Archive for the 'Bayeux Tapestry' Category

Is the Bayeux Tapestry reliable?

Listener William asks why the Bayeux Tapestry is considered an important or credible source.

There are three main ‘eyewitness’ accounts of the Battle of Hastings- a short poem called Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (made as early as 1067), the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (9 manuscripts of year-by-year events kept at various monasteries across England), and the Bayeux Tapestry.  The Tapestry (which isn’t really a tapestry at all), was most likely finished by 1077, and is a goldmine of inadvertent information.  Commissioned by William’s half-brother Bishop Odo, it was intended to justify the Norman invasion while casting its two protagonists in a glowing, heroic light.  Unfortunately this bias at times compromises the larger credibility of the work.  For example, Harold’s coronation is shown being performed by Bishop Stigand, a man whose well-earned reputation for corruption had put a cloud over all of his dealings for years.  As an earl, Harold had refused to let Stigand consecrate any of his religious foundations, and it’s unlikely that he would have let the tainted clergyman anywhere near the royal ceremony.  His presence in the Tapestry is probably a none-too subtle Norman attempt to further discredit Harold.  There are other bias’ in the work as well.  Bishop Odo employed English artisans to execute the Tapestry, and there have been several books written about their subversive depictions of the Norman triumph.

But even with these reservations, the Tapestry remains a vital, eyewitness source for contemporary life and warfare in the 11th century.  In it we can glimpse the weapons, armor, styles of clothing, and even the pursuits of leisure in the vanished Norman and Anglo-Saxon worlds.

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