I suck at history unless there’s a great work of art involved. So, despite a general ignorance of French and British history, I can tell you all about the Battle of Hastings in the year 1066. Well, I can tell you the perspective as represented in the Bayeux tapestry: one of the best works of art in the world and a highly successful piece of propaganda.
The Bayeux tapestry is really an embroidery, but whatever, it’s in Bayeux, France, in a museum built to display it next to the cathedral it used to hang in. It illustrates the Battle of Hastings and other events that lead to Norman conquest of England, focusing on William, a Norman duke, and Harold, and English earl and for a bit, the King of England. The narrative of the embroidery is both a well-executed and easy to understand, like a comic strip/movie. It seems almost contemporary, and is about the height of an average television. The main story is in the center of the fabric, but there are delightful border embroideries that sometimes break into the narrative.
To say I was hyped to see the Bayeux tapestry is an understatement. HOB and I were waiting out front when the museum opened, and I hustled inside so I could be alone with it for a few minutes. Yeah, I’ve looked reproductions of the tapestry a gazillion times, but oh this was soooooo much better. The details! Movement! Hand gestures! Laughing horses!!! We spent about six hours in the museum off and on. There is a wonderful audio tour, and a helpful film to give context to the history-impaired like me, and a mildly interesting museum of relevant artifacts on the second floor.
Here is what I wrote in a rush after my day with this outstanding artwork:
A 70 yard embroidery, almost a 1000 years old, but somehow contemporary, an action movie, a thriller novel. There’s King Edward from England and he’s going to die and leave an heir and he picks William the Bastard from Normandy and sends his brother-in-law Harold to tell him. William and Harold bro it up and get into some fights with another guy so they bond and then William makes Harold swear on the holy relics of Bayeux that he won’t try to be crowned king. But sure enough, no sooner is Edward in his shroud than Harold has himself made king and William has spies who jump on their horses and run with their hair blowing back and Oh No bad omen there’s a streaking comet. The messengers arrive and hot damn William is pissed off so he jumps up right there and has a fleet of ships built and loads them up with horses and armor and wine and his Norman knobby-nose guys go across to England and get ready for a big-ass fight. They roast some chickens and bake bread but the servants don’t get to sit down they use their shields as tables and then Harold comes in with all his dudes. But this is propaganda so they are Bad Guys because they have long hair (the Good Guys have short hair and better armor.) People, it’s an epic 14 hour battle and horses run like a Muybridge faster faster and some of them topple over and the archers fly so many arrows and then William is still alive and Harold is stuck in the eye with a spear and he dies in slow motion and now William the Bastard is turned William the Conqueror and God approves because Harold was a blasphemer and a big stinky liar to his bestie William.
Inside the Bayeux cathedral, where the Bayeux tapestry was originally displayed.