The Bayeux Tapestry – behind a cut to be kind to those with slow connections as there are pictures.
First of all – tapestry is a misnomer. This is actually a massive piece of embroidery, 230 feet long and about 2 feet wide, in brightly coloured wools on linen. Top and bottom are strips of decorative stitching with trees foliage flowers and tiny figures, some of which are human. the wide strip in the middle tells the story of how and why the throne of England was taken by Duke William of the Normans, William the Conqueror. It is thought that it was commissioned by his brother, Odo bishop of Bayeux, its completion to coincide with the dedication of the new cathedral there. Although it celebrated a Norman victory it was probably made in England. At that period the English embroiderers were renowned as the best in Europe and there was a trade in luxury goods embroidered in the south of England
As a piece of history it must be remembered that the tapestry was commissioned by the winners, so some of the details are in contention. William claimed that Edward, the king of England promised him the throne after his death, that Harold Godwinson promised to support him then took the throne for himself, so his invasion was merely recovering his rightful property. What the English felt about it is not known. No records survive
But whether you accept Williams story or put it down to a bit of Viking free-booting the ‘tapestry’ is still an absolute treasure trove of detail about every day life. For instance, in the picture above we can see that the Normans ‘rode long’ with stirrups and if their feet are that close to the ground it’s likely their horses, all stallions, weren’t very tall. Their saddles had girths, breast bands, high cantles and pommels, not unlike Western saddles. The Normans were clean shaven with short hair. Harold, in common with most Saxons on the tapestry, wears a long moustache. They have v-necked long sleeved tunics over another garment, trousers cross-gartered below the knee tucked into socks worn with low shoes. William is wearing a one shouldered cloak and appears to be carrying a duck – but it may be a hawk.
Here is a more domestic scene with a wealth of detail about the production and service of a feast. I particularly like the individually spitted chicken and th page kneeling with the cloth over his arm. It’s interesting to note that the high ups have a circular tble but the soldiers who are recieving the chickens are dining off makeshift tables constructed from their shields. This suggests to me that Norman shields may have been quite flat. I like to think that the man in red is telling the one blowing the horn to shut up so the Bishop can say grace.
Click this link to see a superb animation, with suitable sound effects, of the last half of the tapestry. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!