bayeux tapestry, bayeaux tapestry, hastings, 1066

The Bayeux Tapestry used to be displayed in Bayeux Cathedral. The Bayeux Tapestry is now displayed in the Musée de la Reine Mathilde. It is usually thought that Odo, Bishop of Bayeux was the Patron to the Bayeux Tapestry but the thesis here is that Queen Matilda of England was more likely to have chosen embroidery to display the stirring events leading to the battle of Hastings and the subsequent Coronation of William I as King of England on Christmas Day, 25th December 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry begins with Harold, Earl of Wessex, and a companion, in an audience with King Edward the Confessor. They wanted to go to France for something to do with Aelfgyva, a mysterious figure in the Bayeux Tapestry. King Edward instructed Earl Harold, who's relatives, Wulfnoth and Hakon, had been held hostage in Normandy since 1051, to tell Duke William that Edgar the Aethling was his chosen heir to the throne of England.

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry continues with Harold's ride to Bosham and bad navigation leading to a landfall in fog in the Somme estuary. Guy of Ponthieu captured Harold and took him to Beaurain castle. After an interval measured by the famous plough scene, Duke William effects Harold's release and shortly afterwards they go together on an expedition into Brittany. The Bayeux Tapestry shows Count Conan escaping from a siege tower and his defeat at both Dol and Dinan.

The Battle of Hastings in 1066

The Bayeux Tapestry shows nothing the exile of Earl Tostig, brother to Harold Godwinson. Tostig pillaged the Isle of Wight soon after the appearance of Halley's comet. The Bayeux Tapestry does not include the subsequent raiding by him and his alliance with King Harald Hardraada of Norway. Together , they sacked Scarborough, where the wind was blowing strongly from the north and keeping Duke William and the Normans weather bound at St Valéry. They defeated the northern Earls, Earl Edwin and Earl Morcar, at Gate Fulford. King Harold of England took a mounted force north at tremendous speed, through Tadcaster and York, and defeated the Norwegians at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on the river Derwent. While King Harold II of England was resting his troops in York, news arrived that Duke William of Normandy had landed at Pevensey, where he set up a pre-fabricated, wooden castle. The main Norman army then sailed for Hastings. The Bayeux Tapestry shows the men landing their horses and setting out foraging and looting.

Meanwhile, Edward the Confessor had died and was buried in the West Minster, that had been completed only a few days earlier. On the same day, Harold of Wessex was crowned King. When the William was told about Harold's coronation he began to assemble and build an invasion fleet at Dives-sur-mer. The fleet sailed to practice a landing in the Somme estuary. The Bayeux Tapestry, now shows the first steps of the Norman Conquest. Supplies are loaded into the ships which sail again for the old Roman fort of Anderida.

At Hastings, Duke William and his half-brothers, Robert and Odo, confer and a motte is raised with a wooden castle upon it. The Normans kidnapped Edith Swan Neck and her son, burnt their Manor and set out that day to fight the English who were, at the time, camped around the hoary apple tree, now roughly, Caldbeck windmill. King Harold joined his army very early next day and before he could get organised, the Normans were upon him. After a gallant fight, Harold was hit by an arrow in his eye and the Anglo-Scandinavians were routed.

The Tapestry ends at this point.

The Tapestry used to be displayed in Bayeaux Cathedral. The Bayeaux Tapestry is now displayed in the Musée de la Reine Mathilde.

A few years ago, there were some 140 books, written in English, about the Tapestry1. Since then, there must have been published many more and as the anniversary of 2066 approaches, many more may be expected. In these books (I have not read anything like all of them!) the consensus seems to be that Odo, bishop of Bayeux and half-brother to king William the Conqueror, was the patron of the Tapestry. Over the years, I have become less and less happy with this view and now think that even if queen Matilda were not the patron, she has a stronger claim to it than Odo. I also believe that Baudri, abbot of Bourgeuil, saw the Tapestry. He may not have seen it in the apartments of queen Matilda or in those of her daughter Adèla, countess of Blois but he probably did not see it in Bayeux either. He let his imagination run away with him but I think he does describe, as accurately as a poet may be expected to confine himself to reality in describing an imaginary artefact, what is now known as the Bayeux Tapestry.

I cannot say either that the Tapestry has ever belonged to Adèla or, if it did, where the Tapestry might have gone after Adèla's death in 1137 but it certainly turned up in Bayeux cathedral eventually and, perhaps, this is no more mysterious than that the wonderful facsimile made in Leek, Staffordshire, should now be in Reading, Berkshire.

© Michael Leete 2005

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The Bayeux Tapestry

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