The Gentleman's magazine
Volume 167, 1839
Greenwich, June 12.

Mr. Urban,

ON submitting, in your last Number, a comment on the review of my Researches and Conjectures on the Bayeux Tapestry, I stated my determination to decline all further discussion of the subject, till some more convenient period. The Reviewer, however, having furnished you with a postscript of addenda and corrections — I may, without inconsistency, follow his example.

It should be observed that the numerals prefixed to the supplementary and corrective remarks which I have to offer, refer to the numbered sections of the above-mentioned comment.

2. I have classed Sir Samuel Meyrick with the antiquaries who deny the coeval execution of the Tapestry. It may be fair to state that Sir Samuel has become a convert to the opinion of Mr. Stothard. I have the pleasure of possessing the classical work, entitled, Engraved Illustrations of Antient Arms and Armour,[1] — but omitted to consult the Critical Inquiry into Antient Armour,[2] in which the conversion is announced. I reluctantly give up the authoritative name of Meyrick. On the other hand, I may add to the names of De la Rue and Daines Barrington, those of Lord Lyttelton and Mr. Strutt. The former ascribed the Tapestry to the Empress Matilda.[3] — The latter, in the early part of his career, considered it to be of much more modern date than the Conquest ;[4] and, finally, as a monument of the 12th century.[5]

3. Fragments of my remarks on the nature and application of internal evidence, with reference to the monument in question, have already appeared in your columns; but as this is the point on which much of my argument hangs, and to which the Reviewer rather fiercely objects, I hope you will permit me to introduce the entire paragraph. It is as follows:—

"The rejection of the tradition is no denial of the antiquity of the Tapestry; and we may therefore advert to the question of its internal evidence. M. Lancelot pronounced it to be coeval with the Conquest, before he was aware of the tradition: 'habits, armes, caracteres de lettres, ornements, gout dans les figures representees, tout,' says that experienced antiquary, 'sent le siecle de Guillaume le Conquerant, ou celuy de ses enfants.' Mr. Hudson Gurney, Mr. Stothard, and M. Delauney, have expressed similar opinions. This point requires considerate examination. Propriety of costume is not always decisive of the coeval execution of a monument. It may have been the result of choice, or of the propensity of inferior artists to copy the works of their predecessors. Before we subscribe to the opinion of M. Lancelot, it should be made evident that the costume of the Tapestry is exclusively that of the period to which it relates, and that the artist represented the costume of his own times. Now, we cannot decide on the correctness of the costume of the monument without the means of comparison — which we very imperfectly possess; but its partial conformity with the illuminations in the MS. of Petro D'Ebulo — the resemblance of the casques and shields to those on the medals of the Norman conqueror of Sicily — the built of the vessels, with their steering paddles — the very sparing use of the chevron ornament — the absence of pointed architecture, of plate armour, and of armorial bearings — are no doubt remarkable indications of the antiquity assigned to it. On the other hand, if illuminators chiefly represented the costume of their own times, (an argument relied on by some antiquaries in whose opinions it would give me pleasure to acquiesce,) I doubt if we should extend that conclusion to the Tapestry: in which instance the elaborate nature of the composition, and the intelligence contained in the inscriptions, clearly point out the superintendence of some learned person — who most probably was qualified to direct the operatives as to the costume of the period. It is observable that Harold is called Dux previously to the scene of his coronation; afterwards, Rex. William, whose coronation forms no part of the pictorial tale, is called Dux; never Rex. This evinces a desire to avoid anachronisms — and is not erroneous costume an anachronism?"

4. I could cite numerous instances of the uncertainty which prevails as to the dates of ancient illuminated manuscripts, and of the assumptions in point of costume which have arisen from that source. Two instances, by way of specimen, may be sufficient. Strutt ascribes the Cotton MS. Claudius B. iv. to the eighth century. He produces no evidence of its date — but thence adopts nearly all his illustrations of the presumed costume of the period.[6] Mr. Planta, a very competent judge, ascribes the same MS. to the eleventh century![7] The second instance respects an illuminated pontifical, which is preserved in the public library at Rouen, No. 362. Montfaucon ascribes it to the seventh or eighth century. Martene is of opinion that it was written about the year 900. Mr. Gage, who has carefully examined it, and learnedly described its contents, doubts "whether it was written much before the close of the tenth, or until the beginning of the eleventh century.'[8]

A judicious selection of fac-simile copies of ancient illuminations, would very much help to establish correct notions on costume. Executed on just principles, the work would be a treasure. It is unquestionably a desideratum. We are indebted to the Abbe' Rive for a collection of Vingt-six gravures enluminees,[9] but the earliest date is of the 14th century, and it is a solitary specimen. Sir Frederic Madden has also favored the public with a learned and very attractive work on Illuminated Ornaments.[10] It was his main object, however, to present the distinctive character of each century — so that the work rather illlustrates the progress of art, than the revolutions of costume. It now appears that M. le Comte Auguste de Bastard has had the courage to undertake, and that the French Government has had the generosity to patronize, a Histoire de la peinture au moyen des manuscrits. Such is the information of M. Achille Jubinal, the editor of the splendid collection of Anciennes Tapisseries Historiees. I transcribe his note, as it will interest many of your readers:

"Pour justifier ces assertions, voici quelques details sur l'ouvrage dont je parle. J'ignore si leur publication ne blessera point M. le Comte de Bastard, dont la modestie semble avoir pris a tache d'eViter tout retentissement premature1 pour son oeuvre; mais, au risque de lui deplaire, je dirai de memoire ce que je sais. Les peintures et oinements des manuscrits doivent prendre l'art au quatrieme siicle et le conduire jusqu'au seizieme, en reproduisant tout ce que renferment de remarquable les depots Europeans. Dans cette longue suite de fac simile, la symbolique Chrltiennne sera expbquee, la vie religieuse et la vie civile seront devoilees, la paleographie trouvera d'excellents modeles, toutes les epoques, toutes les nationality apparattront distinctes sous le rapport de la peinture. Quant a l'immensite materielle de l'oeuvre, il me sumra, pour la prouver, de dire que, depuis plusieurs annees, soixante-dix artistes, de tons pays, parmi lesquels on compte un certain nombre d'officiers Polonais, se livrent i un travail qui semble ne devoir jamais finir. Ces artistes occupent, comme atelier, une maison entiere dont la location annuelle est de six mille francs. Le papier de l'ouvrage, fabrique' expres par M. Canson, pair de France, se compose de la plus fine batiste de Hollande, et coute 1000 francs la rame. Eiitin, chaque livraison de l'ouvrage reviendra aux souscripteurs a 1400 francs, ce qui met l'exemplaire complet pour vingt livraisons a 28000 francs. — Le gouvernement Francais a souscrit genereusement pour pres d'un million, payable en dix annexes, et l'auteur de ces lignes, qui sait par experience ce que coute la mise au jour de pareils ouvrages, a grandement peur, malgre ce secours, que M. le Comte de Bastard ne soit victime, en definitive, de son zele pour la science et de son amour pour les arts."

5. The Reviewer contradicts my statement as to the forms of the letters which compose the inscriptions. I maintain its perfect accuracy. The C, G, O, and S, which vary much from the Roman form on the seal of William I. do not appear in the Tapestry — but the A, E, G, H, and M, which vary from the Roman form in the Tapestry, all appear on the seal of Henry de Beaumont, who died Bishop of Bayeux in 1205. The Saxon D, 7, etc. admit of explanation. The Saxons, generally, were artists in Tapestry;[11] and it is probable that some of the Saxons Bayeusains were employed by the Chapter — who were enjoined, by various councils, to provide the church with the requisite ornaments.[12] The abbreviations, be it added, are such as would have occurred to ecclesiastics, viz. EPS. [Episcopus], S'C'I PETRI APLI. [Sancti Petri Apostoli].

Of the connexion between the subject of the Tapestry and the time of its exhibition, viz. the Jour des Reliques, our antiquaries furnish no elucidation. I have already pointed out that Odon, who is conspicuous on the monument, had presented the church with some very valuable reliquaries; and that Robert des Ableges, in whose time I conjecture it to have been devised, was a martial prelate. I must add that Pierre des Ableges, a relative of the prelate, was the Treasurer or Keeper of the Relics;[13] and that another Odon was the Dean,[14] whose office required him to officiate solemnly but once in the year — on the Jour des Reliques![15]

The couplet of the trouvere Renaut, which occurs in this section, should have been thus printed:

"Franchois, Poitevin et Breton
L'apielent le Lay del Prison."


Benoit de Sainte-More shall close the paragraph with a passage of similar import:

"A saint Galeri sunt jostles
Totes les genz qu'il out mandees,
Normanz, Flamens, Franceis, Bretons
E autres genz de plusors nons." —


The Reviewer considers that the minute information which the Tapestry conveys, is a proof of its coeval execution. This I cannot admit. — Numberless writings and other monuments unknown to the present race, might have existed in the early part of the thirteenth century — besides the light of tradition. To have availed themselves of such means of information, could have been no forgery. The Abbe Lebeuf, in his analysis of the poetical epistle of Rodulphus Tortarius, who visited and described the cathedral church of Bayeux in the twelfth century, remarks: "cette lettre nous apprend que les peintures etoient fort communes alors dans les eglises."[16] No church was more likely to contain paintings relating to the Conquest than that of Bayeux — and it is very possible that such paintings may have been the prototypes of the scenes represented by the Tapestry.

It may be instructive to compare the rather bold assertions of the Reviewer as to the costume of the monument, and the practice of ancient artists, with the opposite opinions of other antiquaries. I transcribe, with this object, three short passages:

"La Tapisserie n'offre aucun caractere intrinseque ni extrinseque qui appartienne exclusivement a l'onzieme siecle." — De la Rue.[17]

"Nous inclinerions...a penser qu'il [le monument] ne remonte qu'au treizieme siecle: il ne nous parott offrir aucun caractere, aucun detail qui oblige de le reporter a un siecle anterieur."— Daunou[18]

"I am inclined to think from the similarity in the designs of the same sacred subjects in the different MSS. that the monks copied from standard drawings, with which they may have been originally supplied by the Greek school." — John Gage.[19]

Amidst so much discrepancy of opinion, it is gratifying to observe instances of curiously exact conformity. I shall produce one specimen — resigning the merit of this conformity entirely to the Reviewer.

"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 Florence of Worcester may assert, seems to have been an appellation of honor — a point which I submit to our Saxonists." — C.

"AElfgyva; — what does this term, taken as a distinctive appellation, imply? AElfgyva Emma occurs in the Saxon Chronicle. In the absence of any satisfactory conjecture, we refer it to our Saxon literali." — The Reviewer.

The latter paragraph affords me a double gratification: it gratifies me by its conformity with that which precedes — and because it invites me to sport a new conjecture. Florence of Worcester, as cited by Ingram, saith: "Emmam, Saxonice Alfgivam vocatam, ducis Normannorum primi Ricardi filiara, rex AEtheredus duxit uxorem."[20] Simeon of Durham,[21] and Ralph de Diceto,[22] repeat this statement verbatim. Can Florence mean that Elfgiva is equivalent to Emma? Let us hear, since fortune so far favours us, the lady herself: "Ego Elfgyva

Ymma regina concedo," &c.[23] Now, I conceive that Elfgiva was a Norman title of honor — to which Emma might retain an attachment. The Saxon annalists, when they announce her arrival in England, call her the lady Elfgiva Emma[24] — but the true text is here very uncertain. As successively the wife of Ethelred, and of Canute, they call her the lady Emma,[25] or the Lady[26] — a title bestowed on the Queen.[27] After the demise of Canute, the term Elfgiva re-appears.[28] Such is the basis of my conjecture. I may state, in further evidence, that the anonymous author of the Encomium Emmae, has the unusual phrase "Domina Regina Emma;" and I conceive that a certain hemistich of Mestre Wace adds to the plausibility of my interpretation. Speaking of Emma, the wife of Richard I. of Normandy, he says:

"Ki est apelee Dame Emme —."[29]

Camden suggests that Elfgiva signifies help-giver[30] — a very proper appellation for a lady in those primitive times.

Yours, &c. Bolton Corney.


Footnotes.

[1] London, 1830, Folio, 2 vols.

[2] London, 1824, 4to. 3 vols.

[3] History of Henry II. 1769. 8vo. i. 353.

[4] Complete View of the Manners, &c. 1774—6, 4tp. i. 74.

[5] Complete View of the Dresses, &c. 1796—9, 4to. i. 116, note.

[6] Ibid. list of plates, &c.

[7] Cat. of the Cottonian MSS. 1802, fol. p. 191.

[8] The Anglo-Saxon Ceremonial, &c. 1834, fol. pp. 15, 16.

[9] Paris, folio, 1782?

[10] London, 1833. 4to.

[11] Translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, 1837, small 8vo. p. 41.

[12] Hermant, Hist, de Bayeux, p. 236.

[13] Gallia Christiana, XL col. 399. E. Beziers, Hist, de Bayeux, p. 71.

[14] Gallia Christiana, XI. col. 399. D.

[15] Beziers, Hist, de Bayeux, p. 68.

[16] Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptions) xxi. 514.

[17] Recherches, &c. p. 92.

[18] Journal des Savans, 1826, p. 698.

[19] The Benedictional of St. AEthelwold, 1832, fol. p. 42.

[20] The Saxon Chronicle, by Ingram, 1823 , 4to. p. 175, note.

[21] Scriptores, 1652, fol. col. 164. 58.

[22] Ibid. col. 461.50.

[23] Ibid. col. 2222. 13. Is the date correct?

[24] Saxon Chronicle, 1823, 4to. p. 175. The text of Gibson, as translated by Mist Anna Gurney, is more in favour of my conjecture.

[25] Ibid. p. 204.

[26] Ibid. pp. 176, 191.

[27] Ibid. p. 191, note.

[28] ibid. pp. 207, 210.

[29] Roman de Rou, i. 275.

[30] Remaines, 1614, 4to. p. 96.

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