Bayeux Tapestry panel 73
The Bayeux Tapestry is an artistic work that depicts the Norman invasion of England culminating in the battle of Hastings where Harold of England is killed, and William the Conqueror gains the throne of England. Tapestry would technically be the wrong word for this piece because the scenes are not woven into the fabric but embroidered (“Bayeux Tapestry”). Regardless of its classification, the Tapestry is 230 feet long, is dated to the eleventh century, and is recognized to have been made in England (“Bayeux Tapestry”). It is most likely that William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, commissioned the piece because it was found in the Bayeux Cathedral which Odo had built (“Bayeux Tapestry”).
The Tapestry is an incredible piece of artwork that allows modern audiences to see how the Battle of Hastings was viewed during the time that it occurred. However, this is also the reason that it cannot stand alone as a fully accurate historical artifact. The Tapestry was created from the Anglo-Norman perspective and cannot always be trusted when it comes to accuracy of the events that took place. According to Kate Norgate, the Tapestry cannot be a true recording of history because it was created twenty to thirty years after the battle by women who were certainly not present on the battlefield (27). It is also unlikely to be an accurate portrayal of history because for the battle to become popular enough to get embroidered in a work like this, the story of the battle must have been circulated by bards or troubadours who would embellish the story (28).
This historical inaccuracy can be seen in the last scene in which the Tapestry depicts, which is the Saxons fleeing from the Normans. It is believed that there were at least two more scenes portrayed originally in the artwork of “William in triumph and enthroned as King of England” (Anderson 254). The current last scene (shown above) however, does not tell the complete story (Wilson fig. 73 p. 168-169). The Tapestry depicts the Normans riding towards the English foot soldiers who are obviously frightened and defeated. There are corpses and dismembered bodies lying beneath the main action of the Tapestry, implying a bloody and gruesome battle. Then the Latin says, “Et fuga verterunt Angli” or, “And the English have turned to flight” (Wilson 173). This victory of the Normans and shaming of the Saxons is, of course, only told from the Anglo-Norman perspective. In reality, there were, in fact, many English soldiers who turned to flee after the death of their leader, Harold, yet what the Tapestry doesn’t include is the fact that some English soldiers stayed and fought courageously until the end with one last stand at Malfosse or Senlac Hill (“Battle”). What Senlac Hill looks like today can be seen in Carey’s picture, shown here, that he took in 2009.
What can be learned from the Bayeux Tapestry is that not every piece of history can be counted on as completely accurate records of what came before it. History is often written by the victor; therefore, scholars need to search deeper for what truly happened rather than relying on what popular art and belief depict. Even if both sides are treated fairly, stories are not always told by people who were there, and they often get embellished which strays them further from the truth.
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, www.jstor.org/stable/3297235.
“Battle of Hastings.” Wikipedia, 15 Oct. 2018, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hastings.
“Bayeux Tapestry.” Wikipedia, 21 Nov. 2018, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry#Events_depicted_in_the_tapestry.
Carey, Simon. Lower Slopes of Senlac Hill. Geography.org.uk, 14 June 2009.
Kate Norgate. “The Battle of Hastings.” The English Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 33, 1894, pp. 1–76. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/547278.
Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry. Thames & Hudson Inc, New York, 2004.