Although the Tapestry shows us in great detail, the run-up, some of the causes and the eventual Norman Conquest, it leaves out key parts of the story, with many of the most important people also conveniently left out. Firstly, there is no mention or depiction of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, fought just a few weeks before Hastings, which saw Harold Godwinson systematically destroy the army of Harald Hardrada, one of the most feared men of his age and yet another claimant to the throne of England. One reason this key battle may have been omitted is because of the heavy southern bias in the Tapestry. The battle took place near York, and although it was incredibly important in the story of William and his invasion, the fact that it was so far up north, meant it was simply not deemed worthy of mention. On the other hand, the more likely reason it wasn’t included is that it gives us two things William and the new Norman court of the 1070s didn’t want revealed. Firstly, it gives us another claimant in Hardrada, as well as showing Godwinson, the usurper who went back on his oath, defeating a large army before descending on Hastings to face William, potentially making William’s victory at Hastings seem less impressive.
As well as the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and Hardrada, another claimant, arguably the one with the best blood claim is left out. Edgar Ætheling was the nephew of the late Edward the Confessor and although he grew up in Hungary and was only a teenager in 1066, Edgar was declared King after the City of London heard of Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings. Clearly, this didn’t last long, or we likely wouldn’t have the Bayeux Tapestry. But again, like with Stamford Bridge, we see another claimant removed from the story to make it seem as if it was simply Harold, the oath breaker against William, the rightful heir.
Why is it important?
Overall, the Bayeux Tapestry is both a magnificent piece of art and an important historical document, showing both all-out war and the very real human cost of it. From the knights and lavish feats to the burning buildings and the mother protecting her children, the Tapestry shows, in an easy-to-digest format, the horrors and the majesty of 11th-century Europe. The Tapestry also goes a long way to dismiss the ‘dark ages’ myth that hangs over this period, with the sheer size and quality of it completely shattering any ideas that medieval Europe was void of all learning and art. For me, the most incredible thing about the Tapestry is the fact that we still have it. Over 1000 years of mistreatment and even an attempted robbery couldn’t destroy the truly excellent work of art that is the Bayeux Tapestry. Unlike the dusty Latin primary written sources, the Tapestry gives us the story of the conquest in a strangely charming, but altogether enjoyable way, which allows a unique look back in time like no other.
The Bayeux Tapestry can be visited in Bayeux but if you can’t get over to France, there is a remarkable copy in Reading, which is an excellent second option.