Archaeologia: or, Miscellaneous tracts, relating to antiquity..,
Volume 18, 1817

XLIV. Observations on the Bayeux 'Tapestry, by Hudson Gurney, Esq. M. P. F. S. A. in a Letter to Henry Ellis, Esq. F. R. S. Secretary.

Read July 4th, 1816.

Gloucester Place, July 4th, 1816.

My Dear Sir,

I Am sorry to say in answer to your note, that I am unable to send you the Remarks, with which I had proposed to trouble the Society concerning the Bayeux Tapestry, in as perfect a form as I could have wished; but as I understand from our noble President, that we are to expect a facsimile of this document, so very curious as giving in picture a continuous, and nearly contemporary History of the events represented, from that excellent and most accurate artist, Mr. Stothard, jun'. I shall venture in the mean time, to commit them to you, just as they are.

I was at Bayeux for a few hours in the year 1814; but not knowing that the Tapestry went there by the appellation of The "Toile de St. Jean," I was very near coming away without being able to discover where it was. At last I learnt it was at the Hotel of the Prefecture. It was coiled round a machine, like that which lets down the buckets to a Well; and I had the opportunity of drawing it out at leisure, over a table.

It is a very long piece of brownish linen cloth, worked with woollen thread of different colours, which are as bright and distinct, and the letters of the superscriptions as legible, as if of yesterday.

Three things convinced me at the time that it was of the antiquity ascribed to it; and the known facts, of the English being in those days celebrated for works of embroidery, and of English workwomen having been employed in these works by Matilda, and the nature and gist of the story represented, all lead me to retain the same opinion still.

First, In the many buildings therein pourtrayed, there is not the trace of a pointed arch, though there is much pointed work in the ornaments of the running border; but there is the square Norman buttress flat to

the wall, and the square tower, surmounted by, or rather ending in a low pinnacle constantly repeated.

Secondly, all the Knights are in ring armour; many of their shields charged with a species of cross and five dots. Some with dragons, but none with any thing in the nature of armorial bearings, which, in a lower age, there would have been. All wear a triangular sort of conical helmet with a nasal, when represented armed.

Thirdly, the Norman banner is, invariably, Argent, a Cross Or in a bordure Azure.

This is repeated over and over again. We meet it in the war against Conan, as well as at Pevensey and at Hastings; and there is neither hint nor trace of the later invention of the Norman Leopards.

It may he remarked, that the whole is worked with a strong outline; that the clearness and relief are given to it by the variety of the colours; and that nothing but a copy of this monument in colours, can furnish an adequate representation of it. With all the rudeness of its execution, the likeness of the individual appeared to me to be preserved throughout the piece. Harold and his Saxons never quit their moustaches; and William himself, both from his figure and erect manner of holding himself, would not fail to be always recognized, were there no superscriptions.

I trust I have said enough to prove how very insufficient the prints we have of it are, to convey any accurate idea of the Bayeux Tapestry; being in fact, (though the inscriptions, not the figures, were verified for M. Launcelot,) merely copies of copies of the one Sketch of Father Montfaucon's draughtsman.

Now, Sir, I had intended to have added some observations on the passages of those times, as indicated on this monument, which, as I have not all the materials at hand, I am obliged to defer; but I may be allowed to state, that all the evidence of that nature, I have been able to discover, goes to confirm me in the belief that it really is of the era assigned to it.

Our very learned and distinguished correspondent The Abbe De La Rue, conjectures it to have been worked in the time of the second Matilda, called by our historians the Empress Maud.

But the fact is, all have hitherto treated the Bayeux Tapestry as a "Monument of the Conquest of England," following therein M. Lancelot, and speaking of it as an unfinished work: whereas it is an apologetical History of the Claims of William to the Crown of England, and of the breach of faith, and fall of Harold; and is a perfect and finished action.

After the reign of William, the dispute of right lay among the Normans; between William Rufus and Robert; Henry and William Clito; Stephen and Maud. But Wace, who was nearly contemporary, expressly says, that at the time of the Conquest there were two: stories (others indeed give us a third, that, Harold's voyage was merely by accident of tempest). The One, that Harold, against Edward's advice, went to endeavour the release of his relations, hostages with William. The Other, that Harold was sent by Edward to assure to William the succession to the Crown of England on his demise.

Which was true, Wace says, He knows not; hut both maybe found written.

The last was the Court story, and is the story of the Tapestry of Bayeux.

I annex the running superscriptions, with a very concise indication of the subjects of the seventy-two compartments into which this remarkable monument naturally divides itself; and which, if you should have the patience to read, or the Society to hear, will, I think, prove my hypothesis.

I am, my dear Sir,

Very faithfully Yours,

To Henry Ellis, Esq. HUDSON GURNEY.

&c. &c. &c.


1. Rex Edwardus.
Edward on his throne giving Harold, attended by one other person, his audience of instruction.

2. Ibi Harold Dux Anglorum, et sui milites equitant ad Bosham.
Harold on his journey.

3. Ecclesia.
This little monastery of Bosham; Harold and another at prayers; his train drinking in the upper story of a building hard by.

4. Hic Harold mare navigavit.
Harold embarking.

5. Et velis vento plenis venit in terram Widonis comitis.
Harold on his voyage.

6. Harold.
Harold disembarking.

7. Hic apprehendit Wido Haroldum.
Harold seized by Wido.

8. Et duxit ad Belrem et ibi eum tenuit.
Harold led away prisoner.

9. Ubi Harold et Wido parabolant.
Wido, on an elevated seat (without canopy) hearing Harold, and replying.

10. Ubi nuntii Willielini Ducis venerunt ad Widonem.
Wido's audience of William's messengers.

11. Turold.
A bearded Dwarf, holding the messengers' horses.

12. Nuntii Willelmi.
William's messengers returning.

13. Hic venit Nuntius ad Wilgelmum Ducem.
A Saxon (i. e. a moustached) messenger, kneeling to William on his ducal seat.

14. Hic Wido adduxit Haroldum ad Wilgelmum Normannorum Ducem.
Wido leading Harold honorably attended, to William on horseback.

15. Hic Dux Wilgelm. cum Haroldo venit.
William's return, accompanied by Harold.

16. Ad Palatium suum.
The interior of William's palace.

17. Ubi unus Clericus et AElfgiva.
A Woman (certainly Adeliza, William's daughter, promised to Harold, a devotee, whose knees are said to have become horny from incessant prayer, and who died afterwards affianced, against her will, to Alphonso of Spain,) with a Priest.

18. Hic Willelm. Dux et exereitus ejus venerunt ad montem Michaelis.
The march of William and his army to Mount St. Michael. The church of St. Michel de Tombelaine in the distance.

19. Et hic transierunt flumen Cosnonis.
The passage of the Coesnon, the boundary river of Britany.

20. Hic Harold. Dux trahebat eos de arena.
Harold disengaging men from the river.

21. Et venerunt ad Dol, et Conan fuga vertit.
The relief of Dol, which Conan was beseiging.

22. Rednes.
The gate of Rennes.

23. Hic milites Willelmi Ducis pugnant contra Dinantes, et Cunan claves porrexit.
The attack of Dinant, and Conan holding forth the keys to William on the point of a lance.

24. Hic dedit arma Willelm. Haroldo.
William arming Harold as his knight.

25. Hic Willelm. venit Bagias.
The return of William to Bayeux.

26. Ubi Harold Sacramentum fecit Willelmo Duci.
The famous swearing on the relics.

27. Hic Harold Dux reversus est.
Harold's return and voyage.

28. Ad Anglicam terram.
Harold, with one follower, on horseback, after landing.

29. Et venit ad Edwardum regem.
Edward on his throne, receiving Harold, followed by one person with a battle-axe.

30. Hic portatur corpus Edwardi Regis ad ecclesiam S. Petri apli.
Westminster Abbey; a hand from Heaven pointing to it; and Edward's funeral.

31. AEdwardus Rex in lecto alloquit: fideles.
Edward on his death bed, speaking to those around him.

32. Et hic defunctus est.
Edward laid out.

33. Hic dederunt Haroldo coronam Regis.
The crown offered to Harold.

34. Hic residet Haroldus Rex Anglorum.
Harold on the throne.

35. Stigant Arch eps.
Stigand the Archbishop on the King's left, the maniple over his left hand: in the gateway, spectators.

36. Isti mirant stellam.
Men looking up, and pointing to the comet which then appeared.

37. Harold.
Harold, leaning from the throne, listening to a man addressing him.

49. Hic est Wadard.
William's "Dapifer" on horseback (through whom alone, the Gesta Gulielmi informs us, he would receive or make communications in his parleys with the English).

50. Hic coquitur Caro.

51. Et hic ministraverunt ministri.
Serving up.

52. Hic fecerunt prandium.
Chiefs dining.

53. Et hic episcopus cibum et potum benedicit.
Odo by the side of William at a horse-shoe table, standing; a man serving on the knee.

54. Willelm. Odo eps. Rotbert.
William, sitting under a canopy, between Odo and Robert Earl of Mortaine.

55. Iste jussit ut foderetur castellum at Hesteng.
William, holding his banner, giving orders to men with entrenching tools.

56. Ceastra.
The entrenched camp partly formed, partly forming.

57. Hic nuntiatum est Willelm. de Harold.
William sitting, still holding his banner; a man approaching and addressing him.

68. Hic domus incenditur.
Burning a house with firebrands; a woman and boy escaping from below.

59. Hic milites exierunt de Hestenga.
A knight, with a private banner, issuing to mount a led horse.

60. Et venerunt ad prelium contra Haroldum Regem.
The march of the horsemen.

61. Hic Willelm. Dux interrogat Vital.
William interrogating an armed horseman.

62. Si vidisset Haroldi exercitum.
The same horseman, accompanied by another, on his quest.

63. Iste nuntiat Haroldum Regem de exercitu Willelm. ducis.
On the other side some trees; one man on foot is looking out, and another is speaking to Harold, who is on horseback.

64. Hic Willelm. Dux alloquitur suis militibus ut prepararent se viriliter et sapienter ad prelium.
William pointing, a club in his other hand. His knights galloping to the battle. Archers in front, the short bow drawn to the side.

65. Contra Anglorum exercitum.
Horsemen charging; Taillefer at their head, having thrown up his sword in the air; foot receiving the charge.

66. Hic ceciderunt Levvine et Gurd fratres Haroldi Regis.
The deaths of Levvine and Gurd.

67. Hic ceciderunt Simul Angli et Franci in prelio.
Mutual destruction; foot seeming to defend a kind of entrenchment against horsemen.

68. Hic Odo eps baculum tenens confortat pueros.
Bishop Odo charging full speed, and striking at a horseman with a club or mace.

69. Hic est Willelm. Dux.
William giving his orders during the battle.

70. Hic Franci pugnant et ceciderunt qui erant cum Haroldo.
The French horsemen charging the English, who seem falling under them.

71. Hic Harold Rex interfectus est.
The Death Of Harold, (the standard carried before whom is apparently a dragon).

72. Et fuga verterunt Angli.
The discomfiture and flight of the English.

Here the Tapestry ends, with figures of persons retreating in great haste, not complete in its ornamental work, but I think complete in its history.

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