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The Bayeux Tapestry

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Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

Your Guide's rendering of a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

Melissa Snell

The Bayeux Tapestry is technically not a tapestry (tapestries are woven), but a huge band of embroidered linen measuring 19.5 inches in width and 230 feet in length. Depicted on what is now beige fabric in eight colors are dozens of scenes of the Norman Conquest.

The story it tells begins long before the Battle of Hastings, with Edward the Confessor sending Harold Godwinson on a mission to France, and ends with the Normans victorious at Hastings in 1066. There may have been more depicted, but the end of the tapestry is missing. Decorative borders along the top and bottom display scenes from fables, farming and hunting, and occasionally items related to the main story.

Origins and History of the Bayeux Tapestry:

Known facts about the tapestry's creation are few. It may have been comissioned by Bishop Odo (half-brother of William the Conqueror), whose name is one of the few that appears in the work. It was probably made at Canterbury in Kent, where Odo was Earl after the Conquest, and it was apparently completed no later than 1092. A recent tradition has it that William's wife Matilda worked on the embroidery herself, but there is no evidence to substantiate this. It has undergone several restorations.

The first recorded mention of the tapestry is in 1476, when it was noted that it was used to decorate the nave of Bayeux Cathedral in France. Except for two brief periods (once during the Franco-German War and once during WWII), the tapestry has remained in Bayeux since the Middle Ages, and it can be seen there today.

Significance:

As a specimen of medieval art the tapestry is priceless, but it is also an important historical source, albeit a heavily-biased one. While the images tell tales that are in considerable doubt (such as Harold swearing to be "William's man"), they also supply a fairly good idea of the material culture of the times. It is a particularly useful source of information concerning the armor and weaponry used in the Battle of Hastings.

People in the Bayeux Tapestry:

 

Online Images of the Bayeux Tapestry:

The Entire Bayeux Tapestry
This collection of images at Mr. Sedivy's Highland Ranch High School website is limited in size but offers useful explanatory text.

Animated Bayeux Tapestry
The video begins about halfway through the original work at the appearence of Halley's Comet and ends at the Battle of Hastings. Nicely done by David Newton; available at YouTube.

 

Bayeux Tapestry Software:

The Bayeux Tapestry on CD-Rom
(Scholarly Digital Editions)
by Martin K. Foys

 

Suggested Reading:

The Bayeux Tapestry
by David M. Wilson

The Bayeux Tapestry: Monument to a Norman Triumph
by Wolfgang Grape

1066: The Hidden History In The Bayeux Tapestry
by Andrew Bridgeford

The Rhetoric of Power in the Bayeux Tapestry
(Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism)
by Suzanne Lewis

Was the Bayeux Tapestry Made in France? : The Case for St. Florent of Saumur
(The New Middle Ages)
by George Beech

Anglo-Saxon Propaganda in the Bayeux Tapestry
(Studies in French Civilization)
by Meredith Clermont-Ferrand

King Harold II and the Bayeux Tapestry
(Pubns Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies)
edited by Gale R. Owen-Crocker

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