Bayeux Tapestry

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The Bayeux Tapestry refers to a monumental woven tapestry creation, typically attributed to Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, which depicts the events leading up to and surrounding the conquest of England by the Normans, from the heirs of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor. It was made for Odo bishop of Bayeux, a town in northern Normandy, William’s half-brother to hang in Bayeux cathedral.

The tapestry is an enormous work. It is in one single narrative pattern, (though made in six panels before joining) using eight coloured wools on a linen background; 70 metres (231 feet) long by 49.5 cm (19.5 in) wide and portrays over 1500 figures (people, horses, dogs and other animals), 37 fortresses, 41 boats and ships, and many weapons and other implements. The top and bottom borders are foliage. It gives far more information than any written source on things from William's battle tactics, ship construction, armour and weapons, to even contemporary fashions and furniture and fittings.

Created within a half-century of the Battle of Hastings (1066), which clinched this victory, the tapestry survived in the French city of Bayeux in northern Normandy for some time before becoming, alternately, a propaganda piece for French First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte (who claimed to be heir to the Norman legacy, and hoped to conquer England himself), and an object of interest to Nazi war criminal and paranormal enthusiast Heinrich Himmler. Through the wars, the tapestry survived and remains in exhibition in Bayeux, in its own museum.

Traditionally, the story told by the tapestry is that Harold Godwinson, wealthy patrician, was commanded near the end of Edward the Confessor's life to convey title to the successorship of the British Crown to William (not yet "The Conqueror"), then in Normandy. This he did, but upon Edward's death, Harold allegedly betrayed William and claimed the Crown himself. The monumental Battle of Hastings, however, resolved the dispute in William's favour. This tale of betrayal obviously buttresses Norman claims to legitimacy, but modern historians have questioned whether the tapestry actually recites the orthodox version of events, or contains hints of dissent and notes of Anglo-Saxon support.

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