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The Bayeux Tapestry

Updated on October 22, 2011

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.

Bayeux, Normandy, France

A markerBayeux, Normandy, France -
14400 Bayeux, France
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Reading, Berkshire, England

A markerReading, Berkshire, England -
Reading, Berkshire, UK
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    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, alancaster. It may very well have been commissioned by Bishop Odo. I don't think anyone knows for sure.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Liked this piece. There is another bit of history behind the tapestry - or embroidery - in that it was commissioned by William's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and work on it was also carried out at Rochester and Winchester by English noblewomen (some being widows of thegns etc killed at Hastings). Accuracy in the portrayal of English life may be due to this.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Phil. I know--longer than 2 football fields put together, about 2 feet high, and every stitch by hand. Gotta hand it to them.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 6 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      I can only imagine how long these tapestries would have taken to make, especially at that time where the methods to do them were likely very simple and slow. Great hub earning you a vote-up and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Eiddwen.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting indeed and I now look forward to reading many more by you.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Gypsy Rose Lee, and I love history, too.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Very interesting and informative. I love history.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for your comments. I stumbled across a reference to this Bayeux Tapestry when reading a story by Maragaret Frazer, a great writer of fiction set in the medieval period. I had to look into it (curiosity being my besetting sin) and once I did, I had to share it. I was just so amazed at the time, the hand labor--the YEARS of work that went into this. The artistry and workmanship impress me so much and are so precious in a day and age of machine-produced everything. I'm so glad it's been preserved throughout the centuries. It is a treasure, indeed.

    • allieb profile image

      allieb 6 years ago from Texas

      This was of great interest to me, as I am a big fiber arts fan and love the history behind fiber as well. It is amazing how long this tapestry is and the great history woven and embroidered into it. Thank you very much for sharing this with us!

    • txvjk profile image

      txvjk 6 years ago from Texas

      History is very interesting to me and this hub has useful info. I learned from it. Thanks for sharing.

    • saddlerider1 profile image

      saddlerider1 6 years ago

      I love history and when visiting England and France many years ago, there were not to many art galleries and museums that I did not enter. The Norman Conquest was most certainly a pivotal moment in English history.

      I am so happy it's so well preserved and the colors are amazing. Thank you for this wonderful share, I enjoyed reading it very much.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image

      PETER LUMETTA 6 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Fascinating story, and I learned something new. These are the types of HUB that really make it interesting. Thanks Paradise,

      Peter

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      The Bayeux Tapestry seems to be an early French version of a modern quilting party. It's incredible that it has survived for so long. Thanks, Paradise, for the introduction. Voted up .... of course.

    • Paradise7 profile image
      Author

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much for your comments, Epi and RJ. Your support is appreciated.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 6 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      This is pretty incredible! I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and Useful.” I'm now your fan! RJ

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...this is the reason why I find you one of the essential hubbers here - you always teach me and inspire me with new subjects and topics and quite frankly along with HELLO HELLO and DRBJ - all three of you should be inducted into every virtual classroom in this cyber universe. I need to post this hub to my Facebook page with a direct link back here ....

      lake erie time 12:09pm

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