The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror and how he became king of England. The previous king, Edward the confessor, had no heir and therefore had to give the throne to another man. William of Normandy claimed Edward promised the throne to him, but Harold became king anyway. William then invaded England and warred with Harold. William was victorious and became king, Harold was killed. The Tapestry was created shortly after to retell the story. (Gale)
The segment above tells us the English were not weak. They were strong enough to fight back against the Normans. It also tells us that the Normans did not easily win. It was not an effortless victory. This scene is likely accurate because it portrays both sides as losing. If the Tapestry was created entirely to paint William and his men as incredible heroes, it would not likely show when they died. It’s also possible this section could have been paying respects to the men who fell in battle.
Using the tapestry as a historical source
There’s a theory about the tapestry where bishop Odo of Bayeux ordered the tapestry’s creation to put in his cathedral around its dedication time. Some other bishops are not included in the tapestry even though we know of their existence. This would make it more difficult to trust the tapestry as a reliable source. (Gameson)
The tapestry portrays Harold as a good man. He saves some men, but he breaks an oath he made and because of that a war begins. It’s possible the tapestry could have been made to warn people of breaking oaths. It could contain inaccuracies to make the story work better for this. Multiple sources contained information to support this theory.
One feature of the tapestry that helps with its reliability is the writing explaining what is going on. It gives accurate descriptions of the events that take place meaning historians don’t have to interoperate each scene themselves. John Anderson wrote an article explaining how he uses the text on the tapestry while teaching Latin. He compares the modern language to the tapestry and uses it as a source to learn words and grammar from the past. He talks about the excitement it brings to students and would make the class more interesting and engaging. (Anderson)
While the tapestry might not contain information we can trust to be completely accurate, there is a lot we can learn from it. The tapestry is one of the best sources we have that shows kite shields in action. The words on the tapestry can provide great information, even if it’s not entirely true. We can learn the overall story from the events of the tapestry, but it shouldn’t be considered 100% true.
Wilson, D. M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry.
William I, King of England. (2018). In P. Lagasse, & Columbia University, The Columbia encyclopedia (8th ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/columency/william_i_king_of_england/0
Gale R. Owen-Crocker (2012) Hunger for England: Ambition and Appetite in the Bayeux Tapestry, English Studies, 93:5, 539-548, DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2012.698531
Gameson, Richard. “The English Historical Review.” The English Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 494, 2006, pp. 1517–1518. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4493756.
Anderson, John D. “The Bayeux Tapestry: A 900-Year-Old Latin Cartoon.” The Classical Journal, vol. 81, no. 3, 1986, pp. 253–257. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3297235.