The Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeaux Tapestry, which depicts medieval life in England and the Norman Conquest, is not a tapestry at all--it's an over 224-foot long embroidered cloth. A tapestry has the design woven into the cloth. This extremely long cloth is of linen embroidered with wool yarn.
The Bayeux, or Bayeaux Tapestry, has the all events of the Norman Conquest of England and the events leading up to William the Conqueror's triumphant invasion of Normandy depicted on it. It's origins are mysterious; however, most experts agree that the Bayeux, or Bayeaux, Tapestry, was woven in the later years of the 11th century and was probably completed by 1077. It is housed in a museum dedicated to it in Bayeux, Normandy, France. The writing on it is in Latin; French legend has it that the cloth was commissioned and partly executed by Queen Matilda, William the conqueror's wife, along with her train of ladies-in-waiting.
The tapestry is beautiful; the colors are still rich today; all the colors of the medieval period--russet, and gold and green, vermilion and sky-blue, accented with black and sage. The linen cloth was made and assembled in panels; more than one person has worked on it. Later repairs are in lighter colors.
The Bayeux or Bayeaux "tapestry" tells the complete story of the Norman Conquest, in words and pictures. The story begins with King Edward the Confessor, who has no legitimate heir. He names William, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy as his successor. King Edward sends Harold Godwinson, the most powerful earl in England, to France (Normandy) to tell William of his wishes for the succession. William rescues Harold, who was captured by Guy, Count of Ponthieu (in France--relations between the French and English made Harold fair game for ransom); knights him, gives Harold armour, and demands an oath of loyalty and to honor King Edward's wish for William to succeed him. To make a long story short: Harold is a traitor. He has himself crowned on King Edward's death. William remedies that with the Norman conquest, the successful invasion of England from Normandy, and captures the English crown for himself.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a vivid picture of life in medieval England. It shows the clothes people wore; the lack of heraldic coats of arms on the shields of the knights; it shows how the women dressed. The Bayeux Tapestry, it must be remembered, is the story of the Norman conquest as told by the Conquerors. The last Anglo-Saxon king, King Harold II, might have a different point of view had he won and then commissioned a tapestry!
There are several interesting and vivid points of interest on this "tapestry". One of them is the appearance of Halley's comet. A star streaming with hair is the representation; Halley's comet appeared in April of 1066, four months after King Harold the Second's coronation on January 6, 1066, and six months before his death, at the battle of Hastings, on October 14, 1066. It was a bad omen for Harold and the Anglo-Saxon way of life in England.
The Norman conquest was a pivotal moment in England's history. England became more continental in outlook; the home-grown Anglo-Saxon aristocrats were replaced with French aristocrats. The priesthood was French Catholic. The Scandinavian influence lessened until it barely existed in England. The Bayeux tapestry is an important commemoration of this pivotal moment in England's history; so important that the Bayeux tapestry is duplicated and the replica is housed in the Museum of Reading, in Reading, Berkshire, England.
There are some mysteries associated with the Bayeux tapestry:
- There is a depiction of a cleric, striking a woman's face. Who is the cleric? Who is the woman?
- Immediately below that, on the lower margin, there are two naked men, one exposing his genitalia. Who are the naked men? Why are they in such a position of humiliation? Is this related to the cleric striking the unknown woman? (The English replica decently covers the exposed genitalia with a loincloth.)
- At least two panels of the Bayeux "tapestry" are missing: a most important piece: the coronation of William the Conqueror is entirely absent from the Bayeux Tapestry. The "tapestry", which measures 1.6 feet by 224.3 feet, should have been 21 feet longer! (In metrics: .5 meters by 68.4 meters, and should have been about 75 meters long.)
The Bayeux tapestry is a unique survival of living medieval history, and well worth a visit should you ever be in Normandy, France or Reading, England.