Visit to Bayeux 2009

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Bayeux is the traditional home of the famous historic tapestry that depicts the events of the year 1066 when the Normans invaded England and killed King Harold at the Battle at Hastings.  Our visit to this lovely medieval French city took us first to the Bayeux museum which houses the tapestry and many historic works of art, and then to Bayeux Cathedral. 

The museum visit began immediately with a tour of the tapestry, which in itself was something of a surprise.  The tapestry, based on a strip of (linen) material approx 1 metre high and 70 metres long, tells a story of how the English King Edward the Confessor (Harold's father) sent Harold to Normandy to tell the Norman King 'William the Bastard' (an unfortunate name to be given as a child) that after the death of the English King, the crown of England would pass to William. 

On arrival in Normandy, Harold is taken prisoner by Guy of Ponthieu but is eventually freed and handed over to William.

In William's court, Harold is forced to swear a sacred oath of allegiance to support his succession after Edwards death.  Harold and his men stay with William and even help him make war on his rivals winning great acclaim and friendship with William before they return home to England. 

However, on Edwards death, Harold proclaims himself King and receives the sacred orb and sceptre at his coronation. 
This news is not received well by William and evil portents were seen in the sky, which we now identify a Halley's Comet. 

The Normans prepare for an invasion of England to take back that which was rightfully bequeathed to William, resulting in a great armada setting sail for the South coast.

On arrival in England, the Norman forces prepared for Battle and nobles offered individual combat to the English knights to prove their courage.

Harold and his army however, had only just returned to the south coast after rushing to defeat a Viking invasion in the North and then returning hundreds of miles on foot to meet the Norman invasion.  Harold's army took position on top of the hill at Hastings and formed a shield wall that was impenetrable to the Norman cavalry.  This situation could have continued in stalemate for a while, but William fooled the English defenders.  He made part of his army retreat shouting that William was dead.  In response, the English gave chase down the hill,  the shield wall was broken and the English defeated when the Normans turned and gave battle once more.

This final scene shows someone (thought to be Harold) plucking an arrow from his eye and the caption reads: HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST meaning "Harold the King was put to death".
It was never clear if Harold was the figure standing with the arrow in his eye or the one lying under the horses hooves having his entrails being converted into extrails.
However, the legend of Harold's death due to an arrow in his eye has remained since that time either due to the tapestry or from 'eye' witness reports of the time.

The tapestry was the equivalent of a medieval newsreel and moreover, it justified why William had killed Harold after breaking his oath.  Fortunately for William, he was thereafter renamed William the Conqueror, which went over much better with young ladies in bars etc.  William and his Norman nobles were a pious bunch and they set about praising God for their victory by building churches and Cathedrals all over England.  Indeed many of our village churches today date from the 11th century.  They also brought with them a level of civilisation and literacy that had not been seen in Britain since the departure of the Romans some 600 years before.

After viewing the tapestry, we made our way up to the 2nd floor to watch a very good video presentation (in English) which described the details of the tapestry and how it was made.  We then visited the 1st floor, which presented exhibits of scale models of medieval towns, showed implements and weapons of the time and included a copy of the famous Doomsday book that William ordered to be created and which serves even today as the first 'proof' of land ownership in England.

 

Leaving the museum behind, we crossed over to visit the Bayeux Cathedral, which is yet another excellent example of Norman church building in the 11th century.  Unlike churches in England, that had been ravaged by the civil war under Oliver Cromwell, the Bayeux Cathedral is a beautiful example of architecture and art.

So having satiated our taste buds on a gourmet meal of history and art, we set out once again to view the beauty of the Normandy countryside.
In passing, we noted that an excellent book  'Azincourt' by Bernard Cornwell was written about this area and gave an excellent insight into medieval life.

 

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