The Bayeux Tapestry: Sticking it to the man since 1066

Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian, I’m your host, Zach and with me is my lovely and super intelligent co-host, Anna Komemne!
Anna – It’s good to be here but I must say that preparing for today’s topic was a bit…tedious. I’m not usually one for talking about art.
Zach – That’s right, today we’ll be discussing the Bayuex tapestry, the most famous work of medieval art.
Anna – But it’s not really a tapestry.
Zach – Shhh. With us today we have famous Samurai warrior woman: Tomoe Gozen!
Tomoe – It is honor to be here.
Zach – Next we have Countess Matilda of Tuscany! She was a military contractor for the Pope and fought the German emperor.
Matilda – How long is this going to take? I have three gun tournament today.
Zach – And next we have the killer of Custer, Cheyenne female fighter, Buffalo Calf Road!
Buffalo – The buffalo burgers will done in a few minutes! The intern’s watching the oven.
Tomoe – She had better not burn buffalo burger or I cut off her head.
Buffalo – Um…maybe I should go check on that. (Buffalo hurries out of room.)
Zach – Yes, lets not kill any interns here. Next we have Napoleon who….spent all last week in his room playing strategy games on line.
Napoleon – But I won! Apply the basics and the rest is simple.
Matilda – How about the basics of a bath? What is that orange powder on the front of your shirt?
Napoleon – Cheetos. The spicy kind.
Zach – Okay, let’s get started. The Bayeux tapestry is basically a really long strip of cloth that was embroidered with what we could call a comic strip type of story.

As you can see, it's pretty darn long.

Anna – Embroidered? Zach, you’re increasing your vocabulary!
Matilda – It’s a comic? Like a graphic novel?
Zach – Pretty much.
Matilda – I like the New Avengers and the Thunderbolts.
Tomoe – I like Battle Angel Alita, Gunslinger Girls and Perfect Girl Evolution.
Napoleon – I like Superman.
Anna – You would. He’s on a power trip and has no personality.
Zach – The story that this “tapestry” tells is the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror. For centuries everyone, including the Normans, thought it was a political piece of propaganda by self congratulating Norman occupiers
Matilda – Perhaps we should explain the two sides? The Normans are Vikings that settled in Northern France because they wanted to. It’s hard to say “no” to a Viking.
Anna – And the English were Saxons that had invaded England when Rome Fell about five centuries prior.
(Buffalo returns with a tray full of buffalo burgers.)
Buffalo – I brought everyone buffalo burgers! Get it? They’re made from Buffalo and my name’s…
Anna – Yes, we get it. Thank you.
Napoleon – We appear to be one short. Where is mine?
Buffalo – We’re short one? Oh, dear me. How ever did that happen?
(Napoleon watches as everyone else eats, delicious, juicy buffalo burgers…with bacon!)
Zach – Okay, that was frigging excellent.
Tomoe – So good.  Brings much honor to you.
Matilda – I’ve never seen a buffalo before, but by Christendom if this isn’t delectable!
Anna – Let us dive into the heart of the matter then! We will start at the beginning of the tapestry and follow the history that it teaches us. We will tell you the traditional explanation for what we see; the Norman version of how things happened, but then we’ll tell you what it’s REALLY saying.
Buffalo – So, where’s the beginning? Wait, i think I found it. It’s this picture here, right?

It's written in Latin. It says "Edward Rex - King Edward. Then 'Where Harold, Duke of the English..."

Zach – King Edward the confessor is king of England, but he doesn’t have any children. This is a problem for a Medieval monarchy because now they have to find who will be king next.
Buffalo – That’s a pretty silly system. How many useless wars did you all fight over this?
Anna – Most of them, I think. Not counting Turkish invasions.
Matilda – Or the Holy Roman Emperor trying to take power from the Pope.
Zach – Here we have a meeting with the King, Duke Harold and an adviser. So, the childless Edward sends Harold off somewhere. We’ll get to “where” exactly a little later.

"...and his soldiers ride to Bosham." Eclesia ="Church" Then it shows Harold partying it up with his noble buddies in a palace. But where is he going? Hmmm....

Anna – The Norman and traditional interpretation say that Edward sent Harold off to Normandy to find Duke William to declare him the heir to the English throne. Now, as we go through, we’ll look and see if the story the tapestry tells is the Norman version or something else.
Matilda – We can see a servant interrupting the feast to tell them that the ship is ready.

See? Now they're getting into their ships. The Latin says "Here Harold sailed across he sea." Then "And with the wind full in his sails he came to the land of Count Guy."

Napoleon – Look at the little English men! Ha! In this so called “tapestry” you can see that the English always have long hair and little mustaches!
Zach – That is an excellent point. Yes, the English will always be shown with long hair and mustaches and the Normans and French (not the same thing) will be clean shaven with short hair.
Buffalo – Also, their ships look like Viking long boats.
Anna – Well, England’s been under the thumb of the Vikings for a while and Normans are just Vikings that speak French.
Matilda – And I’m a German that speaks Italian!
Buffalo – Europeans are confusing. Why can’t you all just stay in one place?
Tomoe – Is this Harold an honorable man or no?
Zach – Good question. The traditional Norman view says that Harold was an upstart that tried to steal the throne from the rightful heir, William. That Harold came to tell William that the throne is his but then steals it. We’ll see how that plays out.

"Harold" Then it says "Here Guy seizes Harold."

Anna – Harold’s ship goes off course in a storm and lands on the territory of Duke Guy. Guy owned a small little dukedom and he got his money by seizing noblemen and ransoming them back to their kingdoms.
Tomoe – That is not a very honorable way of living.
Zach – No, no its not. But Harold finds himself captive of this Guy character. Keep in Mind that Harold is the top contender for heir of the throne, so basically Guy just won the lottery.

"And led him to Beaurain and he held him there." Guy takes his prize home.

 

"Where Harold and Guy confer." Basically, Guy says, I'll treat ya good, but remember who's in charge! But...who's that sneaky little guy that seems to be listening in? More mystery!

 

Then, like a scene out of Pulp Fiction, two of William's thugs show up and tell Guy to hand Harold over to William or they'll wreck his face. William is not a man to tick off. (There's a dwarf there names Turold. He's a jester of sorts.)

 

Now we flash back to earlier. The two thugs are burning asphalt to Guy's pad. We see a messenger telling William about Guy's new prize, so he sends his two men to Guy. "Here a messenger came to Duke William." Was this the guy that was listening in on Guy and Harold?

 

"Here Guy brought Harold to William, Duke of Normandy." Yeah, Guy did as he was told.

 

"Here Duke William comes to his palace with Harold."

 

William on his throne talking to Harold. (I'll get to the lady and priest in a moment.)

Tomoe – Wait a second. What are they saying?  This is big meeting?  Here Harold tells William he is heir to England?
Zach – Exactly! According to the Normans this is where Harold tells William that he will be heir. But look, the tapestry says nothing of the kind.
Buffalo – So…what is going on?
Zach – Look what Harold (the guy standing and gesturing) is doing. He’s pointing the man behind him. The mysterious man has long hair and a mustache. He’s English. At this time, William held as hostage two of Edward’s nephews and according to the English, Harold was sent to secure the nephews’ releases.
Tomoe – Does not look like Harold is telling William anything about throne, but begging for nephew’s release.
Matilda – Wait, this tapestry wasn’t made by the Normans, was it?
Anna – Nope. Normans didn’t make embroidered art like this. Only the English.
Matilda – So, English people made this for their conquerors?
Zach – Yes! But they couldn’t come out and say their side of the story. Going against the Norman conquerors was considered treason. So they hid their story in plain sight.
Napoleon – Who is the lady?
Zach – The Latin says “Where a Cleric and Aelfgyva…”
Buffalo – Where a Cleric and Aelfgyva what?
Zach – Exactly. Look at the bottom decorations. See the little naked guy? He’s mimicking the priest and looking up the lady’s dress. They think this lady was mother to a Viking king that also laid claim to the throne. This says that he was conceived in a scandal and so doesn’t have any actual claim.
Buffalo – Ooookkaaayyyyy…..

"Here Duke William and his army came to Mont-Saint-Michel." Now that Harold is William's hostage, he takes him on a little military campaign but first stops at a famous monastery, built by Edward. Why would a piece of Norman propaganda emphasize this? Hhmmmm

 

"And here they crossed the river Couesnon. Here duke Harold pulled them out of the sand." We see Harold heroically saving men from the treacherous sand. If Harold was a villainous usurper, why show him as a hero? Funny.

Anna – We see William’s army attacking a rebellious city. Harold is taken along and fights along side William. That was normal. In fact, his two hostage nephews are also fighting for William. It beats sitting in a cell.

"Rennes" They attack another city of the rebellious Duke.

 

They attack this city. You can see the underminers trying to burn the walls of the city down. The rebel gives William the keys to the city at the end of a spear.

Anna – But look! It also says “Here William gave arms to Harold.” Basically that means that Harold is now under Williams authority.
Tomoe – Why would he do that? If he is heir to English throne, why would go under William’s authority?
Naploleon – Simple! William made him! If Harold didn’t agree, William would never let the poor wretch go home!
Zach – Correct. William wants to be king and if he could get Harold to proclaim him king, he wins.

Here William makes Harold swear on sacred relics to make the "deal" binding.

 

"Here Duke Harold returned to English soil."

 

Here's Harold's meeting with King Edward. Look at how whimpering Harold looks and how old the king looks since last we saw him. "Boy, you done messed up real good! You let William boss you around??!!" (rough translation.)

 

"Here King Edward in his bed addresses his faithful followers and here he has died." We see him sick in bed (top) where his wife massages his feet. On the right it says "Here they gave Harold the Crown." Notice it doesn't say he steals the crown or anything like that. Not what the Normans would say.

 

The Normans considered Harold to be a pretender and never counted him as a legit king but....here it says "Here sits upon the throne Harold, King of the English."

 

"Here an English ship came to Duke William's land." (to tell him Harold went back on his "promise" and accepted the crown for himself."

 

 

more war preparations, yo can see them hauling armor on the right.

 

Even more preparations.

 

A reverse D-Day. France invades England.

 

more of the fleet.

 

Invasion! The Normans are sacking towns for food.

 

They have a barbeque.

 

Bishop Odo (a Norman) throws a feast. Odo, William and a nobleman named "Robert" chill before battle. Odo was a fighting bishop. Many bishops back then would get in armor, pull out their maces and charge into battle like D&D cleric.

 

Normans fortify their position on the left and Harold gets word of the Norman invasion.

 

Normans burn a house and we see a woman fleeing with a child. On the right the Normans set out and head North to face Harold. (what isn't shown is that Harold is fighting off a viking invasion at Stamford Bridge.)

 

Norman cavalry heading into battle.

 

 

 

 

 

And the climactic final battle begins!

 

Normans vs English! Now the decorative borders are filled with dead bodies.

 

Here are King Harold's brothers dying in battle. I have brothers I care a great deal for and I can't imagine what that would be like. I went to Iraq with my twin twice and loosing him would have been worse than dying myself.

 

"Here English and French die in battle." It no longer matters what side they're on. In death they're all equal. Here we see that there's nothing glorious or great about war. It's simple carnage and misery.

 

The English are defending a hill. The Normans pretend to retreat and the English come down from the hill to give chase. The Normans then turn around and slaughter the English.

 

Everyone thinks Harold is dead but he raises his helmet up to show that he's still alive.

 

And here Harold takes an arrow in the eye and dies.

Buffalo – Sad.
Tomoe – I don’t care what Normans say, Harold fought bravely.
Napoleon – I wish I had half of William’s luck.
Matilda – That one battle changed English history forever. The nobility spoke French and the Kings of England were technically vassals of the French King.
Anna – Which would lead to the Hundred Years war later on.
Zach – Duke William became “William the Conqueror, King of England” and he ruled with an iron fist. There’s so much more to this story and to the tapestry. But I hope you’ve seen that for once, history was written by the losers who dared insert their story into a monument for the victors. They may have lost but they didn’t give up.
Tomoe – They stuck it to the man.
Buffalo – I can always respect resistance.
Anna – For more of this story, check out “1066: the Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry” by Andrew Bridgeford.

5 comments on “The Bayeux Tapestry: Sticking it to the man since 1066

  1. Glenda says:

    All I can say is wow. This was amazing. Not that the victors, won, but that the loosers, were still brave enough to tell their side of the story. Amazing that they did this as a gift to the victors, and did it a typical English form of art! What an amazing little portion of history. Brilliant.

  2. cthulhu says:

    People willing to risk their lives for art…you don’t see that nowadays. That took some cajones to fight that propaganda war.

  3. Interesting post. Reminded me of when I was researching William the Conquer and how he was connected to my family from way, way back. I read about the Norman conquest of England and I’m glad to have another view of the battle. Makes me think how different the world would be if we were presented with all the facts of history in school, not just the facts they want to spoon feed us. Also, I think the Karen O cover of “Immigrant Song” by Zed Zeppelin should be the soundtrack to this post. It popped into my head the moment I started reading it! If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out. AWESOME SONG!

  4. The first time i heard that song i played it over and over, until my roommate had enough. Hey, a girl’s gotta rock right! -leslie

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