1066 by Andrew Bridgeford


The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry
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Definitely not the Norman version.

The Battle of Hastings, in 1066, when the last Anglo Saxon king, Harold, was defeated by William the Conqueror, is one of the world’s most commented-upon battles, partly because its effects (the fusion of French and Anglo-Saxon into English, for example) ramify to this day—and partly because it was illustrated by the near-contemporary Bayeux Tapestry, a masterpiece of Medieval art. What is there new to add to the library of references? Bridgeford attempts to overturn at least two old verities about the battle. According to the author, “close observation of the Bayeux Tapestry reveals that it is not a work of Norman propaganda that popular myth would have us believe, but a covert, subtle, and substantial record of the English version of events.” He makes a very strong case by comparing real Norman propaganda, which is codified in William of Poitier’s The Deeds of Duke William (circa 1070), with the Bayeux’s scenes. Scene by scene, the Bayeux tapestry deviates significantly in its sympathetic treatment of Harold from the simple-minded vilification to which he was subjected after his death at Hastings. Bridgeford goes to less used sources, such as Eadmar’s The History of Recent Events in England (circa 1090), to understand the images. If he’s right, then another supposed fact about the tapestry—that it was commissioned by William’s half-brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux—seems unlikely. Bridgeford believes, instead, that the tapestry was commissioned by William’s occasional ally Count Eustace of Boulogne as a peace offering to Odo, with whom Eustace was often in violent conflict. This is solid historical detective work, enlivened with extensive speculations about the tapestry’s mysteries (Bridgeford, for instance, has a fascinating theory about why a dwarf named Turold holds a special place in the story).

On sound empirical ground, Bridgeford’s work will no doubt generate much heat and some light among students of English history.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8027-1450-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2005


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