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The Bayeux Embroidery

Many of you probably know about the Bayeux Tapestry.  It isn't a tapestry at all--it's a 230+ foot long embroidery. So I call it the Bayeux Embroidery.  It's all done in only three stitches--Stem stitch, laid work and couching.  That covers a lot of ground with not much wasted thread on the back.

It was commissioned by William the Conqueror's half brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux.  It was embroidered soon after William took the throne of England on December 25th, 1066.  Consensus seems to be that it was embroidered in eight pieces at various nunneries in England; though the technique is very Scandinavian.

There are lots and lots of Viking-style ships on the Bayeux Embroidery.  It's one of the main contemporary sources for what they looked like.  There's even a faering on there (well, a small afterboat--it could be a faering!)

Janet and our friend Carol were going to teach a class on Bayeux style Embroidery at a local community college this month; but Janet can't make it so I've been drafted instead.  I've been spending the weekend putting together a handout about the technique, materials and colors of threads; and a longer one on what happened when and by whom in 1066.

I know a lot about the Battle of Hastings and what lead up to it, of course. The Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066 is often reckoned to be the end of the Viking age--with Harald Hardrada of Norway the last Viking King.  But up to now I've only been explaining 1066 in two minute increments to interested people at faering demos.  (The secret of Viking navigation is that they didn't have to be at work on Monday.  This leads to a quick-and-dirty 2-minute lecture on why William was trapped on the wrong side of the channel all summer and Harold was out of position when he finally sailed across--with huge consequences to both the history of Western Europe and the English Language.)  Tackling a two hour class that's part how-to-do-embroidery and part history of the Battle of Hastings is a whole other kettle of fish. And when we did a run through of the class last weekend I realized I needed more than quick-and-dirty 2-minute lectures.

So lots of reading and pasting and writing and finding good illustrations.  I learned a lot, too.  I knew that King Harold's brother Tostig had been with Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Fulford and the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  But I hadn't known that probably Tostig talked Hardrada into the invasion.  And I hadn't known much about why Tostig would fight against his brother (Tostig was removed from his post of Earl and exiled due to mismanagement and murder and Harold was the one who oversaw it. Though the decision was forced by the thegns of Northumbria.)

I also learned more about exactly why William felt he had a claim to the English Throne. And how close he came, multiple times, to failing in his invasion.  And also why Pope Alexander II endorsed the invasion. (Probably as a result of Normans ... misleading ... the Pope.)

It's been an enlightening weekend and I can't wait to teach the class!