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THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY app 1077

Introduction

Part Twelve

The Bayeux Tapestry is a remarkable survivor of an age when little survives to describe the events of the time. It was made approximately ten years after the invasion and was hung at the consecration of Bayeux cathedral in 1077. The Council of Arras had recommended in 1025 that the illiterate masses could be better educated by hanging suitable pictures in churches. It is therefore likely that this was part of the motivation for such a large undertaking. Its importance cannot be over stated since unlike any other document that has survived from this time there is some degree of certainty that William saw it at Bayeux. What I therefore propose is that its accuracy in all respects is unchallengeable and the difficulty faced with its interpretation is solely due to applying the scenes to the wrong location.

The tapestry itself is slightly over 70 meters long by about half a meter wide. To be correct it is not technically a tapestry at all but an embroidery. It is unknown who commissioned it, or who did the actual work, but the current belief is that Bishop Odo, who at many points appears as the central figure, may have been responsible.(66) In France the tapestry is known as Matilda's tapestry. Matilda was William's wife. William was one of the few monarchs who at that time remained faithful to his wife throughout his complete reign, enjoying a large family. A number of stories indicate a strong bond between William and Matilda that was uncommon for a monarch in a period when women played a minor role in affairs of state. It was Matilda who is said to have commissioned William's ship, said to be called the Mora, for the Invasion as well as the tapestry. It is therefore possible that although there appears to be no written evidence of Matilda's involvement her influence was such that the tapestry has acquired her name.

Recent analysis of the embroidery style and the use of spelling in the Saxon manner, as well as spelling mistakes in the Latin, suggest that contrary to past belief it was probably made at Canterbury in Kent, England.(67) Canterbury was at that time one of Europe's leading embroidery schools and by way of circumstantial evidence Bishop Odo became Earl of Kent after the Conquest. The size and speed with which it was designed and completed indicates a considerable production process that could only have been completed at one of the major schools of embroidery.

The most remarkable element of the tapestry is its authentic traceable pedigree and the faithful cartoon like description of events. There are many mysterious elements that historians have found impossible to equate. I believe that it is far more faithful to the events of the time than has previously been given credit. In particular I believe that the tapestry is not only faithful to the types and style of dress and armour but is also faithful in building and land descriptions. Dr Marjorie Chibnall, in her critique confirms that this view is supported by at least three other eminent historians, including Arnold Taylor's paper (Vol XIV) on "Belrem", Derek Renn's (XVI) on "Burgheat and gonfanon" and Nicholas Brooke's general survey in the first volume. This is contrary to current thinking and shall demonstrate the accuracy of the text in relation to the landing site in order to justify this position.

It can be reasonably argued that if the designer was so absolutely exact in relation to clothing and events, why should he then seek to ignore accuracy regarding the important matters of detail on the major factors, such as the buildings and the geographical nature of the terrain. Whilst it is noted that maps up to at least the 16th century were notoriously inaccurate the Bayeux Tapestry relates a story and in this respect portrays events in locations. The very cartoon nature of the pictures requires details of location to provide the setting for the story. Those locations where only known to those who attended and in consequence, if I am correct, provide a number of clues to the location of the landing and the camp that can only be correctly interpreted by application to the actual landing site. It might also be argued that anyone living at the time might have a knowledge of dress, armour and ships of the time - but not of the geography local to the Battle. It is this reason why the Bayeux Tapestry provides invaluable clues that cannot be ignored. Only someone who had been to the site would have included the correct details, which can only apply to the landing site, thus proving the designer had first hand knowledge of the events portrayed.

Name plate outside the Centre Guillaume le Conquerant Bayeux


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