Chambers's encyclopædia: a dictionary of universal knowledge,
Volume 1 By Ephraim Chambers, 1870

BAYEUX TAPESTRY, a web of canvas or linen cloth, 214 feet long by 20 inches wide, preserved in the Hotel de Ville, Bayeux, upon which is embroidered, in woollen thread of various colours,



Bayeux Tapestry.
Harold coming to anchor on the coast of Normandy.


a representation of the invasion and conquest of England by the Normans. Tradition asserts it to be the work of Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, and it is believed that if she did not actually Stitch the whole of it with her own hand, she at least took part in and directed the execution of it by her maids; and afterwards presented it to the cathedral of Bayeux, as a token of her appreciation of the effective assistance which its bishop, Odo, rendered to her husband at the battle of Hastings. Some antiquaries contend that it was the work not of Queen Matilda (the wife of the Conqueror), who died in 1083, but of the Empress Matilda (the daughter of I King Henry I.), who died in 1167. According to Mr. Bruce the latest authority on the subject, the tapestry contains, besides the figures of 505 quadrupeds, birds, sphinxes, &c., 'the figures of 623 men, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 37 buildings, 41 ships and boats, and 49 trees—in all, 1512 figures.' The tapestry is divided into 72 distinct compartments, each representing one particular historical occurrence, and bearing an explanatory Latin inscription. A tree is usually chosen to divide the principal events from each other. This pictorial history—for so it may be called, and indeed, in several particulars, it is more minute than any written history we
have—opens with Harold, prior to his departure for Normandy, taking leave of Edward the Confessor.


Bayeux Tapestry.
The crown offered to Harold by the people.


Harold is next observed, accompanied by his attendants, riding to Bosham with his hawk and hounds; and he is afterwards seen, successively, embarking from the Sussex coast; anchoring in France, and being made prisoner by Guy, Earl of Ponthieu; redeemed by William Duke of Normandy, and meeting with him at his court; assisting him against Conan, Earl of Bretagne; swearing on the sacred relics never to interfere with William's succession to the Saxon throne, &c.; and finally re-embarking for England. The tapestry then represents Harold narrating the events of his journey to Edward the Confessor, whose death and funeral obsequies we next see. Harold then receives the crown from the Saxou people, and ascends the throne; and next we have the news brought to William, who takes counsel with his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, as to the invasion of England. Then follow representations of the active war preparations of the Normans; their embarkation; disembarkation; march to Hastings, and formation of a camp there; the battle, and death of Harold, with which the tapestry finishes.

The B. T. gives an exact and minute portraiture of the manners and customs of the times; and it has been remarked that the arms and habits of the Normans are identical with those of the Danes as


Bayeux Tapestry.—Battle of Hastings.


they appear in the miniature paintings of a manuscript of the time of King Cnut, preserved in the British Museum.
M. Lancelot appears to have been the first to direct attention to the existence of this curious monument, by a description of an illuminated drawing of a portion of it he had discovered, in a paper presented to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, in 1724. This led to the discovery of the tapestry itself, in the Bayeux Cathedral, by Pere Montfaucon, who published an engraving of it in 1730, wilh a commentary on the Latin inscriptions. In 1767, Dr. Ducarel gave an account of it in his Anglo-Saxon Antiquities. From that time until 1803, when Napoleon had it conveyed to Paris, the B. T. excited little attention. Its exhibition, however, in the National Museum there awakened public curiosity concerning it, and gave rise to various speculations as to its age, intention, &c. The discussion satisfactorily established it to be what tradition asserted it—a contemporary pictorial record of the events of the Norman Conquest. The Society of Antiquaries (London) published an engraving of the whole in the sixth volume of the Vetusta Monumenta. The B. T. would have been destroyed at the Revolution, had not a priest fortunately succeeded in concealing it from the mob, who demanded it to cover the guns. It was formerly preserved in the cathedral of Bayeux, where it was wont to be exhibited, on certain days every year, in the nave of the church, round which it exactly went. Bruce's Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated (Loudon 1855); Archaepologia, vols, xvii., xviii., xix.; Vetusta Monumenta, vol. vi.; Pictorial history of England.

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