The Bayeux Tapestry is an elaborate medieval embroidery featuring a visual history of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D. and the events preceding. Throughout the 230 foot tapestry, several important historical figures are depicted in several different scenes and environments, each of different historical importance. Primarily revolving around William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror) and King Harold of England, the tapestry depicts the Norman conquest of England with great detail. Although the textile’s exact origin is unknown, it is predicted to have been commissioned c.a. 1070 A.D. by Bishop Odo, a half-brother to William (W. Contributors, 2014) . The tapestry provides us with lots of information, however one of the greatest mysteries of this historical document is its ending.
As the story of William and Harold progresses, it reaches a climax in the battle of Hastings as a great war between the two parties breaks out. Just prior to the end, an embroidery of the dead King Harold (Panel 71) is seen with the caption “Here King Harold has been killed” (Wilson, 2004). Immediately following this, we see imagery of the English running away from the incoming Normans (Panel 73). Then, without any sense of conclusion the tapestry comes to a rather abrupt close. In accordance with this accelerated ending, many scholars have come to believe that this is not the physical end of the tapestry, suggesting that it is in fact incomplete. This claim seems valid as no border is present following the final scene (Rud, Morgens, 2002). However, there is still plenty of information that we can learn from the 73rd Panel including a somewhat reliable recreation of the aftermath of the gruesome battle of Hastings.
Panel 73 lives up to the tapestry’s last words, “… and the English have turned to flight” (Wilson, 2004). These sharp words are paired with the grueling imagery of the aftermath of The Battle of Hastings, including dismembered limbs and injured men scattered about the elaborate bordering. On the far right we see several Englishmen running off, some entangled in vines and another with an arrow in his head. On the left we see the confident Norman’s running off the English as if they are cattle. The pains of failure and denial are especially evident in the horrified look of an Englishman looking back over his shoulder. This scene uncovers very directly all the emotions of the aftermath from such a battle. In accordance, this particularly gruesome imagery perfectly represents the nature of this horrendous occasion for the English, contrasted with the triumph and victory of William and the Normans (Ingram, J., 1966). It clearly presents the greatest of confidence along with the despair of failure in one conglomerate frame.
The Bayeux Tapestry utilizes great amounts of detail to portray the reality and emotion of the events taking place to the viewer. Although some imagery may not be completely accurate, the tapestry does snapshot many elements of the culture and technology of the time. This is evident as the Normans armor is depicted as a form of a mail or scale design. These were called hauberks and were, in fact, often used to Norman infantry and cavalry (Weaponry, 2006). Use of bows and arrows are also present in the embroidery. The Bayeux Tapestry’s pictorial representations of Norman arms and armor have been cited as some of the best examples of Norman armor, and have been used to confirm the nature of their technology. Details such as these allow us to really receive a more accurate picture of how, where, and when these events took place, which is really what makes this Tapestry so significant.
This amazing textile offers lots of information about the conquest of the Normans, and should be looked at as a history of these crucial events. Although not accurate in all accounts, the amount of effort put into this tapestry speaks for its importance to the people of the time and to us. The detail and craftsmanship of the Bayeux Tapestry truly allows its viewers to peek back into history with all its glory and its horror.
Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Bayeuxtapestry.org.uk: http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/
Contributors, W. (2014, March 27). Battle of Hastings. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fulford
Contributors, W. (2014, March 24). Bayeux Tapestry. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_tapestry
Dowell, C. R. (1966, November). The Bayeux Tapestry and the French Secular Epic. The Burlington Magazine, 108(764), 549-560. Retrieved March 1, 2014, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/875133
Ingram, J. (2008). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Avalon.law.yale.edu: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/angsax.asp
Rud, Morgens. The Bayeux Tapestry: And the Battle of Hastings 1066. Trans. Chris Borjensen. Chrisian Eilers, 2002. Book. 1 April 2014.
Weaponry: Norman Arms and Armor. (2006, June 12). Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Historynet.com: http://www.historynet.com/weaponry-norman-arms-and-armour.htm
Wilson, D. M. (2004). The Bayeux Tapestry. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. Retrieved April 1, 2014