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1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The simple linen background and bright woolen colors of the Bayeux Tapestry have always been interpreted as a French tribute to William the Conqueror, celebrating his victory over England in 1066 with its depiction of soldiers, archers, ships and battles. In an often riveting but ultimately unconvincing revisionist account drawing on the work of other scholars as well as on contemporary accounts of events, Bridgeford, a British lawyer, argues that the tapestry was more likely designed by English monks at St. Augustine's abbey in Canterbury under the direction of Count Eustace of Boulogne. English women, more famous for their embroidery skills than the French, stitched a tapestry containing a covert anti-Norman message. Bridgeford also provides details on minor characters in the tapestry, such as the dwarf Turold—who Bridgeford thinks might have written the medieval French epic poem Chanson de Roland and been the tapestry's patron—and Aelfgyva, the only woman named on the tapestry. While Bridgeford offers a fascinating look into the tapestry and the events it depicts, his language and method are so tentative ("Could it be that...?") that one is left doubting his interpretation. 16 pages of color illus., one map. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Bayeux Tapestry, in the French town of Bayeux, draws half a million visitors a year. For more than 900 years it has been kept--and sometimes concealed--in several places around the town. The story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 is set out in this masterpiece, recounting the Battle of Hastings, culminating in a victory for William the Conqueror and the death of King Harold. Although barely half a metre wide, the tapestry is about 70 metres long, embroidered on a plain linen background in wools of red, yellow, gray, green, and blue. Here are men feasting on birds, drinking from ivory horns, hunting, going to church, and loading provisions onto a ship. Bridgeford posits "the quest of [his] book is to unravel the millennial mysteries of the work, to investigate the true origin and meaning of it, to understand more about the characters who are named in it, and to gain a new insight into some of the darkest events of the Norman Conquest." The result is a fascinating study. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
The survival of the tapestry for almost one thousand years is a fascinating story in itself. The tale of how it managed to survive the French Revolution and the Nazi occupation of France makes the first chapters of this book quite gripping. And then we get to the story depicted within the 59 surviving panels which the author compares to other accounts of the same event to construct a compelling narrative of the invasion of England and the aftermath.
I had not realized how ruthlessly William imposed Norman rule; his savagery in quelling a rebellion in Yorkshire was such that it took more than a generation for the economy to recover. And of course the victors get to write history so that for many of us growing up in England, history seemed to begin in 1066 and the vibrant Anglo Saxon culture that was overthrown and destroyed may as well have not existed.
It was also interesting to note how the English explained their calamitous defeat, comparing themselves to the Israelites of the Bible at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the exile. Only God could have brought such a disaster upon them, they reasoned, which must have been a punishment for their sins, notably King Harold's sin of going back on an oath he swore to William under duress and the sins of the last Saxon archbishop of Canterbury.
The author argues, quite convincingly I think, that the tapestry was designed by a Frenchman and woven in Canterbury by English women quite soon after 1066.
The author's main argument is that far from being a pro-Norman document, the tapestry contains hidden hints, messages and imagery that are quite favorable to the English viewpoint. He believes the tapestry keeps alive a version of events that the Normans were intent on destroying. But these messages were so carefully concealed that even Normans viewing the work of art would not have been angered by them, or in many cases, even aware of them.
His second contention is that the tapestry elevates one of William's French allies (the Normans were culturally and ethnically separate from the French), Eustace of Boulogne, is to become the true hero of the story, overshadowing even William.
My question is, if these clues were so carefully hidden that people looking at the tapestry at the time could not decipher them, and they then resisted true interpretation for 10 centuries until our own time, then what was the point of them? What's the purpose of creating a message so obscure that nobody can understand it?
In the latter chapters, the vein of speculation runs much deeper. The author examines the enigmatic figure of a dwarf, identified as Toruld, who appears in the tapestry. He hypothesizes that this man was a jongleur employed by Eustace of Boulogne, and then goes on the argue that he may have been the author of the "Chanson de Roland," the first great work of French literature. I found the argument kind of interesting but totally unpersuasive.
Similar speculations are mounted for other figures depicted in the weaving, on the basis of little or no proof.
This flight into fancy does not seriously mar this interesting book and the backstories the author has created for these mysterious characters, whose real identities are probably lost to us through the murk of history, are entertaining enough. But the real meat of the book is the author's more solid argument about the true subtext of what is a stupendous work of art.
Bayeaux Tapestry. The author certainly gets the reader thinking about the possible origins of the tapestry and it's possible hidden themes.