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What is the Bayeux Tapestry?

efore we begin it should be understood that it is not a Tapestry in the full sense of the word. It is an embroidery. It was constructed from eight separate pieces of linen which were joined to make up its length. It is approximately 70 metres long and half a metre wide. It is evident that at one stage it was even longer, probably by as much as seven or eight metres are missing. This is a tragedy as it may have answered many of the questions that give cause for debate today. More will be said about this later.

 

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Who commissioned it?

celti.gif (4317 bytes) t is generally agreed that Bishop Odo was the architect who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. It was designed and constructed reasonably soon after the battle in 1066. It was made without any shadow of doubt to celebrate and record for posterity the events leading up to the battle and its aftermath.
 

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Who constructed it?

f we are reasonably confident that Bishop Odo commissioned the Tapestry, debate still reigns as to where it was constructed, and by whom. It basically comes down to your allegiances. If you are French, you would like to believe that it was made in France. There are many clues in its construction that indicate otherwise. Whereas it is known as the Bayeux Tapestry in England, it is sometimes referred to in France as the Tapisserie de la reine Mathilde or Queen Matilda's Tapestry. Matilda, you will remember was William's wife. To infer that she and she alone constructed this work of art defies all credibility. As Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy, she would never have had the time. Another factor which excludes her from the equation is that she does not appear in it herself (although she may have been in the missing section). So if we discount the construction being undertaken in France, where was it made? Over the years, the Tapestry as been studied by experts in this field and the consensus of opinion is that it was of English construction. Certain historical facts of the time and features of the Tapestry indicate where it was made. Following the battle in 1066, Bishop Odo was made Earl of Kent. This was partly because he was William's half brother and secondly because William was duty bound to repay the loyalty of his nobles.
 

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Centre of Excellence

anterbury has been mentioned a number of times as the religious centre of England. Canterbury is situated in the County of Kent. Not only was it famous for its religious connotations but around this time there existed a embroidery centre of excellence in the town. Bishop Odo must have known of this school and this may have been the spur for the Bayeux tapestries construction as opposed to him deciding on a Tapestry and then deciding who should make it. Another clue to its English origin is its similarity to Anglo Saxon manuscripts produced around this time. Yet another indication is the translation of names into Latin which could only have originated from the Anglo Saxon spelling.
 

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Who designed it?

celtt.gif (5193 bytes) his is a more difficult question to answer. If you stand back and look at the Tapestry as a whole, you perceive the impression that it is a celebration of a famous victory. You also perceive a certain flow which indicates an artistic impression in so much as the design was by one person. Was this person male or female?

 

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It must be a man

ertain scenes in the Tapestry are vivid and bloody during the battle. It seems inconceivable that a woman would be able to perceive some of the horrendous seems depicted without actually being at the battle. My conclusion therefore, is that it was designed by a man, who was French, and who possibly was involved in or was an eyewitness to the battle. The Tapestry as it exists today covers the arrival of Harold in Normandy and concludes with his death and defeat of the English. Some of the scenes depicted are of a private nature, such as the death of Edward the Confessor and Harold swearing over holy relics. This information had to be collated and placed in chronological order. No one man could have been involved in this exercise. As stated earlier, the Tapestry was constructed out of eight strips of linen. Whether each section was made separately or sewn together first is not known. The designs were possibly lightly drawn on the linen and the embroidery placed on top. Not being an expert in this field, I will not comment on the stitching used. There are other web pages which go into more detail on this subject.

 

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How did it survive?

celtl.gif (5377 bytes) ike so many artefacts, the Bayeux Tapestry survived through luck and endeavours of certain individuals and groups. Following its construction in the decade following the battle, the exact date or time it took to construct is not known, it was transported to Bayeux. Here we assume, it was put on display in the Church of Notre Dame, which was consecrated by Bishop Odo in 1077. We know that the Tapestry remained within the Cathedral walls for the next 400 years because an inventory of treasures catalogued it. Little is known or interest shown for almost another 300 years. It remained in the Cathedral. Interest began to mount around 1750 in England where it was referred to in a work entitled the Palaeographia Britannicus. No attempt was made to investigate it further by the English. In 1792 the seeds of civil war had been sown. The Tapestry was in danger. The French revolution had begun. It was at this time that the very existence of this masterpiece held in the balance. But for the actions of one man, a Lambert Leonard Leforestier, it would have been lost. The people of Bayeux now fighting for the Republic used cloth to cover their wagons. There was a shortage of cloth until somebody remembered a supply of it in the cathedral. It was removed and used to cover a wagon. When Lambert saw what was happening, he replaced the Tapestry with other cloth. The people of Bayeux, determined never to allow this to happen again, the city council set up a fine arts council to protect its treasures. It was just as well that they did because two years later in 1794 it was again to be cut up and used as decoration for a public holiday. In 1803 it was removed under protest by Napoleon and transported to Paris. Napoleon used the Tapestry as inspiration for his planned attack on his natural enemy England. When this was aborted, it was returned to the people of Bayeux.
 

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Not a scroll

rightened of losing the Tapestry, the council kept the Tapestry on a scroll. It was shown only to eminent guests and dignitaries. This tended to stretch the embroidery but at least it was safe. It spent the next 15 years being moved around Bayeux for its own safety. In 1818, the existence of the Tapestry was causing great interest in England. To this end, an English draughtsman was sent to Bayeux to inspect and catalogue it. He spent 2 years making an in death study of it. By inspecting every pin hole, he devised a programme of restoration. In 1842, repairs were affected in Bayeux. It was removed from the scrolls and displayed for all to see under glass. The Tapestry was again removed in 1870 during the Franco Prussian war but returned in its glory 2 years later. Here it remained on display until 1913 prior to the outbreak of World War 1 where it was again removed and stored in a safe place. The same action occurred during the second World War, it was removed for safe keeping and out of the hands of Nazi Germany who tended to collect art from conquered countries. On the 6th June 1944 a reverse invasion took place. This was known as D. Day. To avoid the Tapestry being damaged during the inevitable conflict, it was secretly moved to the Louvre in Paris where it was stored in their vaults. Following the surrender of Germany, the Tapestry was displayed again in Paris in all its glory. The following year it was returned to Bayeux under the jurisdiction of the municipal library. Today it is on display in Bayeux and can be viewed by the general public.

 

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Background information

he Tapestry consists of
 

623 humans

55 canines ( dogs )

202 equines ( horses )

41 ships

49 trees

Almost 2000 Latin words

Over 500 mythical and non mythical creatures such as birds and dragons.

At least 8 colours of yarn are discernible.

 

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The missing piece

s mentioned earlier, it is known that the Tapestry is not complete and that at least seven or eight metres of it are missing. Where and when this portion disappeared will never be known. Considering its chequered history it is necessary to postulate what might have been included in that section. The last part in existence depicts the defeat of the English. If you were deliberately attempting to remove a portion of the Tapestry, this would be a good place to do it, especially if you were French. This missing section would almost certainly have included William's consolidation of England and his coronation on Christmas Day 1066. His acceptance by London and the construction of the tower of London. It would hopefully have confirmed or dispelled the Malfosse incident one way or another. It would also have depicted the justification of him becoming king. An attempt was made to construct the final piece quite recently in England. It was, like this paragraph, speculation however. The simple fact is that we shall never know. Let us just be grateful that this relic has survived when so many others have not.

 

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copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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