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The Bayeux Tapestry: A Guide

Introduction

The Bayeux Tapestry is the most famous needlework in the world today. But there is a great deal of controversy over where and by whom it was made and about the historical events it depicts. This site presents the evidence and discusses the alternative theories so that you can make up your own mind what you think really happened.

The tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is 230 feet (69m) longs and 20inches (0.5m) high. It is likely that it was originally about 10 feet (3m) longer as the final scenes have been lost. It is made of linen fabric and embroidered in eight colours of wool yarn (See Description of the Bayeux Tapestry). It depicts not only the battle of Hastings but a series of events in the two years leading up to the battle which formed the basis for William the Conqueror's claim to the English crown. It is generally assumed to have been made within a decade of the Norman conquest but there are several competing theories about who it was made for and where it was made (See Who made the Bayeux Tapestry?).

Background to the events depicted on the tapestry

The background to the events of 1064-66 depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry can be traced back to 1016 when Cnut (or Canute), King of Denmark, seized the kingdom of England. from Æthelred The Unready and his son Edmund Ironside. Cnut was ruthless in his efforts to secure the crown and murdered very member of Æthelred's family he could get his hands on together with many of the English nobility. However, two of Æthelred's sons, Edward and Alfred, took refuge in Normandy with their uncle Duke Richard II. Cnut installed men loyal to himself in the vacated earldoms including Godwine, Earl of Wessex. He also married Emma, the widow of Æthelred and sister of Duke Richard, to forestall Norman interference.

On Cnut's death in 1035 two of his sons were rivals for the crown. In England he was eventually succeded by Harold Harefoot, while Harthacnut took the crown of Denmark. In 1036 Edward and his brother Alfred returned from Normandy and attempted, unsuccessfully, to depose Harold. While Edward escaped back to Normandy, Alfred was captured by Godwin, who handed him over to Harold Harefoot. Alfred was blinded and eventually died. Edward never forgave Godwin for the brutal killing of his younger brother.

Harold Harefoot died in 1040 and was briefly succeded by Harthacnut and on Harthacnut death, Edward took the throne. Although he married Godwin's daughter Edith in 1045, he later attempted to counter the power of Godwin and his sons by building an alliance of other powerful nobles. After 27 years in Normandy he unsurprisingly also promoted a number of French and Norman nobles who he knew and trusted, to the disgust of both the English and Danish factions. The power struggle came to a head in 1051. King Edward's brother in law, the French Count Eustace of Boulogne, was returning to France when some 20 of his men were killed in an affray at Dover. King Edward ordered Godwin to sack the town as summary justice but Godwin refused. Civil war threatened, but Godwin was eventually forced to back down when the Earls of Mercia and Northumberland backed the king. Godwin was banished along with his sons. However, within a year Godwin returned with a large army and forced King Edward to reinstate him. From this time he was clearly the real power in England, a position Harold took on his father's death the following year.

The events of 1051-2 had important repercussions. William, Duke of Normandy since his father's death in 1035, visited the London and, he claimed, was promised the throne by King Edward should the king die without an heir. It is also likely that it was during this period that two members of Godwin's family, Harold's younger brother Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon, were given to William as hostages.

Scrollable image of Bayeux Tapestry with Latin text and translation

Latin Text
EDUUARD REX
UBI HAROLD DUX ANGLORUM ET SUI MILITES EQUITANT AD BOSHAM ECCLESIA HIC HAROLD MARE NAVIGAVIT ET VELIS VENTO PLENIS VENIT IN TERRA(M) VVIDONIS COMITIS HAROLD HIC APPREHENDIT VVIDO HAROLDU(M) ET DUXIT EUM AD BELREM ET IBI EUM TENUIT UBI HAROLD 7 (ET) VVIDO PARABOLANT UBI NUNTII VVILLELMI DUCIS VENERUNT AD VVIDONE(M)
TUROLD
NUNTII VVILLELMI + HIC VENIT NUNTIUS AD VVILGELMUM DUCEM HIC VVIDO ADDUXIT HAROLDUM AD VVILGELMUM NORMANNORUM DUCEM HIC DUX VVILGELM CUM HAROLDO VENIT AD PALATIU(M) SUU(M) UBI UNUS CLERICUS ET AELFGYVA HIC VVILLEM DUX ET EXERCITUS EIUS VENERUNT AD MONTE(M) MICHAELIS ET HIC TRANSIERUNT FLUMEN COSNONIS ET VENERUNT AD DOL
HIC HAROLD DUX TRAHEBAT EOS DE ARENA

 

ET CONAN FUGA VERTIT
REDNES
HIC MILITES VVILLELMI DUCIS PUGNANT CONTRA DINANTES ET CUNAN CLAVES PORREXIT HIC VVILLELM DEDIT HAROLDO ARMA HI(C) VVILLELM VENIT BAGIAS UBI HAROLD SACRAMENTUM FECIT VVILLELMO DUCI HIC HAROLD DUX REVERSUS EST AD ANGLICAM TERRAM ET VENIT AD EDVVARDU(M) REGEM HIC PORTATUR CORPUS EADVVARDI REGIS AD ECCLESIAM S(AN)C(T)I PETRI AP(OSTO)LI HIC EADVVARDUS REX IN LECTO ALLOQUIT(UR) FIDELES ET HIC DEFUNCTUS EST HIC DEDERUNT HAROLDO CORONA(M) REGIS HIC RESIDET HAROLD REX ANGLORUM
STIGANT ARCHIEP(ISCOPU)S
ISTI MIRANT STELLA(M) HAROLD HIC NAVIS ANGLICA VENIT IN TERRAM VVILLELMI DUCIS HIC VVILLELM DUX IUSSIT NAVES EDIFICARE HIC TRAHUNT(UR) NAVES AD MARE ISTI PORTANT ARMA(S) AD NAVES, ET HIC TRAHUNT CARRUM CUM VINO ET ARMIS + HIC VVILLELM DUX IN MAGNO NAVIGIO MARE TRANSIVIT ET VENIT AD PEVENESAE HIC EXEUNT CABALLI DE NAVIBUS ET HIC MILITES FESTINAVERUNT HESTINGA, UT CIBUM RAPERENTUR HIC EST VVADARD HIC COQUITUR CARO ET HIC MINISTRAVERUNT MINISTRI HIC FECERUNT PRANDIUM ET HIC EPISCOPUS CIBU(M) ET POTU(M) BENEDICIT
ODO EP(ISCOPU)S
ROTBERT
VVILLELM
ISTE IUSSIT UT FODERETUR CASTELLUM AT HESTENGA CEASTRA HIC NUNTIATUM EST VVILLELM(O) DE HAROLD HIC DOMUS INCENDITUR HIC MILITES EXIERUNT DE HESTENGA ET VENERUNT AD PRELIUM CONTRA HAROLDUM REGE(M) HIC VVILLELM DUX INTERROGAT VITAL SI VIDISSET EXERCITU(M) HAROLDI ISTE NUNTIAT HAROLDUM REGE(M) DE EXERCITU VVILELMI DUCIS HIC VVILLELM DUX ALLOQUITUR SUIS MILITIBUS UT PREPARERENT SE VIRILITER ET SAPIENTER AD PRELIUM CONTRA ANGLORUM EXERCITU(M) HIC CECIDERUNT LEVVINE ET GYRD FRATRES HAROLDI REGIS HIC CECIDERUNT SIMUL ANGLI ET FRANCI IN PRELIO HIC ODO EP(ISCOPU)S BACULU(M) TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS
E(USTA)TIUS
HIC EST VVILEL(MUS) DUX
HIC FRANCI PUGNANT ET CECIDERUNT QUI ERANT CUM HAROLDO HIC HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST ET FUGA VERTERUNT ANGLI
Translation
KING EDWARD
WHERE HAROLD, DUKE OF THE ENGLISH, AND HIS SOLDIERS RIDE TO BOSHAM CHURCH HAROLD HAS SAILED THE SEA, AND WITH HIS SAILS FILLED BY THE WIND, HE HAS COME INTO THE LAND OF COUNT GUY HAROLD HERE GUY HAS SEIZED HAROLD AND HAS TAKEN HIM ... ... TO BEAURAIN AND HELD HIM THERE WHERE HAROLD AND GUY TALK TOGETHER WHERE MESSENGERS OF DUKE WILLIAM HAVE COME TO GUY
TUROLD
WILLIAM'S MESSENGERS AND HERE A MESSENGER HAS COME TO DUKE WILLIAM HERE GUY HAS LED HAROLD TO WILLIAM, DUKE OF THE NORMANS HERE DUKE WILLIAM HAS COME WITH HAROLD TO HIS PALACE WHERE A CLERIC AND AELFGYVA HERE DUKE WILLIAM AND HIS ARMY HAVE COME TO MONT ST. MICHEL AND THEY CROSSED RIVER COUESNON AND THEY HAVE COME TO DOL
DUKE HAROLD PULLED THEM FROM QUICKSAND
CONAN HAS TURNED IN FLIGHT
REDNES
HERE THE SOLDIERS OF DUKE WILLIAM FIGHT AGAINST THE MEN OF DINAN AND CONAN HAS HELD OUT THE KEYS HERE WILLIAM HAS GIVEN HAROLD ARMS HERE WILLIAM HAS COME TO BAYEUX ... WHERE HAROLD TOOK THE OATH TO DUKE WILLIAM HERE DUKE HAROLD HAS RETURNED TO ENGLISH SOIL ... AND HAS COME TO KING EDWARD HERE THE BODY OF KING EDWARD IS BEING CARRIED TO THE CHURCH OF ST. PETER THE APOSTLE KING EDWARD IN BED ADDRESSES HIS LOYAL FRIENDS AND HERE HE IS DEAD THEY HAVE GIVEN HAROLD THE ROYAL CROWN HERE SITS HAROLD AS KING OF THE ENGLISH
ARCHBISHOP STIGAND
THESE MEN WONDER AT THE STAR HAROLD AN ENGLISH SHIP HAS COME INTO DUKE WILLIAM'S LAND HERE DUKE WILLIAM HAS ORDERED THE BUILDING OF SHIPS HERE THE SHIPS ARE BEING DRAGGED TO THE SEA MEN ARE CARRYING ARMS TO THE SHIPS, AND HERE THEY ARE PULLING A CART WITH WINE AND ARMS AND HERE DUKE WILLIAM IN A GREAT SHIP HAS CROSSED THE SEA AND COME TO PEVENSEY HERE THE HORSES ARE GETTING OUT OF THE BOATS AND HERE THE SOLDIERS HAVE SPED TO HASTINGS TO SEIZE FOOD HERE IS WADARD HERE MEAT IS BEING COOKED AND HERE ATTENDANTS HAVE SERVED IT HERE THEY HAVE PREPARED A MEAL AND HERE A BISHOP BLESSES THE FOOD AND DRINK
BISHOP ODO
ROBERT
WILLIAM
THIS MAN HAS ORDERED A DITCH DUG AND CASTLE AT HASTINGS HERE WILLIAM HAS HAD NEWS OF HAROLD HERE A HOUSE IS BURNED HERE THE SOLDIERS HAVE GONE OUT FROM HASTINGS AND COME TO BATTLE AGAINST KING HAROLD HERE DUKE WILLIAM ASKS VITAL WHETHER HE HAD SEEN HAROLD'S ARMY THIS MAN INFORMS KING HAROLD ABOUT DUKE WILLIAM'S ARMY HERE DUKE WILLIAM EXHORTS HIS SOLDIERS TO PREPARE THEMSELVES BRAVELY AND WISELY FOR BATTLE AGAINST THE ENGLISH ARMY HERE LEOFWINE AND GYRTH HAVE FALLEN, THE BROTHERS OF KING HAROLD HERE THE ENGLISH AND FRENCH HAVE FALLEN TOGETHER IN BATTLE HERE BISHOP ODO, HOLDING A MACE, URGES ON THE YOUNG MEN
EUSTACE
HERE IS DUKE WILLIAM
HERE THE FRENCH ARE FIGHTING AND THOSE WHO WERE WITH HAROLD HAVE FALLEN HERE KING HAROLD HAS BEEN KILLED AND THE ENGLISH HAVE TURNED IN FLIGHT
 

The tapestry begins in 1064 when Edward the Confessor was King of England. He had no direct male heir and there were a number of people who might claim the throne when he died (See The problem of the succession).

Edward is shown in talking to Harold Godwinson. His index finger touches Harold's, a sign that he is giving a command (compare this with William commanding his messengers to ride to Count Guy and the scene of Edward's deathbed).

Norman chroniclers, such as William of Poitiers, assert that Harold was sent by Edward to renew the promise Edward had given in 1052 that William would inherit the throne of England.

The chroniclers Eadmer and Wace give a different version, claiming that Harold journeyed to Normandy to obtain the release of Harold's nephew and brother who were held as hostages at William's court. In this account Edward is said to have counselled Harold not to undertake such a perilous mission.

William of Malmesbury says that Harold did not intend to travel to Normandy but was blown off course when fishing in the English Channel.

Harold is shown riding with his hawk and hounds, symbols of his status.

Bosham in West Sussex was an important port. King Cnut is recorded as having had a palace in the village and the tapestry shows Harold and his men feasting before the voyage. At the feast two of the men drink from elaborately decorated horns remarkably similar to those found in the seventh century burial at Sutton Hoo.

 

 

Harold and his men are depicted boarding the ship carrying hunting dogs and hawks. England had been famous for its hunting dogs since Roman times.

Unfortunately for Harold, as he crossed the English Channel his ship was blown off course and he came ashore in the lands of Count Guy (Uuido) of Ponthieu. Guy siezed Harold and his party and held them prisoner in his court at Beaurain.

The Norman chroniclers claim Guy owed allegiance to William but this was clearly a technicality. In 1053 Guy's father, Enguerrand, had supported a revolt by William's uncle, William of Talou. When Enguerrand led his forces to break the Norman siege of Arques, he was caught in an ambush and killed. The next year, when King Henry of France invaded Normandy, Guy supported Henry. In the Battle of Mortemer Guy was captured and his younger brother was killed. Guy spent two years as a prisoner in Normandy before being released.

The lower margin is believed to show a number of scenes from Aesop's Fables. The most clear depictions include 'The fox and the crow', 'The wolf and the lamb', 'The wolf and the crane', 'The frog and the mouse', and 'The lion's share' (or the lion, the cow, the she-goat and the sheep). Many more associations of marginal figures with fables have been proposed but many are less clear.

    Belrem is believed to be Beaurain Château, which is close to Montreuil sur Mer the capital of Ponthieu.

Guy is shown returning Harold's sword, presumably as a gesture of good faith. Again this appears to be a symbol of Harold's status. As they converse Guy armed attendant touches his elbow to alert him to the fact that William's messengers are approaching.

The small figure standing by the wall has been interpreted as either Guy's jester (his tunic is uniquely shown a being fringed) or as an eavesdropper who later informs William of Harold's predicament.

William heared that Guy had siezed Harold and sent messengers to demand he be released, or possibly to negotiate a ransom. Guy is shown wearing an armoured corslet of scales and carrying a war axe. This suggests that he is not immediately disposed to accede to William's demand to release Harold.

The figure marked Turold is believed to be the Constable of Bayeux. He is one of three people believed to be vassals of Bishop Odo of Bayeux who appear in the tapestry.

It has been proposed that the marginal figures shown plowing, sowing seed and finally scaring birds until the seed germinates represent the fact that these events took place in spring and also may represent the time Harold spent as Guy's prisoner, some 3-4 weeks - the time taken to undertake these agricultural labours.

These may be the same messengers as shown in the preeceeding scene, that is the chronology of the events may have been reversed. This happens later on in the tapestry when King Edward's death and burial are depicted.

Alternatively, since these messengers appear more heavily armed than those of the preceeding scene, they may represent further messengers sent by William to demand Harold's release under threat of war.

The messenger is shown to be English by his uncropped hair and his moustache. As he supplicates himself to William, William commands his messengers to ride to Guy's court.

Guy eventually brought Harold to William. The account of William of Poitiers indicates that this was due to 'prayers and threats' by William's messengers, however he also says that once Harold had been delivered to him Guy was rewarded with a gift of land and money. The chronicler Wace is more specific saying William gave Guy 'a fair manor lying along the river Alne' for releasing Harold.

 

William's capital was at Rouen.

The knight being presented by Harold to William (seated) appears, based on his moustache and hairstyle, to be English. He is therefore likely to be Hakon, Harold's nephew and one of the two English hostages held in William's court. William of Poitiers records that when Harold returned to England 'one of the two hostages, his nephew, returned with him, freed as a mark of respect to his person'.

In the lower margin there is a naked figure using an ax to dress a plank of wood; Haccian in Anglo-Saxon means 'to hack' and this may be a play on the name 'Hakon'.

In William of Poitiers account it was at this time, before the campaign against Conan, that Harold swore his oath to support William's claim to the English throne and accepted the gift of weapons and armour from him.

The use of 'Wilgelm' the Norman dialect form of William has been used as evidence that the tapesty was made in Normandy.

A female figure named 'Ælfgiva' stands in an annex to the main hall alongside a cleric.

It is likely that she is one of William's daughters. The chronicler Wace records that in return for helping William to the throne of England, Harold 'was to have Ele, one of William's daughters, for his wife if he would'. Orderic Vitalis records Harold's bethrothed as either ‘Adelidis' or 'Agatha'.

Alternatively, 'Ælfgiva' may be Harold's younger sister 'Ælfgifu'. None of the contemporary accounts mention the presence of Harold's sister on his mission to Normandy, however, it has been suggested that Harold offered Ælfgifu's hand in marriage to a Norman knight in exchange for the release of the hostages Wulfnoth and Hakon.

Alternatively it has been suggested that this scene depicts some sexual scandal that occurred. It has been noted that the pose of the naked figure in the margin mirrors that of the cleric. The inclusion of naked marginal figures occurs several times, however, without any apparent connection with the main panel. A naked couple are depicted below the first meeting of Harold and William and naked couples appear twice above the advancing Norman knights at Hastings.

These next scenes illustrate the campaign against Conan, Duke of Brittany. According to William of Poitiers Conan, like Guy, was nominally a vassal of William who revolted and laid siege to the castle of Dol (now Dol-de-Bretagne) which was defended by Rivallon, one of Conan's own knights 'who remained faithful to the just cause' ie William. In fact Brittany was an independent duchy and Rivallon was revolting against Conan, presumably with the support of William.

Mont St Michel is a fortified abbey built on an island at the mouth of the river Couesnon which defines the border between Normandy and Brittany. This scene therefore makes clear that William had crossed into Brittany in his campaign against Conan.

William led his army to relieve the siege and forced Conan to retire back into Brittany.

Here the tapestry depicts an incident in which Harold rescues several Norman knights who have become trapped in quicksand while crossing the river. This depiction of the heroism of Harold, when compared to the clear justification of William's claim to the English throne in later scenes, appears to indicate a degree of ambivalence in the attitude of the designer of the tapestry.

In the lower border the two conjoined fish may depict Pisces and therefore indicate the season of the year is early spring. If so, given the earlier depiction of sowing grain (late spring), this would indicate Harold was abroad for more than a year.

William's forces reach the castle of Dol which was being besieged by Conan, who's knights are forced to flee. Note the horsemen lack mail shirts and most lack helmets. These must therefore be a lightly armed force sent ahead to break the siege.

Several scholars have identified the figure climbing the ladder on the right of the castle as Conan escaping from the approach of William's army. However, Dol had not fallen to Conan; the figure is better interpreted as representing the fact that Dol was under siege when William arrived.

The fortified town named on the tapestry Rednes is presumably Rennes, capital of Brittany. None of the written sources suggest Rennes was attacked and, indeed, the sheep grazing on the slopes outside the city walls suggest it is untouched by the conflict.

This scene shows the Normans besieging the Breton town of Dinan and Conan being forced to surrender after the towns defences are set alight. Neither the siege nor the Norman victory is recorded in the contemporary accounts, rather the pro-Norman chronicler William of Poitiers writes that, having abandoned Dol, Conan was reinforced by troops from Anjou. This appears to have lead to a stalemate with neither side having sufficient advantage to attack the other. Eventually the two armies retired due to lack of supplies.

Conan remained as Count of Brittany and in 1066 died during an invasion of Anjou.

 

One of the claims made by the Norman chroniclers to support William's siezure of the English crown was that Harold had sworn allegence to William. The giving and receiving of weapons and armour were a symbolic part of the act of swearing allegence. The use of the word 'Bagias', a Norman dialect term for Bayeux has been used as evidence that the tapesty was made in Normandy.

This scene is central to the Norman claim to the English throne. All the pro-Norman commentators record that while in Normandy Harold took a solem oath on holy relics to support William's claim to the English throne and to be his vassal.

The chronicler Wace indicated a degree of trickery however, 'He sent for all the holy bodies thither, and put so many of them together as to fill a whole chest, and then covered them with a pall; but Harold neither saw them, nor knew of their being there; for nought was shewn or told to him about it; and over all was a philactery, the best that he could select ... When Harold placed his hand upon it, the hand trembled, and the flesh quivered; but he swore, and promised upon his oath, to take Ele to wife, and to deliver up England to the duke: and thereunto to do all in his power, according to his might and wit, after the death of Edward, if he should live, so help him God and the holy relics there! Many cried "God grant it!" and when Harold had kissed the saints, and had risen upon his feet, the duke led him up to the chest, and made him stand near it; and took off the chest the pall that had covered it, and shewed Harold upon what holy relics he had sworn; and he was sorely alarmed at the sight.'

It appears that one of the objects Harold is swearing on has handles, presumably so that it can be carried. It may well be William's personal shrine. William is recorded as bequeathing the monks of Battle Abbey 'a shrine containing relics in the form of an altar on which mass was celebrated for him in the field'.

Harold and his men return to England, note that Harold and his me, here and in the next few scenes are shown without moustaches, perhaps showing how much they have adopted Norman mores.

William of Poitiers records that when Harold returned to England 'one of the two hostages, his nephew, returned with him, freed as a mark of respect to his person'.

On the English coast sentinels watch for their approach.

 

On his return to England the tapestry depicts an audience between Harold and King Edward.

The attitude of the figure of Harold appears suplicatory, supporting the version of events put forward by the chronicler Eadmer. He records that on Harold's return King Edward admonished him saying 'Did I not tell you that I knew William, and your going might bring untold calamity upon this kingdom?' Indeed the two figures bearing axes have been interpreted as guards, suggesting that, Harold had not been executing Edward's orders to go to Normandy, rather, as Wace recorded, Harold had disobeyed his king who had forbidden the journey.

The next two scenes depict, somewhat back to front, the death and funeral of King Edward.

The deathbed scene appears to show King Edward nominating Harold as his successor. With him are Harold, an unknown cleric, a woman and another figure, presumed to be the king's wife Eadgyth and Robert the Staller both of whom are recorded as being at Edward's deathbed in the anonymous Vita Ædwardi Regis. Harold's claim to have received the kings final nomination as his heir is even recorded by the pro-Norman chronicler William of Poitiers. Just before the Battle of Hastings he records that Harold sent a monk as an ambassador to try to negotiate a Norman withdrawal. The ambassador claimed that Harold '... knows the kingdom belongs to him by right, because the same great king [Edward] gave it to him on his deathbed.'

King Edward died on 5 January 1066 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. The abbey had been built during Edward's reign and was, and remains dedicated to St Peter. The hand of god depicted on the tapestry may represent the consecration of the church on 28 December 1065, just a week before King Edward's death and thus explain the achronological appearence of these two scenes. The original stone abbey at Westminster was rebuilt in the thirteenth century by Henry III; the depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry is the only surviving representation of the earlier building.

In the funeral procession two boys walk at the side of the bier ringing bells while a group of clerics walk behind, one carries a bishop's crosier, another reads from a book, presumably the bible.

 

Note the use of the term 'fideles' is considered to be evidence of a Norman origin for the tapestry. The usual English term would be 'ministri'.

After King Edward's death Harold was immediately elected as the next king by the 'Witena gemot', the meeting of the most powerful men in the kingdom. His coronation followed on 6 January 1066.

This scene is central to the English claim for Harold's legitimacy, that election by the Witan (literally wise-men) was central to the English tradition of succession.

Harold is depicted being offered the crown by one man while another guard holds an axe. This coupled with Harold's own axe neatly places him between the two blades, perhaps representing his dilemma whether or not to take the crown. Either course of action would have entailed a degree of risk.

Norman chroniclers assert that the rapidity of Harold's election and coronation argue for its illegitimacy, that due process was not followed. However, it has been argued that this was a simple matter of convenience: the members of the 'Witena gemot' had already gathered for the consecration of the abbey and coronations were traditionally held during the great church festivals; Christmastide had not yet ended, however, any delay would mean reassembling all those present again at Easter.

 

The highlighting of Archbishop Stigand presiding at the coronation is an element in the Norman claim for Harold's illegitimacy since Stigand's authority as archbishop was disputed. Orderic Vitalis wrote 'On the very day of the funeral, when the people were bathed in tears for the loss of their beloved king, Harold caused himself to be crowned by Archbishop Stigand alone, though the pope had suspended him from his functions for certain crimes, without the concurrence of any other bishops and the earls and barons of the realm.'.

Stigand had received the office of Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Edward when the Norman Robert of Jumièges was driven out of the country by the return of Godwin in 1052. Pope Leo IX refused to recognise Edward's right to make such an appointment and later excommunicated the archbishop. During the brief papacy of Benedict X (later declared an anti-pope) Stigand was recognised as archbishop but was again excommunicated when Benedict X was overthrown.

Several English sources, including Florence of Worcester, record that Ealdred, Archbishop of York, in fact presided over Harold's coronation, suggesting it was entirely legitimate.

Halley's comet appeared in the sky on 24 April 1066 and was visible for a week and was taken by many as an ill omen. Accounts describe it as appearing to be four times the size of Venus and shining with a light equal to a quarter of that of the Moon.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records, 'Then was over all England such a token seen as no man ever saw before. Some men said that it was a comet star, which others call the long-haired star. It appeared first on the eve called "Litania major", that is, on the eighth before the calends off May; and so shone all the week.'

This scene may represent Harold being told of the ill omen represented by the appearence of the comet. The marginal picture of the outline of several boats has been interpreted as a depiction of the prediction that William will build a fleet and invade.

On hearing of King Edward's death and Harold's coronation William decided to contest the matter. He was not alone. Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, also laid claim to the throne of England yet the Bayeux tapestry makes no reference to the Norse invasion or the battle at Stanford Bridge.

See The preliminaries of the conquest and the Battle of Hastings.

William of Poitiers describes the marshalling of William's forces: '...William ordered the provision of ships, arms, men and supplies, and all other things necessary for war; almost all of Normandy was devoted to the task, and it would take too long to describe the preparations in detail. Equally, he made arrangements for the government and security of Normandy in his absence. Numerous soldiers from outside the dutchy arrived to offer their help, partly motivated by the famed generosity of the duke, but all fully confident in the justice of his cause.'

William of Poitiers gives the size of William's army as 50,000 and William of Jumièges gives the size of the fleet as 3000 ships. Both figures are likely to be significantly exaggerated. The Norman poet Wace gives a more reasonable estimate of 696 ships. The historian Sir Frank Stenton estimated that the actual size of William's army was unlikely to be more than 6000 men.

 

William's men are shown felling trees and dressing planks of wood. For felling they use simple narrow bladed axes while the carpenter dressing the plank of wood and one of the shipwrights use a distinctive axe with a T-shaped blade. Examples of both types of axe have been found in the archaeological record.

The shipwright on the left in the lower ship uses a spoon-bit, an early form of drill.

 

  It has been argued that the proportions of the wine barrel, long and relatively narrow, is similar to those used in William landed at Pevensey, near Eastbourne, Sussex. The sailors are shown stowing the masts of the ships which are then drawn up onto the beach. Lambs, cattle and pigs are siezed from the local area to sustain the army. The figure marked Wadard is one of three people believed to be vassals of Bishop Odo of Bayeux who appear in the tapestry.         Thsi scene shows Duke William with his two half-brothers, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Robert, Count of Mortain.

William of Poitiers wrote that 'The rejoycing Normans, once they had landed, occupied Pevensey, where they built their first camp, and built another at Hastings, providing a refuge for themselves and a shelter for their boats.'

A corruption in the Latin text, the use of AT rather than AD, is considered by some scholars to be evidence of an English origin to the tapestry.

The men are shown using several tools, a short handled pick used to break up the ground, a single step wooden spade with an iron edge used to dig and fan shaped wooden shovels used to move the dug earth.

 

William of Poitiers records of the English army's advance on the Normans 'the king [Harold] in his fury had hastened his march, particularly because he had learnt of the devastation around the Norman camp'.

It is unclear whether the destruction caused in the area was a byproduct of the Norman's gathering of supplies or a deliberate policy to draw Harold into a decisive battle before all the English forces were assembled.

The building may represent Harold's own manor at Crowhurst, 4 miles from Hastings, which is recorded in the Domesday book as being laid waste.

  Viltal is one of three people believed to be vassals of Bishop Odo of Bayeux who appear in the tapestry.  
William of Poitiers records that 'The speach with which he [William] rallied the courage and eagerness of his troops, although brief due to the circumstances, was doubtless a fine one, although it has not come down to us in all its splendour. He reminded the Normans they had always been victorious in many and great dangers. He reminded everyone of their country, their noble deeds and their great name. "Now you must prove with your hands the stuff of which you are made, the spirit that inspires you. Now it is no longer a matter of living and ruling but of escaping with your lives from imminent danger. If you fight manfully, victory, honour and riches will be yours; otherwise you will be slain or as captives, you will serve the whims of a most cruel enemy: on the one hand an army and an unknown and hostile countryside bar the way, on the other a navy and the sea. Men should not be frightened by numbers. On many occasions the English, defeated by the swords of their enemies, have perished; most of the time they have been conquered and have had to surrender to the enemy. They have never distinguished themselves by great deeds of arms. Men inexperienced in battle can be easily overcome by the courage and skill of a few. Above all, divine help will not be lacking for a just cause. If such a band are daring, and do not yield, victory will soon be theirs to celebrate." '

One of the knights carried a spear with a pennant bearing the device of 3 red rings with gold centres. This may represent the emblem of the Eustace, Count of Boulogne. The emblem of Boulogne is three red circles on a field of gold.

Later Eustace, Count of Boulogne, is shown carrying a banner bearing a cross, taken to be the banner sent by the Pope as a sign of his support for William's cause.

The tapestry depicts archers on the Norman side only, with one exception. However, archery was not unknown to the English and it is not known whether English archers were present in significant numbers but are simply not depicted or whether they had not been assembled.

Gyrth and Leofwine were two of Harold's younger brothers. Harold's other brothers were Tostig, who died fighting against Harold at the Battle of Stanford Bridge, and Wulfnoth, who was William's hostage at the time of the battle of Hastings. His elder brother, Swein, was already dead by the time of the events depicted on the tapestry.

The mounted Norman knights are shown unsuccessfully attacking a group of unarmoued English warriors on a hill. It appears that some form of defensive work of short stakes or stones has been erected to bring down the Norman's horses. Such chevaux de frise are known from as early as the Iron Age but are not otherwise known to have been used by the Anglo-Saxons. William of Poitiers recounts that during the battle word spread among the Normans that Duke William had been slain and the army began to withdraw. Odo is shown rallying the troops who are fleeing.

To quell rumor of his death, the duke removes his helmet. This rallies the troops who return to the battle.

Eustace of Boulogne, points out William to the Norman troops. He carries a banner bearing a gold cross, which may be the one sent by the Pope as a sign of his support for William's cause, although the chronicler Wace gives the name of the knight who carried the Pope's banner as Tosteins Fitz Rou le blanc.

   

There is considerable debate about the legend of Harold being hit by an arrow in his eye (See The death of Harold). It is likely that the figure ususally taken to be Harold did not originally have an arrow in his eye and that this was erroneously added in a much later restotation of the tapestry.

The man standing next to the 'Harold' figure carries Harold's standard, the dragon of Wessex. Another standard bearer, far left, has already fallen.

 
 

The aftermath of the battle

The death Harold together with Gyrth and Leofwine left the greater part of England leaderless. Although the Witanagemot elected Edgar the Ætheling, grandson of King Edmund Ironside,as king he was only a teenager. Without a strong focus effective resistance petered out, at least temporarily, and the surviving English nobility either submitted to William or fled abroad. William was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

History of the tapestry

Description of the tapestry

Who made the Bayeux Tapestry?

Contemporary Sources

 

People on the tapestry

The problem of the succession

The preliminaries of the conquest and the Battle of Hastings

The death of Harold

 

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