Embroidering the Truth

The Bayeux Tapestry is a pictorial description of William the Conqueror`s victory over the forces of the Saxon King at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and like all such things history is written by the winners.

The Tapestry is not even a tapestry – it`s a very skillful embroidery woven by Saxon women to commemorate their country`s defeat at the hands of a hated foreign king, and as such, is far from being a docile, dead depiction because it is alive with controversy and myth.

As it stands, it is without doubt one of the most important pieces of medieval art from any century. It is a priceless work of enormous skill, an important source of vital historical evidence…..Which doesn`t mean it is a very accurate one.

Osprey Norman Knight 950-1204

It tells it`s powerfully told story from an entirely Norman one – the version implanted into every English person with even a tiny fraction of knowledge of Duke William`s invasion and victory. William is portrayed as the rightful ruler of England, while King Harold is shown as a usurping dodgy geezer without any firm moral values. William claims that Harold made a promise to support William`s shaky claim to the English crown after Edward the Confessor died – a supposed deal which Harold reneged on. All of the “evidence” for such a promise comes from Norman sources.

As well as displaying the military preparations and engagement, the tapestry is also a valuable source of cultural history of how 11th century folk saw their world and how they represented themselves to each other, how they lived, dressed, manufactured every day items as well as how they appeared in warfare.


How the tapestry survived so many centuries of warfare, the vagaries of fashion and social upheaval is nothing short of a miracle…………It was nearly used as a tarpaulin to cover ammunition during the French Revolution. 

So despite how problematic it`s historical accuracy might be, it is still an invaluable contributor towards understanding the past and where we fit into the bigger picture. It is part of our shared heritage and a priceless treasure.


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