General History and the Uncertainty of the Tapestry as a Source:
The Bayeux Tapestry is an 11th century embroidery depicting the Battle of Hasting, the 1066 battle between the invading French-Norman army, led by William the Conqueror and the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II. Both men had a claim to succession on the English throne, it was given to Harold, after he betrayed William the Normans invaded England to claim the throne. The tapestry is in very good condition despite being commissioned in the 1070’s CE (The Original Bayeux Tapestry). This piece of art is generally considered a good historical source. It was made, and finished, within 20 years of the event in question, increasing the validity of the depictions. Furthermore, it is widely accepted by historians that Bishop Odo, cousin to William, commissioned the piece. This validates the events shown in the tapestry due to his presence and participation in the battle itself. However, there is evidence of tampering on the tapestry. There are holes and fade patterns that indicate pieces have been unstitched and altered. The most infamous example is the arrow that killed Harold. The tapestry, as it is now, shows the King being shot in the head with an arrow, however, accounts say that in the original stitching he was impaled with a lance. “He was constantly striking down the enemy at close quarters, so that no one could approach him with impunity, for straightway both horse and rider would be felled by a single blow. So, it was at long range, as I have said, that the enemy’s deadly arrow brought him to his death (Medieval Sourcebook: William of Malmesbury, d. 1143?: The Battle of Hastings, 1066)”. The tapestry shows evidence of unstitching around the arrow, leading many to believe that a lance was originally depicted killing Harold and was later changed to an arrow, thus complicating the validity of other scenes.
William I, King of England from 1066 when he beat Harold II at Hastings and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. (Hulton Archive via Getty Images)
Analysis Animal of Symbolism on Panel Number 69:
Bayeux Tapestry. Circa 1077, The Bayeux Museum, Normandy, France.
Panel 69 is near to the end of the battle of Hastings, just before Harold is killed. The panel contains part of an inscription that reads: Here the French fight and those who were with Harold fell (Rud, 86). There is a noticeable influence of both French and Saxon in the Latin, this suggests that both Normans and English worked on the embroidery (Bouet and Neveux). Along the bottom, archers, and along the top (left at right) are what is possibly a peacock, a griffin, two lions, and an eagle. It is likely that each represents something. Owen-Crocker, specifically noting the birds in the tapestry, says “Often they echo what is going on in the main frame… Although birds are often used in the Tapestry to illustrate and comment on human situations, sometimes, conversely, it is as birds per se that we see them (252-253)”. Here the tide of battle is in favor of the Normans and the animals depicted along the top border may accentuate that. Symbolically speaking, a peafowl represents immortality, while a Griffin is the King of all Animals, often symbolizing Christ and holy aide. Lions are for kings, in this panel they are facing opposite to each other, this could be symbolic of the opposition between Harold and William, as both had a claim to the throne. Last is the eagle, which is a divine guide or messenger (Boehm and Holcomb).
Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Melanie Holcomb. “Animals in Medieval Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/best/hd_best.htm (originally published October 2001, last revised January 2012)
Bouet, Pierre, and François Neveux. “Latin Inscriptions.” Everyday Life – Bayeux Museum, Bayeux Museum, Oct. 2013, www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/les_inscriptions_latines_en.html.
James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History, 2 Vols. (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1904-06), Vol. I: From the Breaking up of the Roman Empire to the Protestant Revolt, pp. 224-229
“Medieval Sourcebook: William of Malmesbury, d. 1143?: The Battle of Hastings, 1066.” Internet History Sourcebooks, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/1066malmesbury.asp.
Owen-Crocker, G. (2005). Squawk talk: Commentary by birds in the Bayeux Tapestry? Anglo-Saxon England, 34, 237-254. doi:10.1017/S0263675105000116
Rud, Mogens. The Bayeux Tapestry and the Battle of Hastings 1066. Christian Ejlers Publishers, 2002. Pg. 86
“The Original Bayeux Tapestry.” The History of Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry, Reading Museum, http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/BayeuxInfo.htm