Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry: Prince Harold hunting. 11th century AD The Bayeux Tapestry: Prince Harold hunting. 11th century AD By special permission of the City of Bayeux.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a commemorative embroidery that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror (1028-1087). The tapestry is now exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, France. The earliest known written reference is in a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral, France.

There are numerous theories as to the tapestry’s origin. According to traditional French accounts, the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, and by her ladies-in-waiting. However, various twentieth century scholars believe the tapestry was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother, and made in England in the 1070's.

The tapestry is about 68 m long and 0.5 m wide, but it is believed that originally it was longer and that at some point the end panel was removed. The Bayeux Tapestry is made of a linen (tabby weave) ground material, decorated with crewel work. It has embroidered lettering and scenes using worsted yarns in terracotta, blue-green, dull gold, olive green and blue, with small amounts of black, dark blue and sage green. Later repairs were carried out in light greens, orange and yellow. The stitches used are outline stitch and stem stitch for the lettering and outlines of figures, plus couching and laid work for filling in the figures. Split and chain stitches were also used. Laid threads are couched in place with yarns of the same or a contrasting colour. After each panel was embroidered the individual panels were sewn together and the seams disguised with embroidery.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century there remain nine linen panels, each between 3 and 14 m in length. The overall design is based on a broad central field with narrow, decorative borders at the top and bottom. The tapestry consists of about fifty scenes with Latin captions (titulus/tituli), emphasising two main figures, William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, while depicting events leading up to the Conquest and ending with the Battle of Hastings. The scenes include oaths of loyalty, preparation of the Norman fleet, horses, battle scenes, and the death of Harold. The main events are generally separated by highly stylised trees. The tapestry’s central field contains most of the action, but it sometimes overflows into the borders. In general the borders are decorative and consist of birds, beasts, fish, scenes from fables, agriculture and hunting. There is also a depiction of Halley’s Comet (scene 32), which is its first known representation.

Later generations patched the hanging in various places. In c. 1724 a linen backing cloth was sewn on and in c. 1800 large ink numerals referring to each of the scenes were written on this backing. These numbers are still in use for reference purposes. The end of the tapestry is missing, and the final Latin caption: Et fuga verterunt Angli ('And the English left fleeing') is believed to have been added in about 1810 when anti-English sentiment was high due to the Napoleonic Wars.

A replica was made by the Leek Embroidery Society and instigated by Elizabeth Wardle. The replica was made by some 35 women within one year. It was first shown to the public in 1886, and is now housed in the Reading Museum.

Source: OWEN-CROCKER, Gale R. (2012). 'Bayeux Tapestry', in: Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (eds.). Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450, Brill: Leiden, pp. 57-61.



Last modified on Tuesday, 14 March 2017 18:45