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Bayeux Tapestry

 
 

Bayeux Tapestry

(From Wikipedia)

 

The Bayeux Tapestry (French: La Tapisserie de Bayeux) is a 50cm by 70m (20in by 230ft) long embroidered cloth which depicts scenes commemorating the Battle of Hastings, with annotations in Latin. The embroidered tapestry is presently exhibited in a special museum in Bayeux, Normandy, France.
 

Origins of the Tapestry

Since the earliest known written reference to the tapestry in a 1476 inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral, its origins have been the subject of much speculation and controversy.

Traditionally, particularly in France, it's been assumed that the tapestry was commisioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife, and her ladies. However recent scholarly analysis in the 20th century shows it probably was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half brother, Bishop Odo. The reasons for the Odo commision theory include: three of the bishop's followers mentioned in Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; it may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral's construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral's dedication.

Assuming Bishop Odo commisioned the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists given that: Odo's main power base was in Kent, the Latin text contains hints of Anglo Saxon, other embroideries originate from England at this time, and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there. Assuming this was the case, the actual physical work of stiching was most likely undertaken by skilled seamstresses, probably nuns from St. Augustine's, Canterbury.

However, particularly in France, it is still sometimes maintained that it was made by William's queen, Matilda of Flanders, and her ladies. Indeed, in France it is occasionally known as "La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde" (Tapestry of Queen Mathilda).

The tapestry is a French national treasure and it's possible Anglo-Saxon artistic heritage has remained a point of controversy.

The story of the tapestry

The tapestry tells the story of the conquest of England by the Normans. The two combatants are the Anglo-Saxon English, led by Harold Godwinson, a powerful earl, and the Normans, descendants of the Vikings, led by William the Conqueror. The two sides can be distinguished on the tapestry by the customs of the day. The Normans shaved the back of their heads, while the Anglo-Saxons had mustaches.

The main character of the tapestry is William the Conqueror. William was the illegitimate son of the duke of Normandy and a tanners' daughter. She was married off to another man and bore two sons, one of which was the Bishop Odo. When Duke Robert was returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he was killed. William gained his father's title at a very young age and was a proven warrior at 19. He prevailed in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and captured the crown at 38. William knew little peace in his life. He was always doing battle putting down rebel vassals or going to war with France. The king was married to Matilda of Flanders — they were distant cousins. (Barclay 31) William was 5 feet ten inches. Matilda was 4 feet two inches, so they made an interesting couple.

The tapestry begins with a panel of King Edward, who has no heir. Edward decides to send Harold Godwinson, the most powerful earl in England to his cousin William of Normandy to tell William he has been selected as the next king of England. As Harold is in transit across the channel, he is caught in a storm and sent off course. Harold is taken prisoner by Guy, Count of Ponthieu. William sends two messengers to demand his release, and Count Guy of Ponthieu quickly releases him to William. William, perhaps to impress Harold, invites him to come on a campaign with him to relieve a castle under siege. On the way, just outside the famous monastery of Mont St. Michel, two soldiers become mired in quicksand, and Harold saves the two Norman soldiers. The two comrades manage to chase the attackers of the castle away, and force them to surrender. William and Harold celebrate their victory together, and Harold pledges on the bones of saints, holy relics, to support William in securing the English throne. Harold leaves for home, and meets again with the old king Edward. Edward then, under duress or otherwise, pledges the throne to Harold.

Some months later a star with hair appears; Halley's Comet. (The first appearance of comet would have been 24th April - nearly four months after Harold's coronation). Comets, in the middle ages, warned of impending doom. On the other side of the channel in France, William hears that he has been betrayed and vows to take England. William builds a fleet of ships, but cannot cross because of strong opposing winds. They are able to move down the coast a bit, and then eventually, in a D-day invasion in reverse, head across the channel. The Norman invasion force consisted of approximately 7000 men. The invaders reach England, and land unopposed. William orders his men to pillage, to bring Harold down faster, who is involved in a battle with another contender for the throne of England, the Norwegian Harald Hardraada, whom he defeats. Harald Hardraada led the last Viking invasion of England and was known as great warrior. His defeat came as a surprise. Still, the Norwegians weakened the English forces. The Normans don't waste any time, and build a castle to protect them. William knows that Harold is a compassionate man, and so orders the homes to be burned. William prepares for battle when he hears that Harold is coming.

Finally, the famous day dawns; October 14 1066. The battle took place 65 miles from London. Harold forced his troops to march the distance in just 3 days, which further exhausted his troops. Both armies are evenly matched. When they clash in battle, the bowmen advance to about 100 yards and fire, but to little effect as the English soldiers have established an effective shield-wall. So the knights charge into battle. Soon the French fall back in retreat, and some of Harold's men defy orders and follow them. Harold wanted them to stand fast for defence. William's horse is killed in the battle and a rumor goes through the ranks he is dead. He removes his helmet and says, "Look at me well! I am still alive and by the grace of God shall still prove the victor!" As the day goes on, the English begin to lose strength. French knights move in and kill Harold. After their leader dies, the English flee. The Normans are victorious.

(L.Foley)

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

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