Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Bayeux Tapestry: Norman Propaganda

Norman Propaganda : the Bayeux Tapestry
Mr John Richards of Skewen has visited us on two previous occasions and this time took the Bayeux tapestry as his topic. He explained from the outset that there were several misconceptions regarding the “tapestry”. Firstly, it was not a tapestry and was actually an embroidery, using various colours and was highly detailed. Secondly, although it is a narrative of the events leading to the ultimate conquest of Saxon England, it should be viewed as propaganada by the Normans and in particular Bishop Odo, Duke William's half brother, in justifying the conquest and William’s coronation as King. The tapestry was produced in 1077 with the intention of being on display in Bayeux Cathedral.

Mr Richards firstly explained the structure of the work which is 230 feet long and some 18 -20 inches wide. It is set in three sections with the top showing the story in Latin, the main section showing the action and the bottom showing some of the sub plots. It was fascinating to discover the hidden story behind some of the pictograms and the scandal was reminsiscent of a modern tabloid newspaper with the sex and violence both graphic and gory. The Normans can be seen by their strange hairstyles with a shaved face and back of the head. The Saxons on the other hand have longer hair and moustaches.

The tapestry covers the period between the declining years of Edward the Confessor in 1064 and the Battle of Hastings on October 14th,1066. Mr Richards explained that the succession was complicated and confused since Edward had no heir. Harald Hardrada of Norway, Duke William of Normandy and Harold Godwinson ( sub regulus) all jostled for the succession. The tapestry, makes the case for William who had befriended Harold when he was stranded in Normandy and had made him swear an oath on the bones of saints that the succession would be his. Having been ultimately betrayed by Harold, this justified the invasion.

Mr Richards then went through each section of the tapestry in turn, which he showed had probably been made by English embroiderers owing to several grammatical errors in the text. The question as to whether Harold had actually been killed by an arrow was uncertain, since eye witness accounts say that he was “ridden” down by four knights. A figure, nearby Harold also also has the indentations of an arrow protruding from his eye, so the jury is rather out on that one. The brutality of the battle was shown by the tapestry in graphic detail as the Normans gradually wore down the Saxon kraals ( professional soldiers) to win the battle. The last two pages of the tapestry are missing, but a contemporary poem suggests that they depicted the pillage of the surrounding countryside as the Normans suppressed the local opposition. A more detailed account can be found in the link below.

And a translated/ truncated animated version

Mr Richards concluded his talk by showing a slide of Battle Abbey which was built on the orders of William the Conqueror on the site of the famous battlefield, possibly as penance for his many bloody victims.

Mr Trefor Jones in thanking Mr Richards stated how something so familiar actually held so  much detail and intrigue. Mr Phylip Jones giving the formal vote of thanks to Mr Richards for a memorable talk, stated jokingly that how ironic it was that the Normans had conquered England in a day but had taken two and a half centuries to suppress Wales!!

Next month’s speaker on Monday, November 10th will be Mr Robert King of Abergarwed, who will talk on “The Ghosts of Neath”.


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