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The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry - a commemoration of William the Conqueror's victory

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry, housed in the Normandy museum of the same name, is not a tapestry in the way we understand the word today. It is an embroidery of eight separate linen pieces measuring an aggregate length of about 70 m and a width of about half a meter covering 35 different historical episodes leading up to the Battle of Hastings between King Harold II and William of Normandy.

Tapestry content

The tapestry panels illustrate a sequence of historical episodes or scenes between the years 1064 and 1066. It starts with a panel depicting King Edward the Confessor sending the future King Harold II or Harold Godwinson, then the Ear of Essex, to Normandy and ending with the last panel showing English troops fleeing the Battle of Hastings after King Harold was slain by an arrow to the eye by the Norman invaders led by William, Duke of Normandy who would later be crowed as King William I of England.

The tapestry dramatizes the origin of the Norman invasion when Harold took a pledge of allegiance to William, which precipitated the invasion when he violated the pledge and was crowned King Harold II of England.

A short history

The Bayeux Tapestry had its first public unveiling in 1077 at the consecration of the Bayeux Cathedral that stands today as a national French monument. However, the first historical reference to the tapestry dates to 1476 when it was listed among the treasures of the Bayeux Cathedral.

The tapestry was briefly mentioned in William Stukeley's "Palaeographia Britannica" published in 1743 and a detailed English description was made by Smart Lethieullier who lived in Paris between 1732 and 1733. The work, however, was not published until 1767.

The tapestry became public property after the 1782 French Revolution and was used to cover military weapons until it was rescued by a local lawyer who, after hiding it in his house, gave it to city authorities for safekeeping.

In 1803, it was displayed at the Musee Napoleon and later returned to Bayeux where, in 1816, Charles Stothard made accurate drawings thereof which were later engraved by James Basire, Jr. for publication by the Society of Anitiquaries of London between 1819 and 1823.

In 1842, the tapestry was publicly exhibited at the Bibliothèque Publique and was hidden during the Franco-Prussian War and during the German occupation of France until it was taken by the Gestapo in June 1944. After the liberation of Paris, the tapestry was put on display at the Louvre until 1945 when it was returned to Bayeux and exhibited until today at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

Restoring the missing piece

Evidence had long suggested that the tapestry had lost the last piece of about 7-8 m and remains a subject of debate among historians to this day. Historians believe that the tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror's half-brother, a decade after the Battle of Hastings to commemorate his triumph over King Harold Godwinson in 1066. A commemoration would not have ended with the death of Harold which was the last piece in the original Bayeux Tapestry, but should have ended with the crowning of the victorious William of Normandy as King of England.

This was the basis for the restoration work undertaken by the Alderney Tapestry Project that started last year and was participated in by more than 400 people out of the more than 2000 residents of the British Channel island of Alderney. Aided by some members of the royal family, the project has completed what could well be the missing last piece in the Bayeux Tapestry. With painstaking research and replicating the same embroidery style, colours and material used in the original, the Alderney Tapestry Project was completed in February this year and depicts William the Conqueror being crowned as English King on Christmas day in 1066.

The completed tapestry with the Alderney version of the last piece is currently in display at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum in Normandy, France.

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