This post will analyze the 67th panel of the Bayeux Tapestry (as numbered in Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry), looking for what it teaches us historically and what we can glean artistically from it. The Bayeux Tapestry is an artistic depiction of Duke William of Normandy’s invasion of Britain in 1066, with special emphasis given to the Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066. Throughout the tapestry, William’s Norman forces are represented in chainmail, whereas the British fighters are usually shown without any armor to note. This conflict took place either (a.) because this was the middle ages and rulers back then really didn’t have anything better to do with their time, or (b.) because the death of King Edward left something of a power vacuum that William and several other claimants tried to fill. As later generations have dubbed Duke William “the Conqueror,” it isn’t hard to guess who was most successful in this effort.
This panel specifically bears the caption “HIC ODO EPISCOPUS BACULUM TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS,” which translates as “Here Bishop Odo, with a staff in hand, encourages his squires (literally “boys”).” Bishop Odo was Duke William’s half brother, and as such a prominent character in this panel he will receive special attention here. We will also observe the borders and the general scene in the tapestry.
Bishop Odo of Bayeux:
His outfit makes him stand out from the other soldiers, highlighting him as a prominent figure in a way that even his brother William in the next panel doesn’t get (Duke William is consistently depicted in chainmail, like all of his troops). It is implied that Odo is wearing at least some chainmail by the avantail–“mail protection for the neck, which hangs down from the helmet”–one can see dangling from his helmet. It isn’t clear whether this outfit is an adornment worn on top of his actual armor (as a bishop it wouldn’t be surprising to see him with at least somewhat different adornment) or if he is actually wearing a different type of armor (this could be a simplistic representation of scale mail, though having one person in the whole army wearing a very different type of armor would be surprising). As Bishop Odo was very possibly the one who commissioned the tapestry, it wouldn’t be surprising if he simply did this to make his presence in the tapestry more apparent.
Another distinguishing feature of Bishop Odo is the club he is carrying, in similar fashion to his brother Duke William’s chosen weapon. This is actually somewhat historically interesting, as it gives potential insight into the culture of the time. This is actually a fairly strong indication that the leadership in the army imitated their commander, either to impress said leader or to stand out from common troops as a “badge of rank”. This detail has a certain ring of truth that makes it seem more historical than artistic.
Lastly, many historians have noted how this panel of the tapestry emphasizes the fact that Odo, likely due to his clerical status, did not “fight” per se, but directed and encouraged his troops from the back.
The top border is likely wholly decorative in this portion, unless there was in fact a bird trying to bite its own toe at Hastings. The bottom border is a little more informative. Though it was likely included primarily as decoration, and though one corpse is much the same as another in essentials (at least, inasmuch as one can pretty easily imagine what a corpse of one of the soldiers would look like by seeing the depictions of the soldiers), the bottom tapestry does give good depictions of weaponry, armor, and a horse’s tack, all unobstructed by other elements. Admittedly, however, not much historical information can be gained from these, on account of the oversimplification necessary in representing these things via embroidery.
The bulk of this scene is, as its heading describes, a number of Norman soldiers on horseback being urged on by Bishop Odo. There are a few englishmen depicted on the left making some very expressive facial and hand gestures. This panel shows an interesting art style in which two scenes are overlaid by intermingling their subjects in an overlapping fashion, making it somewhat jumbled and disorganized. This image would seem to indicate that the Norman knights, a previously unfamiliar foe for the english, favored the broadsword or the lance, while the British seemed to prefer the spear or javelin.
Vitalis, Orderic. “Historia Ecclesiastica.” Translation by Forester, Thomas, 1853. Accessed on November 25, 2018, http://www.bayeux-tapestry.org.uk/ordericvitalis.htm.
Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry. Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Prestwich, Michael. Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual. Thames & Hudson, 2010.
“The History of Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry.” Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry at Reading Museum. November 20, 2018. http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/bayeuxinfo.htm.
“The Weaponry of 1066.” English Heritage. November 20, 2018. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/1066-and-the-norman-conquest/the-weaponry-of-1066/.
Picture Credit: (Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to get the photos to upload)
Wilson, David M.