H. Lynch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton, 1986), pp. 318–32.Google Scholar
  41. 76.
    See, for example, S. Airlie, ‘The anxiety of sanctity: St Gerald of Aurillac and his maker’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 43 (1992), 372–95, on 385–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 94.
    S. Reynolds, ‘Social mentalities and the case of medieval scepticism’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 1 (1991), 21–41, on 29–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 95.
    P.G. Jestice, ‘Why celibacy? Odo of Cluny and the development of a new sexual morality’, in Frassetto (ed.), Medieval Purity and Piety, pp. 81–115, on p. 81.Google Scholar
  44. 96.
    Jestice, ‘Why celibacy?’, pp. 91–8. Odo’s thought also shows the re-emergence of late antique ideas of monastic continence as a constant individual spiritual battle: see C.A. Jones, ‘Monastic identity and Sodomitic danger in the Occupatio by Odo of Cluny’, Speculum 82 (2007), 1–53, on 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 97.
    A. Barbero, ‘Santi laici e guerrieri. Le trasformazioni di un modello nell’agiografia altomedievale’, in G. Barone, M. Caffiero and F. Scorza Barcellona (eds), Modelli di santità e modelli di comportamento: contrasti, intersezioni, complementarità (Turin, 1994), pp. 125–40, on pp. 128–35; Airlie, ‘Anxiety’. It is unfortunately not possible to date either of these vitae precisely, but, even if they are contemporaneous, the Vita Geraldi clearly shows a new style of discourse.Google Scholar
  46. 99.
    R. Balzaretti, ‘Men and sex in tenth-century Italy’, in Hadley (ed.), Masculinity in Medieval Europe, pp. 143–59, on pp. 154–57.Google Scholar
  47. 101.
    M.S. Kuefler, ‘Male friendship and the suspicion of Sodomy in twelfth-century France’, in S. Farmer and C.B. Pasternack (eds), Gender and Difference in the Middle Ages (Minneapolis, 2003), pp. 146–81, on p. 162.Google Scholar
  48. 102.
    On the (limited) changes in the post-Roman period, see J.M.H. Smith, ‘Did women have a transformation of the Roman world?’, Gender and History, 12 (2000), 552–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 103.
    For the late antique period see G. Clark, Women in Late Antiquity: Pagan and Christian Life-styles (Oxford, 1993), pp. 94–105. For the Carolingian period see J.M.H. Smith, ‘The problem of female sanctity in Carolingian Europe c. 780–920’, Past and Present 146 (1995), 3–37; V.L. Garver, Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World (Ithaca, 2009).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Rachel Stone 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Stone

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations