THE AELFGYVA OF THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY. (pronounced Alfgeeva )
From The Norman Conquest Vol.3 Appendix
by Edward Augustus Freeman
There is no representation in the whole of the Tapestry which is more thoroughly puzzling than the one referred to with its legend "Ubi unus clericus et AElfgyva." Who is the lady, bearing a purely English name, who is thus suddenly introduced, seemingly at the gate of William's palace, with no apparent reference to anything before or after? One would naturally look for the figure of William's wife or daughter in such a position, rather than for that of any other woman. Harold's promise to marry William's daughter, which is so prominently dwelt upon in every other version of the story, is not once alluded to in the Tapestry, unless this place has reference to it. But how could William's wife or William's daughter be described by the familiar English proper name, AElfgifu? On the other hand, what chance is there that any Englishwoman, really bearing the name of AElfgifu, could be present in Duke William's palace at such a moment? And if any such AElfgifu really was there, what bearing had her presence on the general course of the story, so as to account for the prominent position thus given to her? Some of these difficulties naturally struck the very earliest commentators on the Tapestry, and from their days to ours a series of the wildest conjectures have been poured forth with regard to the "AElfgyva" in question.
The matter is treated of by Lancelot (Memoires de l'Academie, viii. 612), by De la Rue and his translator Mr. Douce (Archaeologia, xvii. l00), by Mr. Amyot (Archeaologia, xix. 199), by De la Rue again in his Appendix of 1824 (Recherches sur la Tapisserie, p. 53), by Mr. Bolton Corney (p. 19), by Dr. Bruce (p. 53), and lastly by Mr. Planche (Journal of Archaeological Association, 1867, p. 142). The strange thing is that several of these writers seem not to have understood that AElfgifu is simply a very common English name, but to have fancied that it was a sort of title, meaning Queen or Princess. Their stumbling block was the double name of Eadward's mother, "AElfgifu-Emma," in which formula Lancelot argued that AELfgifu was equivalent to Hlaefdige. Any one who turns to the passages which I have referred to will find a great number of guesses, some of which refute themselves, while others are refuted by other writers in the dispute. "AElfgyva" has been identified with the Duchess Matilda, with her daughter Adeliza, with Harold's sister Eadgyth and his wife Ealdgyth, while some have taken the trouble to show that she cannot be either AElfgifu-Emma or "the other AElfgifu". What it is that AElfgyva and the clerk are doing no one seems to know for certain, neither can I throw any light on the matter. Out of all this mass I will only, by way of relaxation, quote Mr. Bolton Corney's remarks, as at once the most curious and the least generally accessible.
"William promised to bestow one of his daughters on Harold. She is represented beneath the inscription AELFGYVA - but Elfgiva was not her name. Emma, daughter of Richard I. of Normandy, and mother of Edward the Confessor, is sometimes called by the Saxon annalists Elfgiva Emma. Elfgiva therefore, whatever we read in Florence of Worcester, seems to have been an appellation of honour, and may have been understood as such by the Saxons Bayeusains. If so, why was the name of the Betrothed omitted? Could it not be ascertained, or was it deemed superfluous? I apprehend the latter to have been the case; she was the DAME par excellence - she was buried and was annually commemorated at Bayeux"
We may infer then, First, that the Saxon language was spoken at Bayeux in the thirteenth century, the date to which Mr. Corney assigns the tapestry; Secondly, that in the Saxon language of Bayeux AElfgyva meant "Lady;" Thirdly, that one particular daughter of William was known, distinctively and familiarly, as "the AElfgyva;" Fourthly, that Mr. Bolton Corney understood Old-English better than Florence of Worcester.
Now leaving all wild conjectures, let us try and see what really suggests itself about this obscure matter. The Tapestry represents a woman named AElfgifu as being in Duke William's palace at the moment of Harold's coming thither. Who was she? We may put aside Matilda and all other women who never were, or could have been, called AElfgifu. We may put aside all those women who were named AElfgifu but who were dead and buried at the time. But of all the women named AElfgifu who were living at the time, which could have been in William's palace at that particular moment? Several guesses have occurred to me at different times. They are mere guesses, of no more value than the guesses of other writers. They are all, I allow, improbable guesses, but 1 think that they have the advantage over some other guesses of not being absolutely impossible. 1. In my second volume (p. 629) I threw out, half in jest, the suggestion that AElfgifu, the name assumed by Emma on her marriage with AEthelred, was the name usually assumed by foreign women who married English husbands. Is it possible that there is really something in this? Is it possible that William's daughter, if she had married Harold, would have had to change her name to AElfgifu? Is it possible that she is here called AElfgifu proleptically, perhaps sarcastically? This is, I grant, very far-fetched and unlikely, but it is perhaps not absolutely impossible. We should certainly expect the Tapestry to contain some reference to the intended marriage between Harold and William's daughter. We should certainly expect to find William's daughter, rather than any other girl or woman, represented where we find AElfgifu represented. And here is a way, however far-fetched, in which it is just possible she might be called AElfgifu. 2. AElfgifu was the name of the widow of AElfgar, the mother of Harold's wife Ealdgyth. According to some accounts, she was of Norman birth. Could she have been living or visiting in Normandy at this time? And can her introduction have any reference to Harold's marriage with her daughter? 3. I have mentioned in my second volume (p. 554) the Probability that Harold had a sister of the name of AElfgifu, and that she must have been the sister whom Harold (Eadmer, p.5; Sim. Dun. 1066) promised, as part of his oath, to give in marriage to one of William's nobles. Is it possible that she was in Normandy at this time? If Harold's voyage really was, as I believe it to have been, a mere yachting expedition, he may very well have been accompanied by his sister, as well as by his brother and his nephew. If it should be asked how AElfgifu came to be in William's palace while her brother was still a captive at Beaurain, it may be answered that even Guy may not have pressed his right of wreck so far as to imprison a woman, and that it is certain that one or more of Harold's party escaped Guy's clutches, if only to carry the news of his imprisonment to William. If therefore Harold was accompanied by his sister, it is quite possible she might find her way to Rouen before he did. I throw this out as a mere conjecture, and it certainly has its difficulties about it, but every explanation of this puzzling group must be mere conjecture, and it certainly strikes me that this conjecture has less of difficulty about it than some of the others. Whomever we fix upon as the AElfgifu of the Tapestry, it is still by no means clear what is happening between her and the clerk, or why the incident should receive so prominent a place in the pictured story. Like the introduction of Turold, Vital, and Wadard, there is evidently an allusion to some fact which was perfectly well known at the time, but of which no other record has been preserved. As such, it is another witness to the contemporary date, and thereby to the authority of the Tapestry.
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