The Tapestry as a Source:
An account of William of Normandy’s English conquests is famously depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Spanning some 70 meters in length, it is “[made] of fine bleached linen worked largely in wool” (Stafford, 1578). There are many mysteries surrounding the origins of the tapestry; for instance, it is unknown who designed, created, and commissioned it, as well as when and why it was made. It is suspected that Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (and William’s half-brother), was likely its patron. The first known reference to the tapestry was made in 1478, and there is some debate about earlier, but more unreliable, accounts, the earliest of those being that the tapestry was at one point in the possession of William’s daughter. For a long and complicated list of reasons, one source claimed the Bayeux Tapestry “…should be dated ca. 1067-68” (Stafford, 1578). Whether that dating is precisely accurate or not, it would put the creation of the tapestry in recent enough memory that its credibility as a source would be strongly reinforced.
Due to my difficulty in finding another primary source about my specific panel, I branched out a bit and found another account made around the same time about William’s conquest. The Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum was written in 1071 by William of Poitiers, who was a big supporter of William (Smailes). It provides a classically structured narrative of William’s reign from 1035-1067, and gives a very possible justification for William’s conquest, being that he was divinely appointed and his destiny was to rule (Bouet). However, this text is hard to come by since both of the original manuscripts have been lost, and what we know today comes from a version published in 1619 (Smailes).
There is a give and take with both of these sources, but I believe that both sources are credible- if taken with a grain of salt. Something I feel many people tend to overlook when studying these ancient (or just really old) sources is the distinct bias that went into creating them. Since both were commissioned, written, and/ or created by what we can fairly safely assume was the winning side, there will be a selective way the information is presented.
The Battle of Dinan:
Yes, this is the highly coveted barbeque scene! Panel 23 of the tapestry depicts a scene from the Breton-Norman War in 1065, rather than part of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
As an extremely brief background to this war, William (Duke of Normandy) supported a revolt against Conan (Duke of Brittany), and shortly after sent a letter announcing he was going to invade England, so don’t attack his land while he was away. Well, Conan informed William he would be taking this opportunity to invade Normandy, so William had to go fight off the Bretons. After chasing Conan south from Dol-de-Bretagne to Rennes, the Normans besieged the Bretons in the Château de Dinan, in what is known as the Battle of Dinan (Wikipedia Contributors).
Panel 23 shows the Bretons defending the castle with spears while the Normans burn down their fortifications during the Battle of Dinan (Wikipedia Contributors). The text on the panel reads “(HIC MILIT)ES WILLELMI DUCIS PUGNANT CONTRA DINANTES ET CUNAN CLAVES PORREXIT”, which means “Here Duke William’s soldiers fight against the men of Dinan, and Conan surrendered the keys.” (Rud, 172). Conan surrendering the keys is shown in the next panel, where he physically gives William the keys to the castle on the tip of a javelin, effectively surrendering and granting the Normans another victory (Wikipedia Contributors).
Going beyond the content of the panel, there aren’t very many details to be discussed regarding its physical construction; however, there is one point worth mentioning. The diagonal lines found in the border of the panel are what Rud described as “…perhaps the only sign in the Tapestry of a development of the artist’s confidence”, by suggesting that these lines create a more tense and dynamic scene (Rud, 181).
Stafford, Pauline, et al. “Europe: Ancient and Medieval.” The American Historical Review, vol. 110, no. 5, 2005, pp. 1577–1579. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.110.5.1577a.
Rud, Mogens. The Bayeux Tapestry and The Battle of Hastings 1066. Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers Publishers, 2002. Print.
Wikipedia contributors. “Breton–Norman War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Oct. 2018. Web. 16 Nov. 2018.
Bouet, Pierre. “William of Poitiers (c. 1073/74).” Literary Sources of Norman History, https://mondes-normands.caen.fr/angleterre/ensavoirplus/sources/GuilPoitiers.htm. Accessed 26 November 2018.
Smailes, Gary. “Primary Sources for the Battle of Hastings 1066 – William of Poitiers.” William the Bastard at War. https://garysmailes.typepad.com/gary_smailes/2007/12/primary-sources.html. Accessed 26 November 2018.