Gertrude of Nivelles


Gertrude of Nivelles : biography

626 – 659

Moving to a later source, Wood shows how the Annales Mettenses Priores radically change the picture (from the Liber, the earliest source for the late seventh century, written in 727). The Annales allude to the power held by previous members of the family, especially by Pippin I. They also allude to Pippin I’s relationship to Arnulf, Bishop of Metz, although they do not specify the nature of that relationship. In addition they talk with great admiration of Pepin II’s grandmother, Itta, and his Aunt, Gertrude. From the start, therefore, the Annales Mettenses Priores announce their intention of turning the history of the seventh and eighth centuries into a history of the Pippinids, or the Carolingians they were to become.” As a result of this shift, Wood argues that “For the period up until 714, therefore, Annales Mettenses Priores produce a substantially different account of events from that offered by the Liber Historiae Francorum, making Pepin the center of attention, and conferring on him complete power from the Battle of Tertry onwards.”

This change in focus, while not invalid per se, certainly is problematic, because the Annales were written long after the time period they describe. This is especially important, notes Wood, because “as a reading of history the so-called Metz Prior Annals have been extremely influential, providing the most popular interpretation of the late Merovingian period. Nevertheless, they show the Pippinids and Merovingian history as the Carolingians wished to see them.” Despite this different focus, even the Metz Annales do not state that Arnulf is Ansegisel’s father, saying only that he is a great ally of Pippin.

Wood believes that the shift in focus of the Metz Prior Annals is deliberate, citing the need to glorify the sanctity of the newly powerful Pippinids. “The other asset which the family was to develop, its sanctity, was beginning to be realized only in the last decades of the seventh century. Although Arnulf of Metz is thought to have been Pepin II’s grandfather, the evidence for this is not early, and even the Annales Mettenses Priores were uncertain about the nature of the relationship between Arnulf and the Pippinids.” According to Wood, this link comes first from Paul the Deacon (Gesta episcoporum Mettensium) and is suspect, as Paul was not familiar with the events he was writing about and had limited access to reference materials.

Of the other early sources that might establish a link between Ansegisel and Arnulf, all that is left is the Vita Arnulfi, or “Life of Arnulf.” However, according to Wood, it is "not clear that the Vita Arnulfi… was written in the seventh century.” It is possible that this work was a forgery, created later to sanctify the Carolingian line. This argument is not without base, because after Gertrude died in 659, “her sanctity was unquestionably promoted by the family in the late seventh century” beginning with her vita in 670.

Gertrude of Nivelles in Literature

The Vita Sanctae Geretrudis and the Additamentum Nivialense de Fuilano

The Vita was originally thought to have been written in the eleventh century, but this was later disproven with the discovery of a version dating from the eighth century. Bruno Krush argues that the work is written around the same time that the events it describes take place, and there is wide agreement that it was written before 670, and after 663. The time range is determined using a combination of Latin style, references by contemporary works, the accuracy of the events (indicating a close proximity to their occurrence), and references in the text to known events. The Vita is one of just a few sources dating from seventh century France, and one of only three from Austrasia (all of which deal with Gertrude). This makes the Vita very important as a source for Charlemagne’s ancestry as well as placing the “Cradle of the Carolingians” in the middle Meuse in Brabant as opposed to Moselle in Luxembourg, where Pepin II and Plectrude had large tracts of land.

The author of Vita writes as a first-hand witness to the events he describes. Although it is perfectly plausible that he could have been a monk or nun, and there some debate on this topic.Peyroux 38 Based on his reference to himself “with another brother,” the author is most likely male.