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Did William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda, commission the Bayeux Tapestry?

Posted in Art, Arts and Crafts, Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty on Thursday, 31 May 2012

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This edited article about the Bayeux Tapestry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Matilda's Bayeux Tapestry, picture, image, illustration

Queen Matilda and her famous Bayeux Tapestry by Kronheim

Soon after William of Normandy had conquered England a beautiful tapestry was woven to record the historic event.

It is believed that it was commissioned by William’s half-brother, Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, but other sources attribute the origin of the idea to William’s wife, Matilda.

What we know, with more certainty, is where and when it was made. It was probably begun in about 1070 in Kent and took about ten years to complete.

The tapestry is about 20 inches (half a metre) wide and 230 feet (69 metres) long. The pictures on it were worked in eight different coloured wools on small strips of canvas, and then sewn together into the long piece when they were finished. The colours were gay and bright, with blue trees, horses with unusually-coloured legs, and red and green beasts.

The story of the Norman Invasion is told in 72 scenes. One of these shows Harold with his hand on a chest covered with a decorated cloth. He is making a solemn promise to allow William of Normandy to become King of England when Edward the Confessor dies.

The tapestry then shows how Harold broke his promise and became king himself. It shows in great detail Duke William’s preparations for war and his ship, with a figure-head of a boy blowing on an ivory horn, crossing the English channel.

The last scene shows the English fleeing after the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The end part of the tapestry has, unfortunately been lost.

The Bayeux tapestry is a fascinating and important record of history. Apart from showing the actual events leading up to, and including the Norman Invasion, it tells us a great deal about the people of the time. It shows, for example, the kind of weapons and armour used at the time and it has the only known picture of Edward the Confessor’s Westminster Abbey, which was pulled down in 1245.

The bright colours have, of course, faded over the years and the tapestry is now kept under glass in a museum at Bayeux. A copy of it, however, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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