Bayeux Tapestry, c1066

Note: The images presented in this digital collection were and are available in the public domain on the internet, and therefore have had no copyright restrictions. Correspondence with the Centre Guillaume le Conquérant had been initiated to formalize the presentation and permissions, however no response has been received to date. The general policy of AEMMA is that any and all images from original sources are to be used only for research and educational purposes. Any desire to use the images for profit-oriented initiatives, must obtain explicit permission from the Centre Guillaume le Conquérant.

This so-called tapestry is in fact an embroidery that chronicles the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror 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. Each segment below represents approximately 2.5 yd sections of the tapestry.

It is generally believed 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.

A Short History of the Bayeux tapestry

Assuming it is 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 ones allegiances. If one is French, then one 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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Like so many artifacts, 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.

Frightened 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 depth 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, located specifically at Centre Guillaume le Conquérant and can be viewed by the general public.

Some stats: The tapestry contains 623 humans, 55 canines (dogs), 202 equines (horses), 41 ships, 49 trees and almost 2000 Latin words.

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Released: October 20, 2000 / Updated: March 25, 2008