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Bayeux Tapestry
The Battle of Hastings 1066

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The Battle of Hastings was one of the most fateful military engagements in English history, fought on October 14, 1066, between a national army led by Harold II, Saxon king of England, and an invasion force led by William, Duke of Normandy, afterward William I (the Conqueror). William claimed the English throne had been promised to him by his cousin, Edward the Confessor, king of England between 1042 and 1066. William challenged the election of Harold as king upon Edward's death and, with the blessing of Pope Alexander II (reigned 1061-1073), prepared to invade England. 

Bayeux Tapestry. Panel #1. Bayeux Tapestry. Panel #2.

Haroldís brother, Tostig, earl of Northumbria, supported Williamís claim, and at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25 in Yorkshire, was slain by Harold. The English army of about 7000 soldiers then marched from Yorkshire and occupied a height (later called Senlac Hill) on the Hastings-London highway about 10.5 km (about 6.5 mi) northwest of Hastings. The royal force was composed exclusively of infantry, armed with spears, swords, and battle-axes. Meanwhile, Williamís seaborne forces, which included infantry armed with crossbows and contingents of heavily armed cavalry, landed on the English coast near Hastings on September 28, 1066. 

Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #1 in a set of eight. Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #2 in a set of eight.

It is unknown when the original tapestry was created, but it is assumed by art historians that it must have been created in a period where still living people remembered what had happened, meaning probably around 1080. The tapestry is a chronicle of images, of the sort known from Oriental and Roman art, a story about war and victory, and the story is told with a remarkable vivacity. 

Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #3 in a set of eight. Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #4 in a set of eight.

The medieval artist had no artistic mentor, and therefore mostly made his drawings like a child. It's easy to smile of this art, but not so easy to copy it. The artist tells his story with so minor means to focus on what he considered important to understand the story, that the final result has the same impact as today's journalistic reports from the war-zone.  

Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #5 in a set of eight. Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #6 in a set of eight.

The initial Norman attack, launched in the morning of October 14, failed to dislodge the English, who met the barrage of enemy arrows with interlocked shields. The English axmen turned back a Norman cavalry charge, whereupon a section of the Norman infantry turned and fled. At this juncture, several units of the English army broke ranks, contrary to Harold's orders, and pursued the retreating Normans. Other Norman troops quickly surrounded and annihilated these units. 

Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #7 in a set of eight.

Taking advantage of the lack of discipline among the English soldiers, William ordered a feigned retreat. The stratagem led to the entrapment of another large body of English troops. 

Severely weakened by these reverses and demoralized by the mortal wounding of Harold by an arrow, the English were forced to abandon their strategic position on the crest of Senlac Hill. 

Only small remnants of the defending army survived the subsequent onslaughts of the Norman cavalry. William's victory at Hastings paved the way for Norman subjugation of all England. 

The Bayeux Tapestry is a needlework panorama, representing the invasion and conquest of England by William the Conqueror, preserved in the Musťe de la Reine Mathilde in Bayeux, France. It is made of colored woolen thread worked on canvas or linen cloth 70 m (231 ft) long by 49.5 cm (19.5 in) wide. Traditionally considered the work of Mathilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, it was actually made during the 11th century for Odo, bishop of Bayeux, to hang in the cathedral at Bayeux. The tapestry contains 1512 figures in 72 scenes, with identifying Latin inscriptions. The border is of foliage, fantastic animals, and hunting scenes. The tapestry is most valuable for its representation of the costume, arms, and manners of the Normans before the Conquest; it gives more details of the events represented than does the contemporary literature. 

Great Britain 1966. Romanesque Art and Architecture. Bayeux Tapestry. Stamp #8 in a set of eight.

Odo of Bayeux (1036-1097) was Anglo-Norman bishop and earl of Kent. He was the half-brother of the first Norman king of England, William I (called the Conqueror). Odo became bishop of Bayeux in 1049 and accompanied Williamís invasion of England in 1066, taking part in the Battle of Hastings. As a reward for his service, Odo was presented with Dover Castle and the earldom of Kent. During a number of William's later expeditions, Odo acted as regent, and he was noted for the harshness of his rule. In 1088 Odo led a rebellion of Norman barons against William II; he fled England the same year, and dies later while on his way to join the First Crusade. 

In 1966 Great Britain issued the above set of 8 stamps commemorating the millennium of the Battle of Hastings. 

Sources and links:

Other tapestries (Gothic and Renaissance) on this site:

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