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1066 and the Bayeux Tapestry

Last Friday, October 14th, marked the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.  On October 14, 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England and overthrew the last Anglo Saxon king, Harold Godwinson. The Bayeux Tapestry commemorates the events of that turbulent time.  My colleague Emily has a fold-out book of the tapestry, and I thought it would be fun to provide a few photographs of sequences  from this reproduction of the tapestry.

As the tapestry begins, Edward the Confessor is sending Harold to France to meet with with William.  The first scenes include the beginning of Harold’s journey to Normandy.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (1) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (1) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

The following scenes depict Harold’s dangerous journey to see William: a journey which included bad weather and a rogue nobleman who kidnapped Harold.  But at last we see Harold arriving at William’s castle.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux, (14) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux, (14) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

Harold and William then ride off to fight Conan, Duke of Brittany, and after Conan is defeated, William knights Harold.  Harold also agrees to marry William’s daughter, Aelgyve.  Harold  swears fealty to William—the act of a feudal vassal to his lord.  Harold then puts to sea, returning to England.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (23) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (23) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

The next scenes show Edward’s death and Harold’s coronation, which took place on January 6, 1066.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (30) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (30) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

Upon learning of these events (through his spies), William orders the building of an invasion fleet.  Some of my favorite images in the tapestry are the scenes of the fleet and the battles, including the final defeat of Harold’s army and his death in battle.

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (38 and 39) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (38 and 39) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (56) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

La Tapisserie de Bayeux (56 and 57) / Photograph by Andrew Weber

It is important to understand that the tapestry tells the story from the Norman point of view.  A number of scenes in the tapestry depict the relationship between William and Harold, and imply that Harold is William’s vassal.  For the Normans, Harold’s action in claiming the English throne was not only political betrayal but represented the breaking of a personal bond between a leader and his vassal.

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