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Edward the Confessor, Bayeux Tapestry - History
- Took place on October 14, 1066
- Part of the invasions of England
- Followed the death of King Edward the Confessor
- Loss of rights and privileges of the Saxons
- New language and culture adopted
- Intro. to the feudal system to England
Medieval weavers extracted their dyes from plants and insects in a range of less than twenty colours. For example, red came from madder, poppies or pomegranates and woad produced blue (a process that was so profitable in 16th century France that importing woad from the East was punishable by death).
Bayeux Tapestry & The Battle of Hastings
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.
Basically: a series of pictures supported by a written commentary that tells the story of the events of 1064-1066 and reaching a climax in the Battle of Hastings.
1. Bayeux is in Normandy.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, which resulted in the successful Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror's wife, along with her many ladies in waiting, began working on a tapestry. The tapestry was designed to tell the story of her husband's successful invasion of England.
There were 72 scenes. Each scene told one piece of the story. William's wife and her ladies worked on the tapestry for 10 years. When they were done, the tapestry was 20 inches high, and 250 feet long. The scenes were quite lively. In one, men are standing in a boat, holding their hands up to their mouths, as if they are shouting.
Historians can tell a lot about daily life from the scenes on the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry has boats, people, activities, carts, horses, and so much more. All you can see in one scene is a group of horse heads sticking out of the top of a boat. But from this, historians can guess that the horses were carried by boats to the battle.
During medieval times, tapestries were common. They were used to decorate castles and manor houses. This tapestry was probably made to fit in a specific place. The wall upon which it hung was probably around 250 feet long.
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The Norman Conquest By Marc Morris, The Narrative Of The Norman Invasion Of 1066
of one of the few sources that remain of the Norman invasion, the Bayeux tapestry. The tapestry has had a long history of trading hands and escaping harm seemingly miraculously. According to Morris, the Bayeux tapestry has survived looting in the French Revolution, was owned by Napoleon Bonaparte for a time, and was stolen by Nazis during their occupation of France in World War II. Aside from its own fascinating history, the tapestry itself is not a flawless source. Morris points out that it is in
3. Building the ships
Harold is crowned King of England - news which soon spreads across the Channel to William.
William claims the throne should be his and decides to attack.
He and his men get to work preparing ships to cross to England and fight back against Harold.
Dr Roach points out that the ships nod to the Norman's sea-faring past with their links to Vikings.
However, he says it also shows the "scale of the venture" because there were not nearly enough ships for the expedition.
It wasn’t until October 14 that the battle took place. What the tapestry doesn’t include is the Battle of Stamford Bridge which the English army fought against the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada on September 25. The weakened English then had to march down to Hastings in Sussex to face the Normans. But why let the facts get in the way of a cracking good story?
Death of Harold Public domain via Wikimedia
The Bayeux Tapestry shows the battle in wonderful detail. The facts are fairly straightforward: the Normans attack and are decisive, Harold is hit in the eye by an arrow and dies and the English retreat.
But the depiction is something you have to see to appreciate. The figures may seem a little wooden, but somehow they come to life, full of energy and movement. Everyone looking at it gets immersed in the story.
The dramatic story unfolds
Bayeux Tapestry Museum © Ville de Bayeux
It’s easy to follow using the excellent audio guide which relates the events and the background to them as you walk slowly past the tapestry stretched out in a horseshoe-shaped display.
The characters are easily recognizable: the English have moustaches and long hair the Normans hair is cut typically short the clergy are distinguished by their tonsures and the women (only 3 of them) by their flowing dresses and veiled heads.
There are three panels and the main story takes place in the central one.
Food preparations © Bayeux Museum
The smaller upper and lower panels are just as absorbing. They provide a window into the Middle Ages.
The panels depict everyday scenes from farming to hunting, from people making bows and arrows to others fishing. You see how the ships were constructed and the tools used. You see real animals as well as mythological creatures: manticores (a Greek beast with the head of a man, the body of a lion and the tail of a scorpion), female centaurs, winged horses, dragons and more. Mythical beasts have as much of a presence on land in the tapestry as weird and wonderful sea creatures do on the maps of the time.
It’s an excellent exhibition for children who are fascinated by the simplicity of the scenes and the story. The Bayeux Tapestry has been called the world’s first comic strip watch children working out what’s happening and the comparison becomes very real.
Tapestry or Embroidery?
The Tapestry is not technically a tapestry which is woven, but a band of linen embroidered with ten different colored threads. Produced in the 1070s, the scale is impressive. It’s huge: about 68.3 metres/224 ft long and 70cms/20 inches wide. What’s also extraordinary are the colours which are faded but not badly. After nearly a century that’s quite something.
Where did the Bayeux Tapestry come from?
In the 18th century the tapestry was attributed to Queen Matilda, William’s wife, but it is now believed to have been commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and William’s half brother just after the Battle of Hastings. It was probably embroidered at Canterbury in Kent.
Bayeux Cathedral Public domain via Wikimedia/Paul Holloway
Much of the evidence points to Bistop Odo being the person who commissioned the tapestry. Three of the bishop’s followers mentioned in the Domesday Book make appearances and it was found in Bayeux Cathedral which Odo built in the 1070s. It’s likely he commissioned the tapestry at the same time as the building so that both would be completed at the same time. On July 14, 1077, the cathedral was consecrated in the presence of William the Conqueror and his wife Mathilde. Hanging the tapestry in the new cathedral would cement William’s victory for all to see (and emphasise Bishop Odo’s importance).
Bishop Odo appears in the tapestry, seemingly encouraging the troops from the rear, though he is wielding a club. Church and state and therefore warfare were inextricably mixed, making a few problems for the church.
The dichotomy was best summed up by American historian and writer William Stearns Davis: “Bishop Odo of Bayeux fought at Hastings before any such authorized champions of the church existed…That bishops shall restrain from warfare is really a pious wish not easily in this sinful world to be granted.”
The Bayeux Tapestry is a magnificent piece of propaganda as well as a jewel of Romanesque art you come out incensed with the apparent treachery of Harold. He had taken the throne on the death of the saintly King, Edward the Confessor who died childless. Harold had sworn to hand the throne over to William but…
There’s more to see at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum
On the first floor the exhibition gives more information on the Bayeux Tapestry itself as well as placing it in the Middle Ages with models of ships, scenes from everyday life and the Norman influence in buildings like the Tower of London and Winchester Cathedral.
The film on the second floor shows a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings.
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Admission Adults €9.50 euros, concessions €7.50 students €5. Free for children under 10 years. Free in May on the Night of the Museums 8pm to midnight September Heritage days. 80 euros, under 10s free
PLEASE NOTE: If you’re visiting in 2021 please check the website before you go. The Covid-19 crisis means that opening times might vary.
Tip: Don’t be pushed along by the crowds in the main exhibition this really is a piece of art to linger over. Buy the William the Conqueror Activity Booklet in English for children (aimed at 7 to 12 year olds). It’s 3 euros at the excellent shop, and in other tourist attractions in the area. (It’s a very good short introduction for adults as well!) It gets crowded during the peak summer season, so get there as early as you can.
Latest Bayeux Tapestry Innovation
In a remarkable move, the Bayeux Tapestry has gone online in a big way. The Tapestry has been digitalized and it’s freely available on the website. Now you can see each stitch and the weave click on the ‘Text’ button to one side of the site and you get transcriptions and translations in English and French of the Latin inscriptions.
In 2017 it was decided to make a three-year study of the Tapestry to see what might be needed to ensure its continuation. It’s going to be a complex project, starting with removing the current backing. The next step is to remove the 18th century liner and a band fixed on the lower part in the 19th century.
It is scheduled to take place from 2024 as the Museum will then close for a massive refurbishment.
So try to get to see this beautiful and significant witness to our history when the museum opens again, hopefully soon as the Covid-19 crisis lessens.
Bayeux Tapestry, fake news at its finest?
The Bayeux Tapestry is a standard ‘go to’ source for teachers, authors and the general public. It covers the norman invasion, battle of hastings and the early stages of the conquest of England. Dividing the events of 1066 into those either side of the death of Edward the Confessor, it paints, well, embroiders, a series of images that are quite simply taken as fact. As a hugely significant source on English history, the tapestry is taken at face value. It is rarely challenged, why should it be questioned when there’s documents to pore over? Well, in simple terms because it is wrong on some of the basics.
Ask people how Harold Godwinson was killed during the Battle of Hastings and the most likely response is that he was killed by an arrow in his eye. It shows it the Bayeux Tapestry so it must have happened. Those with more knowledge may query this and suggest that the tapestry isn’t conclusive as it isn’t 100% clear which figure is Harold. Some may also know that contemporary accounts differ on the way that the latter stages of the battle were played out. A select band may note that the writers are using passed on information, are generally bias and that as Harold’s remains aren’t around to check, we will never know for certain.
It’s great fun looking at the varying accounts of the battle. Pupils like comparing the accounts. They can easily identify a bias towards William, or Harold. They feel like they are making progress, learning how to think like a historian. And, they are reassured by the fact that the basics are quite easy to grasp. The basics? Well Harold got killed, by an arrow in his eye…
Says who? Who actually said that Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle doesn’t say this. Nor does Ordelic Vitalic, William of Malmesbury or William of Poitiers. Here’s a snapshot of what they did say:
And William came upon him by surprise before his people were marshalled. Nevertheless the king fought very hard against him with those men who wanted to support him, and there was a great slaughter on either side. There were killed King Harold, and Earl Leofwine his brother, and Earl Gyrth his brother, and many good men. And the French had possession of the place of slaughter, just as God granted them because of the people’s sins Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Worcester MS
And meanwhile Earl William [came] up at Hastings on the Feast of St Michael [September 28] and Harold came from the north, and fought with him before all his raiding-army had come and there he fell, and his two brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine. And William conquered this land, and came to Westminster, and Archbishop Aldred consecrated him as king. And men paid him tribute, and gave hostages, and afterwards bought their landsAnglo-Saxon Chronicle Peterborough MS
As before, several thousand [English] were bold enough to rush forward, as if on wings, to pursue those who they took to be fleeing, when the Normans suddenly turned their horse’s heads, stopped them in their tracks, crushed them completely and massacred them down to the last man. William of Poitiers
No mention of arrows here, or in many other accounts. These are a mix of accounts written in the immediate aftermath and by those like Vitalis who drew upon a range of sources a generation later to write a history of the events. This just leaves one major source that says, or shows, that Harold was hit in the eye by an arrow. And it is a believable source. The tapestry was made for the normans and it’s contents dictated by those who were victorious. They had won, Harold was killed, that happens in battle, any reason to make things up? Possibly plenty of reasons but that doesn’t matter so much here.
Norman Conquest Teaching Resources
The assumption is that the source is reliable. A study of the provenance of the tapestry shows it was made by contemporaries and is now housed in Bayeux for anyone to visit and interpret. This however ignores the history of the tapestry. Where has the tapestry been kept, displayed and maintained over the course of the years? The answer to this presents some evidence that the tapestry is not credible as a source on the death of Harold.
Professor Martin Foys writes in HistoryExtra that the arrow is actually a late addition to the tapestry. Foys demonstrates that the tapestry has been adjusted with stitches added and removed. He notes that the first mention of an arrow in the tapestry is in copies made in the 19th century: the tapestry was restored in the 18th century. Foys states that reproductions prior to this restoration show the character believed to be Harold holding a spear. The embroidery on the tapestry shows that there are removed stitches in this area. The tapestry has been altered, 600 years after the event, to show an arrow.
Why change the tapestry though? Does this debunk the story of the arrow in the eye?
Confusingly, the tinkering with the tapestry does not debunk the story about an arrow in the eye at all. The tapestry may have been altered. However, it was likely altered to reflect a prevailing belief about events that are grounded on evidence. Italian writer, Amato di Montecassino, wrote in 1080 that Harold had his eye gouged by an arrow. A poem dedicated to the Conquerors daughter, written by Baudri of Bourgueil, notes that death was caused by an arrow. Norman chronicler Robert Wace, writing a century after the Battle of Hastings, also refers to an arrow hitting Harold.
The changes to the tapestry pose numerous questions. The evidence that is often overlooked by textbooks, such as the poems and songs dedicated to the battle and it’s participants, is perhaps worthy of consideration in History lessons.
The first of the four, piercing the king’s shield and chest with his lance, drenched the ground with a gushing stream of blood. The second with his sword cut off his head below the protection of his helm. The third liquefied his entrails with his spear. And the fourth cut off his thigh and carried it some distance away Carmen of Hastingae Proelio
William the Conqueror has a Claim the Throne
As for William, his claim to the English throne was based on the fact that he was Edward’s cousin once removed. Edward’s mother, Emma of Normandy, was the sister of Richard II, the Duke of Normandy. Richard, in turn, was William’s grandfather. The Norman claim was further strengthened by the cordial relations between Edward and William. In 1016, Edward’s father, Aethelred, died. His successor, Edmund Ironside (Edward’s brother) died later that year as well. As a result, the Danes returned to power in England, and Edward lived in exile in Normandy until 1041. Edward would have met William during this time, and his long stay in Normandy would have made him sympathetic towards them.
In 1042, William returned to England as king. It is likely that William provided support to Edward when he returned to England and expected to be rewarded for this. As Edward aged and no heir was produced, William began to develop designs on the English throne. The king himself encouraged William’s ambitions. The latter may have visited England during the exile of Godwin, the powerful Earl of Wessex, and Edward’s father-in-law, in 1051, and was promised the throne by the king.
Portrait of William the Conqueror by an unknown artist, circa 1620. ( Public Domain )
Moreover, according to the Normans, Harold Godwinson, the brother-in-law of Edward, was sent by the king to Normandy in 1064/5 to confirm Edward’s recognition of William as his heir. The account goes on to say that during the journey, Harold was captured by one of the duke’s vassals, but was ransomed by William himself. The duke then took Harold with him on his campaign in Brittany, and the Englishman swore an oath in which he renewed Edward’s bequest of the throne to William, and promised to support it. It is unclear if this actually happened, as the English sources do not make any mention of this.
History of the Bayeux Tapestry
Tapestries are typically made from a textile fabric woven with colored threads and were originally used in the 15th century to protect medieval rooms from damp and cold weather or to insulate large rooms.
Tapestries transitioned from simple wall coverings into pieces of art used to depict battle scenes and tell stories of every day life.
Created between 1070 and 1080, the Bayeux Tapestry is considered one of the most important works of art from the Middle Ages. The historical document chronicles the 1066 invasion of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.
Though it is called a tapestry, the Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry, which were woven, but rather an embroidered “pictorial hanging” made of 18″-tall linen that is roughly 230 feet long.
The Bayeux Tapestry contains 173 embroidered scenes that depict the end of the English King Edward the Confessor’s life, aspects of his successor Harold Godwinson’s career, William’s plans for invasion, his landing in England and his victorious battle at Hastings.
The tapestry contains:
- 626 characters
- 37 buildings, including Mont Saint-Michel
- 190 horses
- 35 dogs
- 41 boats
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts numerous historical events, including the death of King Edward the Confessor, Harold swearing loyalty to William on holy relics, the amassing of William’s invasion fleet and the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
While it is unclear who commissioned the tapestry, it is often suggested it was William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Odo, as the tapestry puts the Saxons in a favorable light.
After its commissioning between 1070 and 1080, the Tapestry is not mentioned again until 1476 when it is mentioned in the Bayeux Cathedral inventory.
In 1794, the Arts Council for the district of Bayeux took the tapestry to protect it as a national treasure.
In 1804, Napoleon takes the tapestry to be displayed in Paris as part of his plans to invade England. When his plans fall apart, he returns the tapestry.
Threatened by the Franco-Prussian military conflict, the tapestry is hidden away for safe keeping in 1870.
When the church and state officially separate in France in 1913, the tapestry is installed in the Hotel du Doyen in Bayeux, the former palace of the local bishop.
In 1939, the tapestry was examined by German art historians as part of their push by Nazis to use it as propaganda for their “Nordic race” vision.
The tapestry is removed in 1944 for shipment to Germany, but at the last minute the liberation of Paris stops the shipment.
Since 1983, the Bayeux Tapestry has been on display in the former seminary, now the Bayeux Museum.
One of only four to-scale replicas of the Bayeux Tapestry will be on display at UW Oshkosh Friday, March 25 through Friday, April 1. View exhibit hours and lecture series times.
The Bayeux Tapestry (c.1075)
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The 11th century Bayeux Tapestry - possibly the best known textile work in the history of art - is a medieval embroidery which portrays events concerning the Norman Conquest of England. Like most other embroidered hangings of the Middle Ages, it is traditionally called a tapestry although it is not actually a piece of tapestry art - that is, in which the design and colour scheme is woven into the cloth. It is an embroidery, in which the pattern is sewn with wool yarn onto an existing piece of cloth. An important work of Medieval art, the Bayeux Tapestry is a rich source of historical information. It has been in Bayeux since at least 1476, and its creation may have been timed to coincide with the consecration of the city's cathedral in 1077. It is currently on public display at the Musee de la Tapisserie de la Reine-Mathilde in the former Bishop's Palace in Bayeux.
The Bayeux Tapestry consists of a linen band, now brown with age, roughly 231 feet in length and 19.5 inches in width. It is embroidered in coloured woollen yarns with more than 70 scenes from the Norman Conquest, involving the two protagonists: Harold, King of England and William, Duke of Normandy. It starts with King Harold's visit to France and ends with the flight of the English soldiers from the Hastings battlefield. There are decorative borders along the top and bottom, while a running commentary in Latin is stitched into the pictorial storyboard. Unfortunately, the final section of the tapestry - roughly 5 feet in length - has been missing for centuries. And according to experts, the final words of the tapestry's inscription ("Et fuga verterunt Angli") were added as late as 1814. However none of this detracts from the beauty of this work, a magnificent exemplar of Romanesque crafts from the 11th century,
Design and Construction of the Bayeux Tapestry
The work is embroidered in wool yarn on a woven linen ground, using two methods of stitching: outline/stem stitch for the lettering and the outlines of figures, and couching/laid work for the rest. The main colours of the yarns are terracotta, blue-green, gold, olive green, and blue. Other hues include dark blue, black and sage green. Later repairs and re-stitching were done in light yellow, orange, and light greens. The complete work is made up of 9 linen sections, each of which were completed before being stitched together. The basic design consisted of a broad middle zone with narrow decorative borders top and bottom. Most of the action takes place inside the middle zone, pictorialized in a series of scenes before and after the Norman invasion of England, during the period 1064-1066. The main characters are King Edward the Confessor, King of England his brother-in-law and successor to the English throne, Harold Godwinson William, Duke of Normandy and son of Robert the Magnificent. Latin inscriptions - stitched in dark blue and providing names of people and places and other comments - also appear in the central zone and, less often, in the top border. The borders are purely decorative, with images of animals, rural life and hunting. The top border also features the first known picture of Halley's Comet. Following its "discovery" in the mid-1720s, a backing cloth was sewn onto the linen, to which reference numbers were added in ink, about 1800.
Origins of the Bayeux Tapestry
Until the Renaissance, most Northern European embroidery could be fairly categorized as religious art and confined itself to Biblical themes. The Bayeux Tapestry was a major exception to this trend. According to the latest research, the Tapestry was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, Normandy, in whose cathedral the Tapestry was discovered. If so, it was almost certainly designed and embroidered in England during the 1070s (by a mixture of medieval artists, including Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Breton seamsters, possibly in the embroidery workshops of Canterbury or Winchester), since by then Odo had been created Earl of Kent and had established himself in the county. Also, Anglo-Saxon weaving and needlework (known as Opus Anglicanum [English Work]) was highly regarded throughout the Continent, and these seamsters traditionally employed the same vegetable dyes and colour pigments as those found in the Tapestry. Lastly, the Latin inscriptions on the tapestry have an Anglo-Saxon influence. According to traditional French sources, however, the Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned by William the Conqueror's wife, Queen Matilda. In fact, in France the work is still referred toas "La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde", as is the museum in which it hangs.
Other important Anglo-Saxon embroideries include the celebrated Stole of St Cuthbert (c.900-1000, Durham Cathedral), which was made with gold thread, and is still the oldest surviving English embroidery.
History of the Bayeux Tapestry
The existence of the Tapestry was first mentioned in 1476 when it appeared in an inventory of Bayeux Cathedral. It was next referred to in 1724, in a report sent by Antoine Lancelot to the Academie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres which mentioned a drawing he had received, based on an earlier work depicting William the Conqueror. The writer was unsure whether the earlier work was a painting, a sculpture or even a tapestry. Not long afterwards, the French Benedictine scholar Bernard de Montfaucon found the tapestry preserved at Bayeux Cathedral - where it was being displayed in public once a year to coincide with the Feast of St. John the Baptist - and published drawings together with an extensive description of the work.
During the French Revolution, the Tapestry narrowly avoided destruction and in 1803, after coming into the possession of the official commission of fine art, was moved to Paris to be displayed at the Musee Napoleon. Within a few years, however, it was returned to Bayeux. In 1842, following concerns about its preservation, it was displayed in a special-purpose room in the city's public library. In the summer of 1944 it only just survived being transferred to Berlin. After the liberation of Paris, the Tapestry was briefly displayed in the Louvre before being returned to Bayeux the following year.
Several replicas of the Bayeux Tapestry have been created, including: (1) a full-size copy, now exhibited in the Museum of Reading, Berkshire, which was created in 1885-6 by artist William Morris in collaboration with textile manufacturer Thomas Wardle, his seamstress wife Elizabeth, and thirty other embroiderers (2) a full-size replica completed in 1996 by Professor Ray Dugan of the University of Waterloo, which has since been exhibited in various art museums in Canada and the United States. (3) a hand-painted full-size version of the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by Dr. E.D. Wheeler, former dean at Oglethorpe University, which resides at the University of West Georgia, to whom it was donated in 1997. (4) A half-size mosaic of the Bayeux Tapestry, created by Michael Linton (1979-99) is on public display in Geraldine, New Zealand. It also features a hypothetical reconstruction of the missing final scenes of the Tapestry, concerning the lead-up to the coronation of William the Conqueror in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.
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