The Bayeux Tapestry (French: Tapisserie de Bayeux) is embroidered strip of linen telling the story of the events starting in 1064 that led up to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. In common with other embroidered hangings of the early medieval period, this piece is conventionally referred to as a “tapestry,” although it is not a true tapestry in which the design is woven into the cloth; it is in fact an embroidery.
It is a 50 cm by 70 m long. It is made up of eight conjoined sections of different lengths. The scenes at the end of the tapestry are damaged and some are lost. The latter is also used for all the linear detail and the lettering. No trace of any construction lines or of tracing from a cartoon remains on the tapestry. The colours (which are not used naturalistically) are terracotta, blue-green, a golden yellow, olive green, blue, a dark blue or black (used for the first third of the tapestry) and a sage green. Later repairs were carried out mainly in light yellow, greens and oranges. The Tapestry is annotated in Latin.Since the earliest known written reference to the tapestry is a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral, its origins have been the subject of much speculation and controversy. In 1476 it was listed in the cathedral inventory, at which time it was ‘hung round the church on the day of the Relics and throughout the octave’. First published in 1729, it was put on permanent display as a whole in 1842.
French legend maintained the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, and her ladies-in-waiting. Indeed, in France it is occasionally known as “La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde” (Tapestry of Queen Matilda). However, scholarly analysis in the 20th century shows it probably was commissioned by William’s half brother, Bishop Odo.
Bayeux Tapestry, detail of section depicting the Battle of Hastings. The main character of the tapestry is William the Conqueror. William was the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva (or Arlette), a tanner’s daughter. She was later married off to another man and bore two sons, one of whom was 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 October 1066 and captured the crown of England at 38. William knew little peace in his life. He was always doing battle, putting down rebel vassals or going to war with France. He was married to his distant cousin Matilda of Flanders. The story is told in discrete scenes, which are not divided vertically. Except at moments of heightened tension, the narrative portion of the tapestry is bordered top and bottom by bands of decoration that are sometimes ornamental. There is no individual portrayal. The scenes are supplemented and explained by a running test executed mainly in square capitals.
The tapestry begins with a panel of King Edward the Confessor, who has no son and heir. Edward appears to send Harold Godwinson, the most powerful earl in England to Normandy to tell William that he, Edward, who was growing old and had no successor, had decided that William should succeed him as king of England upon his (Edward’s) death. Harold is to go to Normandy and give this information to William. Harold gets lost and arrives at the wrong location in Normandy and is taken prisoner by Guy, Count of Ponthieu. Harold convinces the Count he is on a mission to bring a message to William which leads to the sending of two messengers from William to demand his release. The Count Guy of Ponthieu quickly releases him to William. William, perhaps to impress Harold, invites him to come on a campaign against Conan II, Duke of Brittany. On the way, just outside the monastery of Mont St. Michel, two soldiers become mired in quicksand, and Harold saves the two Norman soldiers. William’s army chases Conan from Dol de Bretagne to Rennes, and he finally surrenders at Dinan. Harold gives the message to William that he is to succeed Edward upon his death. William gives Harold arms and armour (possibly knighting him) and has Harold take an oath on saintly relics to honor Edward’s wish and allow William to take the throne. Harold leaves for home and meets again with the old king Edward, who appears to be remonstrating with Harold. Edward shortly thereafter dies, and Harold violates his oath to William and has himself crowned king. It is notable that in the Bayeux Tapestry, the ceremony is performed by Stigand, whose position as Archbishop of Canterbury was controversial.
The Bayeux Tapestry is an important primary source for English history. It was embroidered for a sophisticated audience, some of whom had witnessed the events portrayed. The structure of the story reflects the tradition of English heroic poetry (e.g. the late 10th-century Battle of Maldon) encompassing the story of a choice between two evils by two heroes, Harold and William, neither of whom is explicitly condemned in the narrative. The viewthat the tapestry tells a religious story, the centrality of which is Harold’s oath-breaking, has been rejected by most scholars, and it is now seen as a secular, heroic monument made for a hall rather than a church.
Bayeux tapestry, detail of section depicting Bishop Odo Blessing the…The Bayeux Tapestry has been much used as a source for illustrations of daily life in early medieval Europe. It depicts a total of 1515 different objects, animals and persons . Dress, arms, ships, towers, cities, halls, churches, horse trappings, regal insignia, ploughs, harrows, tableware, possible armorial changes, banners, hunting horns, axes, adzes, barrels, carts, wagons, reliquaries, biers, spits and spades are among the many items depicted .