August 24, 2023

#08-338: The Bayeux Tapestry

Halley's Comet in the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikipedia)

Note: The most important date in English history--1066, the year a French count took England as his own--is commemorated in this stunning work of art.

Get Ready: What can art teach us  about history? Can it be trusted?

Modern scholars believe that in the late 11th century, Bishop Odo of Bayeux (in northern  France,  just across the channel from England) commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry (though tradition says it was ordered by Queen Matilda, Odo's sister-in-law). The more-than-70-meter-long piece of embroidery has 58 scenes--most of them with Latin titles--depicting 626 human figures and 190 horses. It shows the Norman Conquest of England, which culminated in 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy--now called "William the Conqueror"--crossed the Channel and defeated Harold II, King of England.

The Tapestry tells the story from the French point of view. This is only fitting, as Matilda was William's wife, and Odo his maternal half-brother. Today it hangs in a dedicated museum in Bayeaux.

The story is told mainly in images, though the titles help provide some context. It begins at the left end with Edward the Confessor, an Anglo-Saxon English king, sending Harold to Normandy. But hapless Harold is shipwrecked and taken prisoner by Guy (also called Wido), the French Count of Ponthieu. He is held prisoner at Guy's seat at Beaurain until William (then Duke of Normandy) sends messengers and invites him on a successful campaign against another Duke, Conan II.

After swearing an oath to William (the contents of which are unknown), Harold returns to England where he is scolded by Edward, and later succeeds to Edward's throne. After Halley's Comet appears--considered to be an omen--William sends a fleet against Harold, now King of Wessex, and lands in England unopposed. The Normans gather food, ravage villages, and build a fortification at Hastings.

The battle takes place on October 14, 1066. Both armies fight bravely. To reassure his troops, William raises his helmet to show his face. Numerous bloody victims are shown strewn about the field of battle, until King Harold is killed, seemingly shot in the head with an arrow. In the final scene, English troops without armor flee the battlefield. (As the right end of the tapestry is missing, there may have been one additional scene.)

The Bayeux Tapestry remains an outstanding resource, not only for historians, but for students of medieval arms, clothing, and other artifacts.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. artifacts
  2. culminated
  3. fleet
  4. hapless
  5. maternal half-brother
  6. oath
  7. ravage
  8. seemingly
  9. strewn
  10. unopposed
  1. a group of boats or ships
  2. having the same mother but a different father
  3. without a challenge
  4. ended
  5. spread; scattered
  6. attack and destroy
  7. things made by humans
  8. unlucky
  9. a solemn promise
  10. apparently

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 24, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. d; 3. a; 4. h; 5. b; 6. i; 7. f; 8. j; 9. e; 10. c