BBC History Magazine


It’s 70 metres long, tells a tale that stretches over land and sea, covers a crucial piece of history, and has a wide cast of characters. Yet the Bayeux Tapestry does not relate the whole story of the Norman Conquest of 1066. It vividly records the head-to-head clash between England’s King Harold II “Godwinson” and Duke William of Normandy, placing these two protagonists firmly in the thick of the action. But it omits pivotal parts and players, notably the other battles of the Conquest year that took place in northern England – Fulford and Stamford Bridge – and one man in particular, Edgar Ætheling, who might have been king in 1066.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a unique survival of medieval embroidery (it’s not a true tapestry, despite the name) and undoubtedly one of the most famous sources for the Norman conquest of England. Its scene-by-scene cartoon approach lends it an accessibility that no contemporary written account can match. When the story broke in 2018 that the Tapestry might be loaned to Britain from Normandy for a temporary exhibition – probably at the British Museum – while its museum in Bayeux is redeveloped, it hit the news worldwide.

Because the Bayeux Tapestry plays out with the clash between Harold and William as its key narrative, and because it is so globally famous, the bits that the embroidery overlooks have to a greater or lesser extent been excluded from broader understanding of the Conquest story.

So, what does it show? Briefly, the Bayeux Tapestry starts with King Edward “the Confessor” in conversation with his leading earl, Harold; the year is probably 1064, the location likely Westminster, possibly Winchester, and the topic presumably Harold’s forthcoming trip to the continent – though none of that is spelt out. Earl Harold leaves for the coast, crosses the Channel, and after a short misadventure at the

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