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Thread: Bayeux: Whose Tapestry Is It Anyway?

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    Bayeux: Whose Tapestry Is It Anyway?

    Whose tapestry is it anyway?

    (Andrew Bridgeford)

    The Bayeux Tapestry is at once one of the most extraordinary historical records and captivating works of art of the Middle Ages. But have we all been misreading it for centuries? I believe it contains hitherto unsuspected layers of meaning and can shed new light on the last days of Anglo-Saxon England. The Tapestry is in truth a dangerous, many-layered masterpiece, and, far from telling the story 'strictly from the Norman point of view', it subtly undermines Norman propaganda at almost every turn.

    In over 70 metres of embroidery the Bayeux Tapestry recounts the downfall of King Harold II and the victory of Duke William of Normandy. It begins a year or two before 1066, with a mysterious journey to the Continent undertaken by Earl Harold of Wessex (as he then was). Shortly after the Conquest, Duke William's biographer, William of Poitiers, set out the Norman interpretation of this journey. The Norman explanation was as straightforward as it was self-serving and it provided an excuse for all that followed. The gist is that King Edward of England, being old and childless, sent his foremost subject, Earl Harold, across the sea to Normandy with orders to confirm to Duke William that he had been chosen by Edward to be his heir: he and Edward were distant cousins and Edward had spent much of the first half of his life in exile in Normandy. Superficially, it is possible, and indeed usual, to interpret the Tapestry as telling this Norman story. We see Harold in conference with Edward, we see him leave from the coast of Sussex and we see him swear an oath on holy relics in favour of the Norman duke. The
    Tapestry's inscription does not contradict this story; but neither does it explicitly support it.

    A different version of events is revealed by subtle clues embroidered into the pictures. The Norman story has dominated subsequent historiography because there is no strictly contemporary English account to contrast with it. Some fifty years later, however, an English monk in Canterbury, Eadmer, recorded his own brief history of these same events. According to Eadmer, King Edward was not (at this stage in his life, at least) a supporter of Duke William. Harold himself wished to go to Normandy, to negotiate the release of a brother and nephew who had been held as hostages there since the early 1050s, but King Edward strongly advised Harold not to go. Harold's mission turned out to be sorely misjudged. He found that he could only extract himself from William's clutches by swearing all oath of support in favour of the Norman claim, and on his return to England be was admonished by Edward. It is hard to imagine an account of Harold's mission that is more at odds with the Norman story.

    Building on the arguments of two US scholars, Richard Wissolik and David Bernstein, I would argue that the Tapestry is designed to please a Norman audience at a superficial level, while at the deeper level, it tells the same story as that put in writing by Eadmer of Canterbury: there are subtle pictorial clues throughout the work that consistently undermine the Norman version of events.

    Of obscure origin, the Tapestry is first recorded at Bayeux in 1476, although it had possibly been there since shortly after it was made in the eleventh century. It was not until the 1730s that it came to the attention of a wider public. At this time it appears to have been common to ascribe the work to William's wife, Queen Matilda. She and her ladies-in-waiting, it was assumed, must have embroidered this apparently naive work in order to celebrate William's recent achievement in conquering the English. Historians of medieval art, however, have concluded that the Tapestry is, in fact, of English origin. The master artist seems to have been familiar with Canterbury manuscripts and artwork, especially those at St Augustine's Abbey, and it may well have been here that the Tapestry was made. Such a connection is consistent with the idea that, in depicting Harold's journey to the Continent, the artist used the same source material as was later to be used by Eadmer, a monk at the neighbouring Canterbury house of Christ Church.

    That the Bayeux Tapestry speaks with a hidden English viewpoint, covertly set down in embroidery in the immediate aftermath of the Conquest, is extraordinary enough. Even more extraordinary, and hitherto unnoticed, is its favouring of the non-Norman French army at Hastings over the Normans themselves, giving them the true credit for the victory. Commentators have often ignored the fact that Duke William's army at Hastings included a significant number of Frenchmen who were not Normans. Subtle clues show that many of those charging knights in the embroidery, so often described as 'Normans', are not meant to stand for Normans at all. My belief is that they are northern French allies of William, men only loosely allied to him. The designer seems to make the men of Boulogne lead the charge at the start of the battle and it is they who turn the tide at its most decisive juncture.

    In the 1070s, when the Tapestry was most probably made, the Normans and their non-Norman allies were in lively dispute as to who had played the greater role in the outcome. The earliest account of the battle, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Bishop Guy of Amiens, comes from northern France and it makes the Normans practically invisible. Norman sources, on the other hand, give the Norman army the whole credit for victory. In this respect, the Bayeux Tapestry is more akin to the tenor of the Carmen than to any Norman source.

    The most important of William's non-Norman allies at Hastings was Eustace II of Boulogne. His interests had largely been inimical to those of Normandy before 1066 and in the autumn of 1067 he abandoned his recent alliance with Duke William and allied himself with English rebels in an abortive attack on the Norman garrison at Dover. Stone historians have argued that he may even have claimed the English throne for himself and that his attack on Dover was meant to initiate an attempt to oust the Normans from England and replace them with the House of Boulogne. Count Eustace appears as a hero in the Bayeux Tapestry; in the battle scenes he is given even greater prominence
    than Duke William himself.

    It is usual to ascribe the patronage of the Bayeux Tapestry to Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William's half-brother, as it flatters Odd and names and depicts two (possibly three) minor knights associated with him. Odd and Eustace are the only companions of the Conqueror to be named by the Tapestry during the actual battle scenes, on either side of the Duke. Wily those two in particular?

    Crucially, the castle at Dover was Odo's in 1067, and Eustace's attack was beaten off by Odo's knights. Eustace and Odd were clearly at odds shortly after Hastings. The question of the Tapestry's patronage is evidently not simple. The designer of the work was a supporter of Boulogne, not Normandy; he may even have been a northern Frenchman long resident at Canterbury. One possibility is that the Tapestry was commissioned by Eustace from a Canterbury workshop as part of his reconciliation with the Normans in the 1070s. It was, perhaps, a peace offering to Odo, connected with an attempt to gain the release of a kinsman who had been captured by Odo's men at Dover.

    The scene that depicts Harold's death has become the subject of much debate in recent years: is Harold depicted with an arrow in the eye? The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio makes no mention of this but it tells us that Eustace was one of four men who together hacked Harold to death. My suggestion is that the image of a so-called 'Norman knight' seen despatching Harold with a blow of his sword, immediately after the famous arrow-in-the-eye scene, is a coded portrait of Count Eustace of Boulogne himself.

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    The Bayeux Tapestry

    The following is a nice article explaining the 'who, what, where and why' of the Bayeux Tapestry, which is a textile-chronicle of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, by William the Conqueror.

    After this article I will include images of each scene in the 'tapestry'. [Please note that the photos I am including are really too large for the page, and will probably mess with the format, but I will add them anyway in a post below this one.]

    (ps: this article, while an informative and nice glimpse into the dealings of the time that this 'tapestry' was created, I would also suggest reading Wikipedia's article on the subject, as it includes a lot more historical data and information... )

    ________________________________________ _____

    The Bayeux Tapestry

    One of the great historical records of the Middle Ages in Britain lies, not in a library, and not even in Britain, but in a specially-built tourist centre in Bayeux, France. The Centre Guillaume le Conquerant (for the linguistically challenged that translates as "The William the Conqueror Centre") houses the Bayeux Tapestry, one of best sources of information on early Norman dress, armour, castle-building, boat-building, hunting, and other facets of daily life.

    The Bayeux Tapestry, despite its name, is not actually a tapestry at all! It is embroidery, using coloured wool, on 8 long strips of bleached linen which have been stitched together to form a continuous panel about 20 inches high and 230 feet long. We don't know the exact length of the original tapestry, because the final strip is tattered, although its present length fits pretty closely around the nave of Bayeux Cathedral, suggesting that it was custom-built for that church.

    Who made it?

    The Bayeux Tapestry tells the tale of William the Conqueror's invasion of England through pictorial panels. We do not know for certain who commissioned the tapestry, though the likeliest candidate is William's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux from 1050-1097, or one of Odo's followers.

    Although the story is told from a Norman point of view, the style of the needlework indicates that the tapestry was actually made in England. For many years a peasant tale told of William's wife, Queen Matilda, and her ladies making the tapestry as a gift for her victorious husband, though this now seems little more than pleasant romantic fiction.

    The Story.

    So what does the tapestry show? It begins with Edward the Confessor sitting in regal splendour with Earl Harold Godwinson. Harold then sets sail for Normandy, where he lands, perhaps by accident, in the domains of Count Guy of Ponthieu.

    Count Guy takes Harold to Duke William and the Duke brings Harold with him on campaign against the Bretons. Harold fights bravely and receives armour from William. At Bayeux Harold makes an oath (of uncertain nature) to William and is freed to return to England.

    In England, Edward dies after some unspecified deathbed words to his advisors, and Harold is crowned king. When William hears the news he prepares an invasion fleet. The fleet lands near Hastings in Sussex, and meets Harold's troops in a fierce battle. After heavy losses Harold is killed and the Saxons flee. The tapestry ends there, though we may surmise that a final panel showing William on the throne may have existed, corresponding to the original panel of Edward.

    Much of the story shows events in Normandy. We can only guess that the tapestry was meant to show Edward sending Harold (the obvious Saxon choice as his successor) to William to cede the crown to the duke.

    Harold is shown as William's vassal (receiving arms from William) and the oath he swore is presumed to be an act of forswearing his right to the crown in William's favour. The deathbed scene may represent Edward telling his advisors that William was his choice as successor.

    Harold's very legitimate claims to the throne are ignored in this heavily slanted Norman account. History, as we are constantly reminded, is written by the victors.

    The tapestry was not executed in continuous sequence. The first two strips were clearly made separately; the margins are spaced differently, and do not match. There are also differences in the way Normans and Saxons are portrayed between panels.

    Harold's Death?

    One of the most famous scenes in the Bayeux Tapestry purports to show the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings. One of the Saxons appears to receive an arrow in or about the right eye.

    For centuries this was interpreted as meaning that Harold died from an arrow in the eye. Many historians now believe that the man depicted is one of Harold's knights, not Harold himself. Contemporary Norman accounts say only that Harold fell in battle, so we do not actually know if the "arrow in the eye" story is true.

    The tapestry was the victim of a well-meaning restoration attempt in the last century, which resulted in modern stitching filling in the gaps in the fabric, with dubious accuracy. For all its faults, both material and in historical "truthfulness", the Bayeux Tapestry remains one of the true treasures of the Norman period in English history.

    SOURCE

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    pics

    Okay, here are the incredible photos of the lovely Bayeux Tapestry:



















































    [img]http://www.hastings1066.com/pics/tap27.jpg[/img

















    SOURCE
    "Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her:
    powerless to separate ourselves from her, and powerless to penetrate beyond her.

    Without asking, or warning, she snatches us up into her circling dance, and whirls us on until we are tired, and drop from her arms." - Goethe

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    That is an extremely interesting article. I had never read anything that described the tapestry like you did. Although more than 90% of my genes are English, we think our progenitor was a Sisson from France, who came to England with William.

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