Bayeux tapestry

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Bayeux Tapestry. An extraordinary work: simultaneously, it is a major work of art, unique for its time, a stunning piece of propaganda in support of the Norman claim to the English throne in 1066, and, archaeologically speaking, a record of immense importance for the study of a host of subjects ranging from contemporary ship construction and navigation, military tactics, and equipment, to the more homely—clothes and fashions, furniture and fittings. In considerable detail, it portrays 626 people, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 505 animals of various sorts, 37 fortresses and/or buildings, 41 boats and ships, and innumerable weapons, clothes, and agricultural implements.

Strictly speaking, the tapestry is an embroidery, some 230 feet long and around 20 inches high. It is worked in eight coloured wools on a plain linen ground, its masses of colour, in couched and laid work, defined by stem or outline stitch. It was produced in six separate pieces, the consistent quality indicating very close monitoring by the overall designer. It consists of one single horizontal line of action set within two borders (above and below), and takes the form of a sequence of vignettes, which provide an episodic account of events.

Politically, the tapestry records some of the events of 1064/5–6 which culminated in the death of Harold II at the battle of Hastings. But it is certainly not objective. The tapestry seeks to impart a political message which splices with its overarching moral—the inevitable fate that awaits any man who breaks a solemn oath sworn on the relics of Bayeux cathedral. Since Harold is shown swearing such an oath to Duke William of Normandy in full public view, the tapestry's story is that of Harold's downfall after he committed perjury by taking the English throne on Edward the Confessor's death. William in this context is but the rod of divine vengeance.

Internal evidence indicates that the tapestry was produced for Bishop Odo of Bayeux, William's half-brother. It is now generally accepted that it was made in England, probably in Kent, of which Odo was earl (1067–82). If the attribution to Odo is correct, then it must have been made between 1066 and 1097, when Odo died; and if it is English, then a date in the 1070s or early 1080s is most likely as Odo rebelled in 1082, was imprisoned for five years, and lost Kent. The tapestry is housed at Bayeux near Caen in Normandy.

S. D. Lloyd

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Bayeux Tapestry a fine example of medieval English embroidery, executed between 1066 and 1077, probably at Canterbury, for Odo, bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror, and now exhibited at Bayeux in Normandy. In seventy-nine scenes, accompanied by a Latin text and arranged like a strip cartoon, it tells the story of the Norman Conquest and the events leading up to it; these include a representation of Halley of Chancery, the appearance of which as causing predictions of disaster prior to the Battle of Hastings is noted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

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Bayeux tapestry (c.1080) Strip of linen embroidered in wool, measuring 70m × 48cm (231ft × 19in) and depicting (in more than 70 scenes) the life of Harold II of England and the Norman Conquest. An unfounded tradition attributes its design to Matilda, wife of William I (the Conqueror), but it was probably commissioned by William's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. It is now in a museum in Bayeux, n France.

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Bayeux tapestry: This so-called tapestry is in fact an embroidery that chronicles the Norman Conquest of England by William the Conqueror (William I) in 1066. It is a long, narrow strip of coarse linen, 230 ft by 20 in. (70 m by 51 cm), embroidered in worsteds of eight colors in couching and stem stitch. The embroidery is a valuable document on the history and the costumes of the time. Its provenance and date have long been disputed. Tradition attributes it to Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, and her handmaidens; but it is now thought to be of somewhat later origin and possibly the work of English embroiderers. The embroidery is preserved in the Bayeux Museum.

See Sir Eric Maclagan, The Bayeux Tapestry (1945); F. Stenton et al., The Bayeux Tapestry (2d ed., rev. and enl., 1965).