Part Eighteen

William's ship

The text states "(Here Duke William crosses in a big) ship over the sea and came to Pevensey" showing a ship of similar construction with the Viking style prow with characteristic low draught. However the scale has changed here because the top of the prow is above the head line of the crew. This shows a ship that is both larger than the previous ones and this time the mast is secured by six lines. There are ten men on board with at least two standing up. At the head of the mast is the lantern, referred to in Poitiers description of the mid channel stopover, where they waited for the fleet to catch up.

At the rear of William's ship is the figure of a boy pointing with a banner and blowing a horn. Wace stated that the figure was of a child in brass, bearing an arrow with a bended bow, whilst Taylor's anonymous manuscript claims that the child pointed towards England and held an ivory horn to its mouth.

Along the edge of the ship 8 shields are placed in the front half and 5 in the rear. The same shield formation is shown on the other ship in the same sequence, to the right of William's ship. In this and the other invasion sections horses are shown inside the ships with their heads below the level of the men transporting them, confirming that they must have been tethered and tied down.

On the basis that these matters, as portrayed, were accurate within the bounds of the ability of the designer of the Tapestry to portray them, the conclusion would be an estimate of the number of men involved based upon the ratio of men and horses to ships. The Tapestry shows 7 ships of the smaller 4/5 man type and 5 ships of the 13 shield type. Using the same ratio of ships and men to 696 ships (Wace's estimate) the total invasion task force would have consisted of 290 large and 406 small ships. On the assumption that the 13 shield large ships hold 13 men the estimate works out as follows:

                   MEN           HORSES          MEN           HORSES     
  SHIP SIZE                                                               

  TAPESTRY       TAPESTRY       TAPESTRY       WITH 696       WITH 696    
                                                ships          ships      

    LARGE           8              10            464            580       

    LARGE           8              8             464            464       

    LARGE           5              4             290            232       

    LARGE           10             -             580             -        

    LARGE           10             -             580             -        

    SMALL           2              3             116            174       

    SMALL           4              -             232             -        

    SMALL           5              -             290             -        

    SMALL           5              -             290             -        

    SMALL           2              4             116            232       

    SMALL           4              2             232            116       

    SMALL           4              2             232            116       

    TOTAL           67             33            3886           1914      

giving a total of approximately 3,886 men with 1914 horses for knights. Alternatively if the Tapestry is portraying these scenes on the basis of shields representing one man per shield and a similar number of shields are held along the unseen side of the ship the number of men increases by a further 1,160 men . This brings the total to 5,046 men with 1914 horses, assuming all other supplies were loaded in the vessels. This compares favourably with other authoritative estimates.(69)

These numbers are further endorsed by the actual logistics of conducting a landing of this size in one day. Sir James Ramsay confirms in his book The Foundations of England (70) that in 1415 it took three days for Henry to land 8 - 10,000 men at Harfleur. It would therefore be reasonable to expect William's fleet to be smaller than this.

The ships themselves appear to be Viking in style and designed with detachable heads that fitted at the prow and stern. The Icelandic Law (71) prescribed that people approaching new lands from the sea should not have ships with heads on them. If they had heads fitted they should be removed before landfall, in order not to frighten the land spirits.

The practice of removing the heads prior to landfall can be seen to be enacted within the Tapestry. It shows all the ships with removable heads and at the point of landfall the heads have been duly removed (see Plate 10 on the following page).

Lastly on Plate 9 we see the words "AD PEVENESAE" which has been used to justify Pevensey as the landing point of the Invasion. However I do not believe that these words alone, or taken with the Poitiers text, offer any conclusive support to those who support Pevensey as the site of the landing. It is vital to view the actual tapestry in context rather than on a plate by plate basis analysis. The text when taken in conjunction with the scene before and after breaks at this point, before starting the landing sequence, indicating that the intention of the author was to portray the fleet making its way to Pevensey. The fleet is still in full sail when William's ship is shown graphically represented mid Channel, when seen in the context of the 70 meters of cloth. Taking the words "Ad Pevensae" in isolation of the continuous story taking place around them is misleading in the context of the Tapestry. When seen as a whole the author's intention clearly shows that Pevensey was marked as the destination, not the landing site.

It must be remembered that the English coast was a formidable unmarked foreign land, to those who occupied the small vessels involved. Pevensey Castle was the only landmark of any significance in the area, yet no attempt is made to represent Pevensey castle in the story of the landing.

It is my belief that the inclusion of the word Pevensey in this and other texts indicates the common belief that Pevensey was the area of the intended site of the Invasion. William probably chose Hastings because intelligence showed it to be unmanned whilst the herring fleet was engaged in the annual catch at Yarmouth and suitable for their purpose. Given the known flow of information across the Channel it is unlikely that all but William's inner circle would know the true destination until they arrived. Hence the Tapestry states in my view what every man knew at the time - namely that the destination was the area known as Pevensey but the landing was at Hastings.

Today we tend to forget that printed maps did not exist in this period of history. Indeed the only two fortifications of any merit on the South Coast were Dover and Pevensey - both with formidable castle defences. A consequence of this being that the Invasion area could only be known by the nearest castle. In this case Pevensey. However as we shall see it would be impossible for the army to land at Pevensey Castle or town and return along the coast in the time scale involved. The conclusion is therefore drawn that Pevensey in the context of the Bayeux Tapestry was "the area of Pevensey". Once this simple observation is undertaken all the historical manuscripts become correct with no ambiguity.