Bayeux Tapestry: history stitched in time

One in the eye for Harold, as depicted in the Bayeux tapestry

With the Bayeux Tapestry the subject of a mooted loan move to the UK, Samantha David examines the historic context of events depicted within its evocatively embroidered scenes

Essentially, the Battle of Hastings was all Edward the Confessor’s fault: in the years before his death he had not been clear about the succession and in 1066 the two leading pretenders to the English throne ended up thrashing it out in the countryside of East Sussex.

As we all know, Harold lost and William won, which left the victorious new king from the other side of the Channel with a PR problem. How to convince his new subjects (particularly any resentful English lords) that he was their legitimate ruler?

William the Conquerer’s half-brother Bishop Odo came up with a solution in the 1070s. The Normans would state their side of the story in a massive tapestry, around 70metres long and 50cms high; fifty or so embroidered cartoons reinforcing William’s authority, glory and legitimacy. And it would be made in England.

The facts, from the Norman perspective, would be laid out in glorious colour for all to see. (Being embroidered rather than woven means that technically it is an embroidery rather than a tapestry, but perhaps at that time the term “embroidery” didn’t quite convey the scale of the work. In any case, it is almost always called a tapestry rather than an embroidery.) 

At that time in Europe, territory was still being fought over; every time a new ruler acquired a crown they would eye up the possibility of extending their power by ...

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