People identified on the tapestry

There are 15 people identified by name on the tapestry. In addition there is good evidence that another three can be identified.

King Edward 'the Confessor'

Edward was the son of King Æthelred 'the Unready', however he did not inherit his throne directly from his father but rather after a 26 year interregnum when England was ruled by the Danish king Cnut 'the Great' and his sons. Only when Cnut's dynasty died out was Edward able to take the crown.

Edward's reign was marked by the weakness of the king and the power of the earls. While initially he managed to maintain his authority by playing one earl off against the others, in the later half of his reign his power was in fact second to that of Harold Godwinson.

Edward died in 1066 precipitating the Norman invasion. He was canonised in 1161 after which he became known as St Edward the Confessor to distinguish him from the tenth century king St Edward the Martyr.

Harold, Earl of Wessex and later King of England

Harold Godwinson was born in c.1022, the second son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex. Godwin led a powerful faction established when the Danish king Cnut (or Canute) siezed the English throne in 1016. Edward came from the royal line Cnut had overthrown so, while Godwin was nominally King Edward's subject, in practice they were rivals. On the death of his father and elder brother Harold inherited the earldom.

Although Harold was of noble birth his claim to the crown was not through blood but through acclamation by the leading nobles and clergy of England at the Witanagemot. Like William he also claimed to have been designated by Edward as his heir.

William, Duke of Normandy and later William 'the Conqueror'

William was born c.1028 the illegitimate but only son of Robert, Duke of Normandy. He became Duke himself on his father's death when he was jut seven years old and in his youth survived a succession of plots by members of his extended family who felt they had a better claim on the title. At the age of 19, however, he overcame the last of these and established himself as the dominant power in Normandy.

In his twenties the threats to his power were external. He warred frequently with his neighbours and twice resisted invasion by King Henry I of France. However, in 1060 both Henry and William's other main rival Geoffrey of Anjou died leaving William the dominant power in the region.

William had a claim to the English throne by blood as his grandfather's sister was the mother of King Edward. He also claimed that Edward promised him the throne when William visited him in 1052. This is entirely possible as Edward spent much of his youth in exile in Normandy and maintained strong links to the Norman nobility.

Harold and William were related, albeit distantly (see family tree).

Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Robert, Count of Mortain


Odo

Robert

Odo and Robert were William's half brothers. William was the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, and Herleva. Later Herleva married Herluin de Conteville and bore Odo and Robert.

Odo is shown three times on the tapestry, Robert only once. They both appear sitting with William prior to the Battle of Hastings. Odo is also shown blessing a feast before the battle and during the battle he is shown rallying some Norman knights fleeing on hearing the rumour of William's death.

Odo is represented on the tapestry wielding a mace or club and it is often claimed that this is because as a bishop he was forbidden to 'spill blood' wielding a sword. However, William is also frequently depicted carrying a similar club so this may in fact be a staff of office denoting his rank or position.

Following the conquest Odo was given estates across England and made Earl of Kent. However, he was deprived of these by William in 1082, ostensibly for aspiring to the papacy, but more likely for his involvement in the dispute between William and his eldest son, Robert Curthose. Odo was imprisoned in Rouen until William's death in 1087. He attended William's funeral and then returned to England to regain his possessions in Kent, only to lose them again following his support in the rebellion of Robert Curthose against his brother William Rufus. After this he returned to Normandy until, in 1096 he joined the First Crusade, however, on the journey he fell ill and died at Palermo.

Ælfgifu

A female figure identified as appears on the tapestry in the scene where William takes Harold to his court in Normandy. In the scene she stands in an annex to the main hall alongside a cleric.

She may represent 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'.

Alternatively it has been suggested it represents Harold's younger sister Ælfgifu and that Harold offered Ælfgifu's hand in marriage to a Norman knight in exchange for the release of the hostages Wulfnoth and Hakon.

Gyrth and Leofwine


Leofwine
Gyrth

Gyrth and Leofwine were two of Harold's younger brothers. They appear on the tapestry during the Battle of Hastings under the caption 'Here Leofwine and Gyrth have fallen, the brothers of King Harold'.

 

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.

Archbishop Stigand

Archbishop Stigand was a controversial figure initially appointed by King Edward in 1052 when Godwin returned from exile, displacing the Norman Robert of Jumièges. He was initially not recognised by the Pope and was also later was excommunicated by several popes for holding the two sees of Winchester and Canterbury concurrently but recognised as archbishop by others. He initially retained his position following the conquest, although William selected the Archbishop of York to preside at his coronation rather than Stigand. He was finally deposed in 1070 and imprisoned at Winchester where he died in 1072.

Hakon

Hakon was the son of Sweyn Godwinson, Harold's older brother who died in 1052. Together with his uncle, Wulfnoth, one of Harold's younger brothers, he was given as a hostage to William, probably when Godwin was forced into exile in 1051. He is believed to be pictured on the tapestry with Harold and William in William's palace. While not named the figure appears to be English since he has a mustache and does not have the distinctive Norman haicut. Also, the marginal figure below this scene is 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'. Acording to the chronicler Eadmer Hakon was released by William and returned to England with Harold. Wulfnoth remained a hostage however and was only released by William on his deathbed in 1087.

Edith of Wessex

Although not named, the woman depicted in the scene of the deathbed of Edward the Confessor is generally accepted to be Edith, King Edward's wife and sister of Harold Godwinson. She is named as being present at Edward's death in the anonymous biography of the king, Vita Ædwardi Regis.

Despite the death of most of her male siblings at Hastings she remained a respected member of the English aristocracy under William. She died in 1075 and was buried 'with great honour' with her husband in Westminster Abbey.

Robert the Staller

Although not named, the man depicted attending to the king in the scene of the deathbed of Edward the Confessor is generally accepted to be Robert 'the Staller'. He is named as being present at Edward's death in the anonymous biography of the king, Vita Ædwardi Regis.

Staller was a senior position within the King's court; Robert is recorded as having been a blood relative of the king and is known to have witnessed a number of royal charters.

William of Poitiers describes how when William's army landed at Hastings, a man called Robert, the son of a noblewoman called Wimarc, who was a Norman living in England and a relative of William sent a message to him warning of the threat from Harold's army which was returning from the victory at Stamford Bridge. It is very possible that this was Robert the Staller.

Eustace, Count of Boulogne

Eustace, Count of Boulogne was the brother in law of the English King Edward the Confessor, having married Edward's sister Goda. In 1051 he was involved in an incident which was perhaps pivotal to the whole sequence of events leading to William's conquest. Eustace was returning to France having visited Edward when some 20 of his men were killed in an affray at Dover. Edward ordered Godwin to sack the town as summary justice but Godwin refused. Civil war threatened, but Godwin was eventually forced to back down and was banished along with his sons. Within a year they returned and Godwin re-established himself as the real power in England, a position Harold took on Godwin's death in 1053. However, it is likely that it was during this period of exile that the hostages Hakon and Wulfnoth were sent to William, leading to Harold's unfortunate expedition to Normandy in 1064.

Eustace appears on the tapestry during the Battle of Hastings. He carries the standard, probably that sent to William by the Pope as a symbol of his support for the Norman claim to the English throne. Eustace points to William as he lifts his helmet to quell the rumours that he has been killed.

Shortly after the conquest Eustace and William quarrelled and, while William was in Normandy in 1067, Eustace landed with a small force of knights in Kent in an attempt to sieze Dover castle. This 'rebellion' was quickly crushed and as a result Eustace lost the English estates he had been granted, although he and William were again reconciled some time in the 1070's.

Turold, Wadard and Vital

Three norman knights are named on the tapestry. All three are believed to have been vassals of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. They are recorded as holding land from him in Kent in the Domesday Book (i.e. in 1087).

Their presence on the tapestry is often taken as evidence that the tapestry was made for Odo and that it was made in the Cantebury area since they were unimportant on anything but a local level. It is possible that they were involved in commissioning the tapestry for their lord, Odo.


Vital

Conan II, Duke of Brittany

Following their meeting in Normandy Harold accompanies William on a campaign against Conan II, Duke of Brittany. According to William of Poitiers Conan 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 to William. In fact Brittany was an independent duchy and Rivallon was revolting against Conan, presumably with the support of William.

As Willian's army approached, Conan was forced to abandon the siege of Dol. The tapestry then shows the Normans besieging the Breton town of Dinan and Conan being forced to surrender the keys to the town. Neither this siege nor the Norman victory is recorded in the contemporary accounts, rather even 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.

Guy, Count of Ponthieu

Guy I of Ponthieu was a French nobleman. In principal he owed allegance to William, however, he fought against him during William's youth. Guy's father was killed during a revolt against William in 1053 and, when the French King Henry I invaded Normandy in 1053, Guy sided with the king. In the Battle of Mortemer, Guy's younger brother Waleran was mortally wounded, and Guy himself was captured and spent two years as a prisoner in Normandy.

When Harold was shipwrecked on the coast of Normandy Guy took him prisoner. Following threats, and probably a bribe, he handed Harold over to William.

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