> The Tapestry: although images of the Bayeux Tapestry are familiar to so many of us, being able to see them close up proves a powerful experience. The scale of the work is staggering; it measures just over 70 metres (or 230 ft) in length. This exceptionally ambitious piece of craftsmanship was most likely ordered by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, the warring Bishop Odo of Bayeux. It presents a fascinating, detailed, Norman interpretation of Duke William of Normandy’s conquest of England.
The piece is in fact an embroidery, stitched on linen, rather than a tapestry, which would have been woven. It was probably made in southern England, but for display in Bayeux Cathedral. It is now on show in the imposing buildings of the town’s former Grand Seminary for training priests.
Audioguides in English help you get the most from the rooms setting the Bayeux Tapestry in context and from close observation of the piece itself, many of whose scenes are complicated to interpret.
The early panels explain William of Normandy’s claim to the English throne and show how the leading English nobleman, Harold, when he travelled to France, was captured by a French nobleman on Normandy’s border and only rescued thanks to William. The magnanimous Norman then leads Harold around his territories and on campaign, and, crucially, gets him to swear an oath (although its precise contents are, tantalisingly, unknown). Harold, having returned to England, is shown, on King Edward the Confessor’s death, seizing the English Crown. The preparations for the invasion of England by William get underway. The depiction of William’s fleet crossing the Channel and the gory scenes from the all-important Battle of Hastings in October 1066 are the most famous panels.