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Bayeux Tapestry

Medieval life and Times

What is the Bayeux Tapestry?
What is the Bayeux Tapestry? The Bayeux Tapestry is not actually a tapestry at all - it is an embroidery!  Coloured wool was used to embroider important scenes which led up to the Norman invasion of England and the Battle at Hastings in 1066. The Bayeux tapestry consists of eight long strips of unbleached linen which have been sewn together to form a continuous panel - this linen forms the background of the Bayeux tapestry.

The Bayeux tapestry is about 20 inches high and 230 feet long. The exact length of the original tapestry is unknown as the final panel is incomplete. There is a saying that history is always written by the victors and the Bayeux Tapestry depicts events from a totally Norman perspective.

What pictures are shown in the Scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry?
What images or pictures are shown in the scenes Bayeux Tapestry? The pictures in the scenes depicted show:

  • 623 people

  • 202 horses

  • 55 dogs

  • 506 other birds and animals (some mythical)

  • 49 trees

  • 41 ships

  • 37 buildings

  • 57 Latin inscriptions containing nearly 2000 letters

Are there any Women shown in the Bayeux Tapestry?
Only three women are shown on the main narrative of the Tapestry. The women depicted are believed to be Edith, the wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold. A Fleeing woman is shown either trapped inside, or fleeing from, a burning building at Hastings. And a woman referred to as 'The Mysterious Lady' who has been referred to as Aelfgyva, which was a common Saxon name of the era.

What are on the Borders of the Bayeux Tapestry?
What are on the borders of the Tapestry? The upper and lower borders of the Bayeux tapestry are filled with mythological figures, lions, dragons, farming and Hunting and scenes from Aesops fables. The Aesop Fables on the borders of the Bayeux tapestry have been identified as:

  • The fox and the crow

  • The wolf and the lamb

  • The wolf and the crane

  • The wolf and the kid

The significance of the scenes has been debated and there are views that believe the themes of deceit,  and unlawful possession in the fables have been used as a vehicle by the English embroiders to express their dissent and horror of the Norman invasion of Britain.

What colours were used to make the Bayeux Tapestry?
What colours were used to make the Bayeux Tapestry? The colored wool which was used to make the Bayeux Tapestry were as follows:

  • Eight different colours were used in the making of the Bayeux Tapestry

    • Dark blue

    • Blue-green

    • Grey-blue

    • Light green

    • Dark green

    • Tan

    • Buff

    • Yellow

Where was the Bayeux Tapestry made?
There are two probable places where it is most likely to have been made. The first is Winchester which was renowned for its needlework. Winchester was an important city at the time of the Norman invasion with a newly enlarged royal residence and the royal treasury was also based at Winchester.  The second is Canterbury, famous for its cathedral and it was also known to have a famous school of tapestry which used a style of work very similar to that found on the Bayeux tapestry. The plans,  designs and scenes for the Bayeux Tapestry would have first been approved by Bishop Odo.

Who made the Bayeux Tapestry?
Who made the Bayeux tapestry? A question that is often debated. There is a romantic story in which the wife of King William the Conqueror, Queen Matilda, made the tapestry with the help of her ladies in honor of her husband. The truth is that the tapestry was made in England. The style of the needlework was similar to that of English needle work and the fine quality of English needlework was renowned throughout France. Bishop Odo would have chosen the most skilled embroiderers for the task of creating the Bayeux Tapestry. The most talented embroiderers of the period were the noble Saxon women who had chosen to spend their life in a nunnery, or convent. Nuns of noble backgrounds spent much of their time on embroidery - menial tasks in the convent were given to lower class women. It is highly probable that these talented nuns, from various convents made the Bayeux tapestry.

How was the Bayeux Tapestry made?
How was the Bayeux tapestry made? The Bayeux tapestry was made by nuns who embroidered scenes from the Norman invasion and the Battle of Hastings on eight linen panels which were then sewn together. Colored wool was used for the embroidery. Yarn made of the colored wool was used for the threads that the pictures were embroidered in. The whole of the Bayeux tapestry was worked in only 2 embroidery stitches called:

  • Laid / Couched Work

  • Stem Stitch

Where did the idea to create the Bayeux Tapestry come from?
The idea of creating the Bayeux tapestry as a monument to the Norman victory and William the Conqueror was possibly routed in an English tradition. The Battle of Maldon in 991 had been depicted on such a tapestry which was presented to Ely Cathedral. This tapestry showed the last stand of Byrhtnoth, Earl of Essex (c. 930-91), against the Vikings and was commissioned by his widow, Aethelflaed. Byrhtnoth was buried at Ely Cathedral.

Why is it called the Bayeux Tapestry?
The tapestry was likely to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William, in honour of his great victory at the Battle of Hastings. The length of the tapestry fits well around the nave of Bayeux Cathedral, suggesting that it was custom built for the church, which also fits with the fact that Odo was the Bishop of Bayeux.

How long did it take to make the Bayeux Tapestry?
In March 1067 William the Conqueror returned to Normandy until December 1067. His half-brother,Bishop Odo of Bayeux, was made Earl of Kent and became William's Deputy in England in the autumn of 1067. It is probably about this time that Bishop Odo ordered the creation of the Bayeux tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry was first shown at the dedication of Odo's cathedral on July 14,1077.  This gives a period of ten years during which time the Bayeux tapestry was made.

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