The Apocalypse Tapestry

Angers in Western France, is a place I ended up almost accidentally. I was staying nearby in Saumur, due to its proximity to Fontevraud Abbey, which I’ve written about in detail here. I was looking for places in visit in the vicinity to which I could do day trips by train. I came across Angers, and some quick research revealed that not only did it have a castle that had been home to the Dukes of Anjou, it also had a cathedral with a surviving 12th century nave. You can see both below

I have written in more detail about Angers Castle before, and you can find that post here.

A little more digging and I discovered the Apocalypse Tapestry, which will be the feature of this post.

The Tapestry is surprisingly not that well known, and in the current climate it felt like an appropriate topic to write about.

The Tapestry was commissioned by Louis I Duke of Anjou in 1375. It was woven in the workshops of Nicholas Bataille, a famous Paris weaver, from drawings undertaken by Hennequin of Bruges, who was a court painter for Charles V of France. Charles V of France was Louis’ older brother. The Tapestry depicts the story of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John. Though it is most likely that the images were taken from traditional apocalypse iconography, they still narrate the main points of the narrative of the Book of the Revelation.

It is the largest medieval tapestry known to exist, measuring 140 m when completed and consisting of 90 individual panels (not all have survived). Its subject was an indication of the volatile world of late 14th century France. The Hundred Years War was ravaging the country, in fact parts of the Tapestry can be read as depictions of the physical brutality of The Hundred Years War, which saw mercenary bands as well as organised armies swarming across France. The black death was also rampant, killing millions across Europe. It was a time of immense change and upheaval, which might be why Louis decided on the unusual subject of the Book of Revelation for his commissioned piece. There are a number ways it could be read, either as a concept of the end of the world, or because, although it is bleak, ultimately the Book of Revelation depicts a black and white certainty, and in an odd way it has a happy ending with the faithful rising to Heaven. Essentially it provides certainty in unpredictable times.

The Tapestry certainly depicts the apocalypse in visceral detail. I didn’t photograph the entirety of the Tapestry, but you can get an idea of the intricacy of the work and just how evocative the images are.

The Fourth Horseman: Death

The Tapestry was also about promoting Louis’ family. Anjou heraldry can be seen throughout as well as the fleur-de-lis of France. This tapestry was definitely a status symbol as well as an attempt to bring some meaning to an uncertain world.

The Tapestry was probably completed in 1382, meaning it took 7 years to create. It’s completely woven from wool. With a tapestry this complex one master weaver working dawn to dusk everyday (except for Sunday of course) could weave just under a square metre a month. The Tapestry had six sections measuring almost 24 metres by 6 metres. The width comes from the width of the looms on which they were woven. Each section depicted 14 scenes with a final section finishing off with 6 scenes. This gives you an idea of the immensity of the Tapestry.

No one is entirely sure how the Tapestry was meant to be displayed, but it was probably made to be viewed from both sides and may have been hung from moveable panels, placing the viewer in the centre.

Regardless of how it was supposed to be hung originally it is likely that it didn’t see much use for Duke Louis because he died in 1384, only two years after the Tapestry was most likely finished. It stayed in the Anjou family, coming out for special occasions, such as the wedding of Louis’ son Louis II to Yolande of Aragon at Arles in 1400, but most likely it was not generally on display. It was given to Angers Cathedral at the end of the 15th century.

Today the surviving tapestry is displayed in a gallery that was purpose built in 1954 in the grounds of Angers Castle. The fact that any of it survives at all is somewhat of a miracle, as during the French Revolution the panels were cut up and used for floor mats and blankets for horses. This wasn’t uncommon as during this period medieval tapestries were even sometimes melted down for any gold thread they contained. The Bayeux Tapestry came close to a similarly ignominious fate, you can find out more about the Bayeux Tapestry here.

Thankfully canons rescued the pieces and 75 panels were able to restored.

The Tapestry is a truly remarkable survival from the medieval period and is a really interesting insight into a time of incredible, fear, uncertainty and upheaval, as well as the medieval mindset a bit more generally. If nothing else it is a beautiful artefact that tells a fascinating story.

It was also the inspiration for another tapestry held in Angers. This one is displayed in the Hospital of Saint- Jean which is a well preserved 12th century hospital, about a half hour walk from the Castle, (which I know because I did it too fast, in hot weather, because I had a train to catch, and ended up with blisters and heatstroke)

I will probably write more about the hospital at a later date, but for now I wanted to touch on the Tapestry displayed here. It is the work of artist Jean Lurcat. The work was conceived as a modern version of the Apocalypse Tapestry, depicting a modern version of the apocalypse. Work began in 1957 and after the artist died in the late 1960s Angers acquired the tapestries from his wife. The photos I have give an overall view, but not of the individual ten panels. For not photographing the individual panels, I blame a mad rush to make the last train of the day, blisters and the beginning of heat stroke.

The panels depict:

The Grand Threat (the atomic bomb), The Man of Hiroshima, The Mass Grave, The End of Everything, Man in Glory and Peace, Water and Fire, Champagne and the Conquest of Space. You can see the panels in more detail here.

So that is the story of the Apocalypse Tapestry and its modern cousin both held in Angers, a city it is absolutely worth visiting. I want to finish this post with the souvenir I acquired from my visit. It’s a cushion from the Apocalypse Tapestry with the eternal fires of hell.


Site vist 2012

Angers Castle Brochures

Angers Cathedral Brochures

Le Chant du Monde Brochure

The Family Trees of the Kings of France- Jean-Paul Gisserot

Parks and Chateaux of France

The Bible

All the photos are mine

The Magna Carta

To write about the Magna Carta is to tread already very well trodden ground. For a document that had little immediate impact, its mythology has echoed down the centuries.

I am not intending to write anything ground breaking or revelatory about the Magna Carta. This post is going to draw together my experiences with people and sites that hold together the thread of the history of the Magna Carta and explore the outline and background of the document’s story.

My interest in the Magna Carta began in year eleven at high school. As an Australian I didn’t get much of a chance to write about medieval history within the curriculum, but in year eleven we got to chose our own research project and I picked the Magna Carta. It was the first time I got to seriously research the medieval period and I still remember the pride with which I produced my 2000 word report. It only covered the basics, but it was a first step on a path that in many ways has ultimately led to this blog.

I’ve always found the Magna Carta interesting, because despite the reality of its actual contents it has come to be a symbol of Western style democracy. The Magna Carta was sealed (not signed) on June 15th 1215. It didn’t come out of nowhere, it was based on other charters from both England and the continent, but its legacy has been peculiarly enduring. The Rights of Man from the French Revolution are based on it, as is the American Bill of Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is held up as a bastion of freedom against tyranny. All of this, I discovered when I began to research as a seventeen year old, has very little basis in the reality of the document.

The Magna Carta contains 63 clauses. Covering everything from fish weirs in the Thames and the Medway, to how heirs should be handled, to how specific people are to be treated. The two clauses that give the Magna Carta its formidable reputation at 39 and 40.

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These are proud words, but at the time (like the rest of the Charter) they had little to no effect. Apart from any other reason the Charter was repealed by the Pope by September 1215 and the rebel barons were excommunicated. It wasn’t until the Magna Carta was reissued in 1217 and 1225, under Henry III,  and when it first came into the King’s Statute Books, in the reign of  Edward I in 1297, that it began to have any real impact. Even so you only have to look at the rest of English history (the War of the Roses and  the Tudors for example) to show much effect it had on the power of kings to summarily imprison their subjects.

The Magna Carta was by the Barons for the Barons. It is an excellent reflection of what was concerning the nobility in 1215. It is worth remembering that none of the the clauses are given more importance than any other: fish weirs are just as important as not delaying justice. The Magna Carta was extracted from John under duress in an attempt to shore up their own authority. It was never intended to be catch all for every person and it is important to remember that it is a document born of war.

The conflict between King John and his barons was not one that was singular to John. His brother and father before him had all dealt with rebellious barons. It was under John however that it all came to a head in a perfect storm. A lot, but not all, of which was John’s fault. He took the throne in 1199 and it began badly as there was dispute over whether the throne should have gone to Arthur Duke of Brittany, the son of John’s dead elder brother Geoffrey. This was mainly important on the continent as Arthur was seen as a French puppet by many of the English.

Many of John’s failings in kingship were personal. He was inconsistent and could be very vindictive. Additionally after he lost the majority of the Plantagenet lands on the continent he had time to focus squarely on England, which the barons didn’t appreciate. It also didn’t help that he succeeded in having the whole country placed under interdict because he wouldn’t accept the Pope’s candidate as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was essentially bad at managing people and extremely suspicious. Even taking into account chronicler’s bias most contemporary accounts are reasonably consistent on John’s failings.

This led to revolt and ultimately in the Barons offering Prince Louis of France the English throne.

The role of the king and his lordship over the Barons was the core of the revolt. In 1214 in Bury St Emdunds 25 barons swore on the altar of St Edmund that they would try to force King John to accept the charter of liberties of Henry I, which was the precursor to the Magna Carta. The rough spot and the commemorative plaque can be seen in the photos below.

Bury St Edmondsbury plaque 2bury plaque

Ultimately, with help from the French the barons backed John into a corner. The Magna Carta was agreed to by King John on June 15th 1215 at Runnymede. Runnymede was neutral ground as it is located half way between London (which had gone over to the barons) and John’s castle at Windsor. Also being a water meadow it was a naturally occurring in-between liminal space.


The photos above are from the water meadows at Runnymede. Finding them was a bit of an ordeal. We got the train to the nearest station expecting there to be signs. This is a mistake I have made too many times before in relation to medieval sites. After getting sent in the wrong direction twice and accidentally dragging my mother through a swamp on her birthday we found the meadows (though we still missed the physical monument to the Magna Carta). I had very wet feet, but it was worth it. Apart from anything else it is a gorgeous example of an English water meadow. There are plaques in the town to some of the barons involved in the Magna Carta. You can see the one to William Marshal below.

marshal gate

The Charter wasn’t an end though and as an attempt to abate civil war it was less than useful. It took King John’s death in 1216 to mark the beginning of the end of the conflict. He died, probably of dysentery, at Newark after losing his entire baggage train in the Wash (A tidal inlet in Norfolk and somewhere else I got my feet very wet walking to). You can see a copy of John’s effigy below (the original is in Worcester Cathedral) and a photo of the Wash as it looked in 2012, significant land has been reclaimed for farming.

King JohnThe wash2

John’s death did not mean the immediate end of the civil war. His son Henry III took the throne, but he was only nine and the formidable William Marshal was appointed Regent of England.

Henry III effigy

A copy of Henry III’s effigy (the original is in Westminster Abbey



William Marshal’s effigy in the Temple Church in London (arguably)

marshal the youngermarshal the younger closeWilliam Marshal the Younger’s effigy (arguably) in the Temple Church in London.

Marshal is a man I’ve written about a lot before (I wrote my honours thesis on him) and you can find out more about him here. Marshal was an elder statesman by the time he became Regent in 1216. He was probably in his very late 60s. He had stayed loyal to King John at personal cost, and his son William Marshal the Younger had fought on the Barons’ side. It has been argued that this family divide was intentional to make sure there was a Marshal foot in either camp. Regardless, with John dead, barons started coming back into the royal fold, including  eventually John’s half brother William Earl of Salisbury, who had jumped ship in the dying days of John’s reign. Ultimately more than 115 defected back, but it took some longer than others.

william longspeeThe effigy of William Earl of Salisbury in Salisbury Cathedral.

By the time John died Prince Louis was very much in England and not willing to give up his claim to the crown. Ultimately it took the Battle of Lincoln, which was so successful for the royalist forces that it was known at the Fair of Lincoln, winning the Battle of Sandwich (despite Louis’ ships being led by the pirate Eustace the Monk) and Marshal ultimately bribing the Prince to get him to go back to France. By the time Marshal died in May 1219 he left behind a, comparatively, stable England.

But where did all this turmoil leave the Magna Carta? Today there are four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. One belongs to Lincoln Cathedral because Hugh of Wells the Bishop of Lincoln was present when the Magna Carta was sealed and made sure a copy was brought back to the cathedral

Lincoln cathedral

This copy is currently held in Lincoln Castle along with the 1217 Charter of the Forest which (in the name of Henry III, but under Marshal’s seal) was separated from the Magna Carta into its own individual document.

Lincoln castle2LincolnLincoln Castle.

Another copy is held at Salisbury Cathedral. It was probably brought by Elias Dereham, a priest of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has remained there ever since.

SalisburySalisbury Cathedral.

The final two copies are housed in the British Museum. One most likely originally came from Canterbury, the other is known as the ‘London Magna Carta’ and exactly how it ended up in London by the 17th century is unknown. Sadly the Canterbury copy is illegible. It did suffer some fire damage in 1731, but most of the damage was done in a failed attempt to restore the Charter in the 1830s. Sadly this copy is the only surviving 1215 copy that still has the original seal of King John attached, though it was severely melted in the 1731 fire.

british libraryBritish Library.

After the reign of Henry III the next key re-issue of the Magna Carta was by Edward I. In 1297 he issued (a revised version) officially into the English statutes. Interestingly enough I have actually seen one of the only surviving 1297 copies in Australia. It is held at Parliament House in Canberra. It is one of only four surviving copies and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. It was bought by Australia’s Chief Librarian for 12 500 pounds in 1951.parliament house canberra

Parliament House Canberra Australia.

Regardless of how little immediate effect the Magna Carta had, it is a document that has come to symbolise the core of Western Democracy. It has become mythology in its own right and its reality has got quite lost in the monumental legacy. A legacy that (right or wrong) Rudyard Kipling summed up best.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissom reeds that give and take,
That bend so far, but never break,
They keep the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:
‘You musn’t sell, delay, deny,
A freeman’s right or liberty.
It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
We saw ’em roused at Runnymede!

When through our ranks the Barons came,
With little thought of praise or blame,
But resolute to play the game,
They lumbered up to Runnymede;
And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising “Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter signed at Runnymede.’

And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!



Site visits in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Magna Carta: Law, liberty, legacy by the British Library ISBN: 9780712357630

Blood Cries Afar: The forgotten invasion of England 1216 by Sean McGlynn ISBN: 9780752488318

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: 22nd of December: Angers




Angers is the first French castle on this list, it was the home of the Dukes of Anjou who went on to become the Plantagenet dynasty of England.

Angers sits on a rocky promontory which overlooks the River Maine, and there has been some sort of occupation of this site since Neolithic times. The first structure on this site dates to the 9th century when a lookout tower was established by the Counts of Anjou to help to counter the threat of the Normans. There was a castle here from the tenth to the twelfth centuries and it was the home of the Counts of Anjou, but almost nothing remains. The only remains of this original palace are the walls of the grand hall, the steam room and the chapel of St Lud.

The immense castle you see today dates to the 14th century and was built by Blanche of Castile, a granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, in her role as regent for her young son Louis the IX, who was later canonised as Saint Louis.

The ramparts of the original castle, which largely still stand today, measure approximately half a kilometre in length and boast 17 shale and limestone towers. The castle was very much built as a way to repel invading troops.  The walls were changed in the late 16th century with the towers being shorted drastically and pepper pot roofs added to the top. This was mainly to deal with changes in military technology, especially canons.

The Dukes of Anjou used the castle as a place for art and entertainment in the 14th and 15th centuries, in fact the moat you can see today was never intended to hold water and in the 1400s Rene of Anjou used the moat to house his menagerie. The moat, which was constructed in c.1232, has been used for grazing and a vegetable garden as well. It became very overgrown and in 1912 the Mayor of Anjou had it turned into flower beds.

Apart from being a spectacular castle in its own right, Angers also houses the 14th century apocalypse tapestry. It was commissioned in 1375 by Louis I of Anjou and illustrates the book of revelations of St. John, the final book of the old testament. It originally measured roughly 140m in length and 100 m are preserved and are now on display inside the castle.

Angers also served as a departmental prison in the 1800s and was used as a barracks until the mid 20th century. When the army left the castle, the apocalypse tapestry was returned from the cathedral and Angers was opened to the public.


Site visit 2012

Angers brochures

The photos are all mine.


Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 13th of December

A letter from Henry III to the people of Ireland regarding the institution of the Magna Carta. It was unlikely to have been written by him, as it was still during William Marshal’s regency.

“The King to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, knights, free tenants and all our faithful subjects settled throughout Ireland, greetings.

With out hearty commendation of your fidelity in the Lord, which you have ever exhibited to our lord father and to us in these our days are to exhibit our pleasure is, that in token of this your famous and notable fidelity, the liberties granted by our father and by us, of our grace and gift to the realm of England shall in our kingdom of Ireland be enjoyed by you and your heirs forever.

Which liberties distinctly reduced to writing by the general council of all our liege subjects we transmit to you sealed with the seals of our Lord Gualon, legate of the apostolical see and our trusty earl William Marshal, our governor and governor of our kingdom because as yet we have no seal. And the same shall in the proceeds of time and on fuller council  receive the signature of our seal.

Given in Gloucester on the 6th day of February.”

Dr Thomas Leland, History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II, London, 1773, p. 203.


An Easy to Evil Medieval British Quiz.

The way this quiz works.

It’s pretty simple. You see the question with a photo underneath and underneath the photo you’ll find the answer. There’s twenty five questions so keep track of how many you get right and how many you get wrong and see how you do at the end. There’s also a poll at the end so you can see how you compare to everyone else if you’re interested.

As the title suggests, it starts off easy and gets much more complicated. There are five sections: Easy, Medium, Hard, Difficult and Evil.



1. What year was the Magna Carta sealed?


Answer: 1215.

Photo: Part of Runnymede the water meadow where Magna Carta was signed.

2. What year was the Battle of Hastings?

Bayeux Tapestry 35

Answer: 1066

Photo: The Battle of Hasting in the Bayeux Tapestry.

3. Henry II fought with which Archbishop of Canterbury?

henry close

Answer: Thomas Becket.

Photo: Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey.

4.  Eleanor of Aquitaine was the mother of which Kings of England?


Answer: Richard I and John I. You get a bonus point if you said Henry the Young King as well.

Photo: Eleanor of Aquitaine Fontevraud Abbey.

5. William the Conquerer commissioned which survey in 1086?


Answer: Domesday Book

Photo: A recreation of the Domesday Book from in the National Archives.


 6. Which crusade did Richard the Lionheart fight in?

Richard I

Answer: Third Crusade

Photo: Richard the Lionheart and Isabel of Angouleme. 

7. King John married his daughter Joan to which Welsh Prince?

llew coffin 1

Answer: Llywelyn Fawr or Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Either is correct

And I wouldn’t be deducting points if you spelt either wrong.

Photo: Llywelyn’s coffin.

8. William Marshal married which heiress, the daughter of Richard Strongbow?


Answer: Isabel de Clare.

Photo: William Marshal’s effigy.

9. King John lost his baggage train in which inlet?


Answer: The Wash

Photo: Part of The Wash as it looks now.

10. Empress Maud purportedly escaped through King Stephen’s army and the snow from which Castle?


Answer: Oxford Castle.

Photo: 1800s drawing from Cardiff Castle of the escape.


11. William the Conquerer is buried in which town?


Answer: Caen.

Photo: William the Conquerer’s tomb.

12. Which King was born in Winchester Castle?


Answer: Henry III.

Photo: Great Hall of Winchester Castle.

13. How did the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle famously describe the Period of Anarchy 1136-1154?


Answer: It was a time “that Christ and His saints slept.”

Michael Swanton, (ed) & trans, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, London: Phoenix Press, 2000, p. 265. You get the point if you got a variant of this, there’s different translations.

Photo: The current tomb of Empress Maud, one of the antagonists of the Period of Anarchy.

14. Name the children of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

henry and eleanor

Answer: William, Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joanna, John.

If you got all of them but not in order have a point, but you get a bonus point if you got them in order.

Photo: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

15. What year did Henry the Young King die?


Answer: 1183.

Photo: Henry’s non contemporary tomb at Rouen Cathedral.


16. Name the three places which hold the only four existing copies of the original Magna Carta.

Answer: Lincoln, Salisbury Cathedral and The British Library (the British Library has 2).

Photo: Part of Lincoln Castle.

17. Ida de Tosny, the wife of Roger Earl of Norfolk, had a son out of wedlock before she married the Earl who was he?


Answer: William Longsword Earl of Salisbury and bastard son of Henry II.

Photo: His tomb.

18. Which castle did William Marshal, according to the Brut y Tywysogion, subdue with a “vast army” in 1204?

The Rev. John Williams, (ed), Brut y Tywysogion, London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, 1860, p. 261


Answer: Cilgerran Castle.

Photo: Recent wicker statue of Marshal at Cilgerran

19. How much was King Richard’s ransom?


Answer: 100,000 silver marks and 200 hostages. You get the point if you got the monetary amount.

Photo: Riveaux Abbey, a Cistercian foundation. Cistercian foundations had to contribute part of their wool clips to the ransom.

20. Canterbury Cathedral was begun in which decade?

Canterbury Cathedral

Answer: 1070s

Photo: Canterbury Cathedral


21. Which illustrious figure ‘processed’ through the Temple Church in London for its consecration in 1185.

temple church

Answer: Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem.

Photo: Temple Church in London.

22. According to the History of William Marshal what three things did King Stephen threaten to do to the young William Marshal while he was the King’s hostage?


Answer: Hang him, catapult him at the walls of his father’s castle and crush him with a millstone.

A.J Holden & David Crouch (eds) S. Gregory, trans, History of William Marshal, Volume I, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2002, p. 31.

You can have the point if you got these in any order but you have to have all three to get the point.

Photo: William Marshal

23. The Bayeux Tapestry is how many metres long?

Bayeux Tapestry 16

Answer: 70.34m, but you can have the point if you said 70.

Photo: My favourite scene in the Bayeux Tapestry with the Hand of God coming out of the sky.

24. Which papal legate played a significant role in the Magna Carta negotiations and in the Regency of Henry III?


Answer: Guala Bicchieri. You can have the point if you only got Guala, or said Gualo. It is a variation of the spelling and often only Guala or Gualo is written.

Photo: Facsimile of Salisbury’s Magna Carta in the Temple Church.

25. Who did Geoffrey of Monmouth describe as “an accomplished scholar and philosopher, as well as a brave soldier and expert commander”?



Answer: Robert Earl of Gloucester and oldest illegitimate son of Henry I. The passage is from Geoffrey’s dedication of his work History of the Kings of Britain. pg 2.

Photo: Monmouth Castle. Geoffrey was born somewhere in the region of Monmouth

The End

So that’s it. How did you do?

1-5: Well you’ve got some basics down pat. Good start.

6-10: You know more than basics, well on your way.

11-15: Good work, beginning to build a wealth of obscure facts.

16-20: Impressive. You know you stuff.

21-25: Incredible effort. You may know more about this period than is sensible 🙂

26-27  remember the two bonus points: Speechless. Incredible. You definitely know more than you need to about this specific period and area.

27: If you got them all… Sure you didn’t write the quiz?

Now if you feel like it put your results in the poll below.

The photos are all mine.

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry. Probably the world’s best known embroidery, it covers the lead up to and the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important battles in English history. You can see a video of the tapestry below.

The Bayeux Tapestry.

Sorry about the heads in the way and the speed. I had to film around the tourists. It does give you a really good idea of how long the tapestry is though.

This post is going to be a combination book preview, I haven’t done one for a while, because I have two lovely and quite different books on the Bayeux Tapestry.


The book on the left is The Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion by Lewis Thorpe published in 1973. The book on the right is The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan CBE (Director and secretary V&A) published 1943. Both books give an historical background to the tapestry, though Thorpe’s has more detail. Both also have analysis of each scene of the tapestry though Maclagan’s is more detailed. Maclagan’s focus is very specific to the tapestry while Thorpe takes a broader view. Thorpe also includes a translation of one part of William of Poitiers work History of William Duke of Normandy and King of the English.

Both books are also second hand and Maclagan’s has some extra information in the front cover. Pasted there is a newspaper article discussing another tapestry.


The article is from the early fifties and outlines the plan by Miss Sandell of Southampton to make a tapestry, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, of Southampton’s Town Quay at the Dday landings. This led me to do some research and I found what I think is the same tapestry. It was completed in 1953 and now hangs in the civic building in Southampton. [1] Unfortunately I have not yet been able to find a photo.

As I said both books depict the scenes of the tapestry. They do it a little differently though. Two examples can be seen below. The first is a depiction of the famous scene that may or may not illustrate, it depends who you ask, King Harold getting shot in the eye with an arrow. [2] The second is a depiction of William the Conquerer showing his face to his men to prove he isn’t dead.

IMG_1248 IMG_1247

The first picture is Thorpe’s book, and as you can see it provides a translation of the latin embroidery below each picture. The second picture is Maclagan’s and it depicts the whole image alone, he provides a summary of the events in an earlier section. Maclagan only covers a handful of the scenes in colour where as Thorpe does all of them.

There isn’t a great deal new to write about the tapestry, I’m not offering any fantastic revelations, but it is an abidingly interesting story depicted in threads. So I thought I’d narrate that here. To begin with though, it isn’t a tapestry. It’s an embroidery.

I wanted to start with a little background about both the history behind the tapestry and about the physical tapestry itself. The tapestry was embroidered on coarse linen and two different kinds of woollen thread, including eight colours, can be seen. The Bayeux Tapestry is 70.34 m in length and 50cm wide, but it is made up of half a dozen or more pieces of linen. It has also been ‘fixed’ at various times throughout its life. (Maclagan, p.16-17). [3] The tapestry depicts the lead up to the invasion and the invasion of England by William the Conquerer. It was most likely commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conquerer’s brother, for the consecration of his cathedral in Bayeux in 1077. It was then probably stitched by two teams of women. (Thorpe, p. 24).[4] Though it is thought that the design was probably drawn on sections of the linen background by one master craftsman. Each scene is captioned in latin and it was designed to hang around a wall, probably Bayeux Cathedral


Bayeux Cathedral.

After its creation and dedication ceremony, probably in 1077, there is not much record of the tapestry. In 1476 it is specifically listed in an inventory of Bayeux Cathedral. It is then mentioned in a paper in 1724 and in 1728 Dom Bertrand de Montfaucon, a Benedictine from Saint-Maur, took an interest in it and 12 months later sent someone to examine it. The drawings made of it at this time was published in Montfaucon’s book Monument de la Monarchie Francais. There were several attempts to destroy it or to use it ignobly during the French Revolution. For example it was almost used as a protective tarpaulin before a last minute reprieve.[5] It was exhibited in the Musee de Napoleon in Paris by Napoleon. During Napoleon’s reign a comet was sighted. Although it wasn’t Halley’s Comet, which is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, it was thought that it was a good omen for an invasion of England. Napoleon changed his mind though and in 1804 it was returned to Bayeux where it has hung pretty much ever since, apart from a short period of time during the Franco Prussian War. Also during WWII it was spirited away to stop it being sent to Germany with other significant French art. It was also briefly exhibited in the Louvre in 1944 after the liberation of France. (Lewis, pp. 58-59).

So in some ways it is somewhat of a miracle that the tapestry still exists.

The story it depicts is very much from the Norman perspective but is still of great interest. I will now set the scene for the story of the tapestry. Edward the Confessor was King of England but he had no direct heir. There were several contenders. William Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson were the primary claimants as far as the tapestry is concerned. However the tapestry leaves out other contenders including Edgar the Aethling who had the best hereditary claim being descended from England’s older kings, but he was quite young and no one seemed to seriously consider him until after the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry also doesn’t depict Harald Hardrada King of Norway who made a spited attempt to claim the throne, though unsuccessfully, but more on Harald Hardrada later. William of Normandy was related to Edward the Confessor as Edward’s mother had been Emma of Normandy who was the daughter of William of Normandy’s great grandfather. William also claimed that Edward offered him the throne in 1051. Harold Godwinson’s claim to the throne was not one of blood but rather one of power, he was the son of Earl Godwin Earl of Wessex and his sister was the wife of Edward the Confessor. Earl Godwin died in 1053 and Edward and his brothers Tostig Earl of Northumbria, Gyrth Earl of East Anglia and Leofwine , who ruled the area of the south east, wielded an immense amount of power in England. During the last 13 years of Edward’s life they were virtually ruling England. (Lewis, pp.7-8). This is the situation when the Bayeux Tapestry begins.

I have photos of most of the tapestry, but there are a few panels I missed when trying to photograph it around people. The photos below give a good general idea though.

The story begins with an image of Edward the Confessor talking to Harold Godwinson. Bayeux Tapestry 1

Harold is then sent to Normandy and he can be seen crossing the sea.

Bayeux Tapestry 2

When he lands he is seized by Count Guy of Ponthieu.

Bayeux Tapestry 3

And he is taken to Beaurain Castle where Harald and Guy talk.

Bayeux Tapestry 4

Duke William finds out about Harold’s capture.

Bayeux tapestry 5

Duke William sends envoys to Guy.

Bayeux tapestry 6

Harold is taken to Duke William, you can see Duke William below on the black horse.

Bayeux Tapestry 7JPG

They go to Duke William’s palace.

Bayeux Tapestry 8

A churchman and Aelfgyva were at the palace. Aelfgyva was a woman who’s identity is unknown to the historical community, though there is much debate.

Bayeux tapestry 9

Then Duke William, Harold and Duke William’s army go to Mont Saint Michel. This is an account of Duke William’s campaign in Brittany.

Bayeux Tapestry 10

They cross the river Couesson.

Bayeux tapestry 11

 They arrive at Dol and Duke Conan of Brittany flees. You can see him doing it on the left.

Bayeux Tapestry 12

They then attack Rennes and are fighting against the men of Dinian.

Bayeux Tapestry 13

Conan hands over the keys to William, no photo, and Harold and William arrive at Bayeux, no photo, where Harold makes an oath to back Duke William. You can see him swearing on the holy relics on the right.

Bayeux Tapestry 14

Harold returns to England, no photo, to find that King Edward is dying.

Bayeux Tapestry 15

The Hand of God is pointing at the very new Westminster Abbey and King Edward’s body is carried off.

Bayeux Tapestry 16

King Edward is shown addressing his faithful servants before his death.

Bayeux Tapestry 17

Harold is named King.

Bayeux Tapestry 18

The men marvel at a star, which is Halley’s Comet. One of them comes to tell Harold about it. You can see shadowy ships in the bottom border, which could be taken as an omen.

Bayeux Tapestry 19

Duke William is told of what he sees as Harold’s treachery.

Bayeux Tapestry 20 JPG

Duke William’s men are ordered to chop down trees to make ships and the ships are built.

Bayeux Tapestry 21

The ships are dragged to the sea, no picture, and loaded with weaponry and food and wine.

Bayeux Tapestry 22

They set sail.

Bayeux Tapestry 24

Bayeux Tapestry 23

They arrive at Pevensey, unload the horses and the knights hurry off. They can be seen hurrying on the right.

Bayeux Tapestry 25

They head for Hastings so they can forage for food, no pictures, they then arrive and meet Waddard, probably a vassal of Odo’s.

Bayeux tapestry 26

Meat is cooked and served by servants, no picture. They have a large meal and the bishop blesses the food.

Bayeux Tapestry 27

Duke William talks to his two half brothers Bishop Odo and Robert of Mortain, no picture, the order is then given for a fortification to be dug at Hastings.

Bayuex Tapestry 28

News about Harold is brought to Duke William and a house is burnt, possibly an indication of the countryside being ravaged to provoke battle.

Bayeux Tapestry 29

The knights set out from Hastings, no picture, and reach the battle against Harold.

Bayeux Tapestry 30

Duke William questions Vital, who was probably Odo’s vassal and has been scouting, if he has seen Harold’s army.

Bayeux Tapestry 31

It is worth pausing the story here to say that at this point King Harold has ridden and marched his army from Stamford Bridge, just out of York. Where after a forced march of more than 200 miles King Harold’s forces had defeated the army of Harald Hardrada the King of Norway and Tostig, King Harold’s brother who he’d been forced to exile some months earlier. Harald Hardrada had sailed at Tostig’s request to claim the English Crown for himself. He’d sailed with a fleet of some 200 ships, not including the supply ships. King Harold won the day, the Norwegians were annihilated and Hardrada and Tostig were both killed. So few survived that only approximately 24 ships were needed to carry them home. Oderic Vital wrote seventy years later that “To this day a great congeries of skeletons of those who died still lies there, as evidence of the wholesale slaughter of two peoples.” (Thorpe, p.15). News of Duke William’s landing probably reached Harold while he was in York and he turned around and marched south from just out of York to face Duke William, he left London on the 12th of October and The Battle of Hastings was fought on the 14th of October 1066. The image below on the left is King Harold receiving news of Duke William’s army before the battle begins and on the right you can see Duke William exhorting his troops.

Bayeux Tapestry 32

The battle then commences. Bayeux Tapestry 33 Bayeux Tapestry 34

King Harold’s brothers, Leofwine and Gyrth, fall.Bayeux Tapestry 35 Bayeux Tapestry 36

The Battle continues.

Bayeux Tapestry 37

Bayeux Tapestry 38

There is concern that Duke William has been killed. You can see him showing his face below to prove that he isn’t dead.

Bayeux Tapestry 39

There is more fighting, no photos,  and then King Harold is killed. You can see latin below. Harold Rex interfectus est. Which translates as here King Harold has been killed. See above for the discussion as to how he died.

Bayeux Tapestry 40

And the English flee.

Bayeux Tapestry 41Bayeux Tapestry 42

And that is the end of the tapestry.

It is by no means the end of story as Duke William still had to establish dominance over a reasonably hostile country. But that is a story for another post.

The photos are all mine as is the video.


[2] This is a link to a discussion about whether or not King Harold was shot in the eye. While the author draws the conclusion that he was not and I don’t believe this can be said absolutely definitively the article outlines the problems with the argument that he was shot in the eye with an arrow. There are absolutely arguments on both sides, but this is not the place to go into detail.

[3] The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan. published 1943 by Penguin Book Limited: London and New York.

[4] The Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion by Lewis Thorpe. Published 1973 by the Folio Society.


Bury St Edmunds

The abbey at Bury St Edmunds is only ruins today, but it was once one of the largest and most powerful abbeys in England. It was home of the Chronicle of Bury St Edmund’s and was one of the places that the Magna Carta was planned. It was a casualty of the dissolution of the monasteries, handed over to the king in 1539.

There isn’t a lot left now, but what remains is majestic and  poignant. It allows a glimpse of how spectacular the abbey would have been in all its glory.


The tallest pillar you can see to the left of the picture is near where the Magna Carta barons met to swear on the altar of St Edmund that they would obtain ratification of the Magna Carta from King John.  The plaque below is affixed to it.

bury st 4

St Edmund’s is also the abbey that Eustace, the wildly unpopular son of King Stephen, plundered right before he died unexpectedly, possibly from choking to death. Many felt that his death was divine wrath, similar to the death of Henry the Young King.

The Chronicle of Bury St Edmunds was also written at the abbey. The Chronicle was written by Jocelin de Brakelond who was the chaplain of Abbot Samson. Samson was  one of the Abbots who had the most structural influence on the abbey. Samson completed the great western front of the abbey.  More of the west front survives today than any other part of the abbey, but it is largely houses. You can still see the remains of Samson’s great arches.bury st8

bury st door

Samson also had an almost competition with Geoffrey Ridel who was Bishop of Ely. Geoffrey requested that Samson let him have oaks from Elmsett for his own building operations at Ely and Geoffrey had secretly gone through and marked the trees he wanted. Samson felt he had to agree, but he immediately felled the best oaks in Elmsett for his own works.  This is an excellent illustration of the competition between the large religious institutions. You can see Ely Cathedral below.


Samson’s works on the abbey and general life at the abbey over this period , 1173-1202, are the main subjects of the Chronicle. It also provides an intriguing picture of Samson himself.

“ABBOT SAMSON was below the average height, almost bald; his face was neither round nor oblong ; his nose was prominent and his lips thick; his eyes were clear and his glance penetrating; his hearing was excellent; his eyebrows arched, and frequently shaved; and a little cold soon made him hoarse. On the day of his election he was forty­ seven, and had been a monk for seventeen years. In his ruddy beard there were a few grey hairs, and still fewer in his black and curling hair. But in the course of the first fourteen years after his election all his hair became white as snow.

He was an exceedingly temperate man ; he possessed great energy and a strong constitution, and was fond both of riding and walking, until old age prevailed upon him and moderated his ardour in these respects. When he heard the news of the capture of the cross and the fall of Jerusalem, he began to wear under garments made of horse hair, and a horse­ hair shirt, and gave up the use of flesh and meat. None the less, he willed that flesh should be placed before him as he sat at table, that the alms might be increased. He ate sweet milk, honey, and similar sweet things, far more readily than any other food.

He hated liars, drunkards, and talkative persons; for virtue ever loves itself and spurns that which is contrary to it. He blamed those who grumbled about their meat and drink, and especially monks who so grumbled, and personally kept to the same manners which he had observed when he was a cloistered monk. Moreover, he had this virtue in himself that he never desired to change the dish which was placed before him. When I was a novice, I wished to prove whether this was really true, and as I happened to serve in the refectory, I thought to place before him food which would have offended any other man, in a very dirty and broken dish. But when he saw this, he was as it were blind to it. Then, as there was some delay, I repented of what I had done, and straightway seized the dish, changed the food and dish for better, and carried it to him. He, however, was angry at the change, and disturbed.

He was an eloquent man, speaking both French and Latin, but rather careful of the good sense of that which he had to say than of the style of his words. He could read books written in English very well, and was wont to preach to the people in English, but in the dialect of Norfolk where he was born and bred. It was for this reason that he ordered a pulpit to be placed in the church, for the sake of those who heard him and for purposes of ornament.”

This excerpt offers an intriguing glimpse into the world of Bury St Edmund’s.

To read more go to

The remains of St Edmund’s Abbey are like the bones of a giant, you can see the greatness that was once there.  The first photo below shows the remains of what would once have been a beautiful window and the second shows that bases of pillars that held up part of the church.

bury st 5

bury st 3

One of the pieces that has survived the destruction of the abbey is the Norman Tower. It was built 1120-1148 and was designed to be both a gateway to the abbey church and a belfry for the church of St James next door, it still serves as a bell tower. It was funded by Abbot Anselm instead of a pilgrimage to St James De Compostella. The carved stone work that survives is truly beautiful.

bury st 7

bury st 6

Bury St Edmond’s was once one of England’s most important and majestic abbeys, you can see from the model below just how large it was, there might not be much left now but there are at least still echoes of the past.

bury st