The Bayeux Tapestry is a piece of artwork that depicts the battle of Hastings in 1066. The battle took place as part of a succession struggle to claim the throne of England. Amongst the contenders were Harold, king of the Anglo-Saxons, William, the duke of Normandy, a Norwegian king also named Harold, and William’s brother Tostig (Contributers, 2014). Tostig and the Norwegian Harold were both defeated by the Anglo-Saxon Harold, which left only him and William as serious contenders for the throne.
This piece of the tapestry seems to be about the beginning of the battle. One piece of evidence that supports this is that most figures in this section are wielding javelins instead of swords (Magazine, 2006). It was standard practice around this time to begin battle with javelins, as they had better range than swords. When they broke, then it was time to switch over to the swords for up close combat. Another possible piece of evidence comes from the mace, apparently flying through the air, in the upper right corner (Wilson, 1985). This could suggest that it was thrown in panic, the soldier wielding it terrified by the opening cavalry charge. One final piece of evidence can just be glimpsed on the right hand edge of the above image. It is more clearly visible on the full panel, but it appears that the Anglo-Saxon’s shields are full of arrows. This suggests that the opening volley of arrows wasn’t terribly effective (Rud, 2002). Each of these pieces individually might not be clear evidence as to what is happening in the panel, but taken as a whole it makes for a compelling case.
While it is difficult to predict where the battle could have gone from the opening alone, we do in fact know what happened. Harold’s army used a shield wall as a defensive tactic, which was quite effective at first. Eventually though, the wall was broken, allowing the Norman’s to slip through. Harold was killed, and while his army fought bravely afterward, their cause was lost and they eventually fled the battlefield (Ibeji, 2011). William hadn’t won the throne just yet, but by Christmas the crown was his.
Contributers, W. (2014, April 1). Battle of Hastings. Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Hastings
Ibeji, M. (2011, February 17). 1066. Retrieved from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/normans/1066_01.shtml
Magazine, B. H. (2006, June 12). Weaponry: Norman Arms and Armour. Retrieved from Historynet: http://www.historynet.com/weaponry-norman-arms-and-armour.htm
Rud, M. (2002). The Bayeux Tapestry and the Battle of Hastings 1066. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers Publishers.
Wilson, D. M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry. London: Thames & Hudson.