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Friday, 24 February 2012

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aelfgyva, the mystery woman of Bayeux: Part One, 2nd ed.

Aelfgifu, or as it was sometimes spelt Aelfgyva, must have been a popular name and one of some significance, for when Emma of Normandy was espoused to Aethelred, the witan insisted that she be called Aelfgifu, which incidentally had been the name of a couple of Aethelred's previous consorts, though none of those women had been given the title of queen unlike Emma. Perhaps they had been so used to referring to their king’s women by the same name they thought it more expedient to refer to Emma as Aelfgifu too, lest they forget themselves and mistakenly call her Aelfgifu anyway. I say this tongue in cheek, but it is unclear as to why the name Emma was objectionable to them, after all, it was not unlike the English version of Ymma. But changing a queen's name is not an un heard of phenomenon; later Queen Edith, great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, was sneered at for her Saxon name and was forced to become Queen Mathilda when she wed Henry the first.

There were so many Aelfgyvas/ Aelfgifus amongst the women of the 11thc that it must have become quite confusing at times. Even Cnut's first consort was called Aelfgifu, mother of Cnut's sons Harold and Sweyn. She was known as Aelfgifu of Northampton whose father had been killed during Aethelred’s reign. So one can see that if anyone called Emma, Aelfgifu, by mistake, it would not have mattered as they could be referring to either of them! Even Cnut would not have been caught out by this one.
There was a story about Cnut's Aelfgifu, that she had been unable to produce her own off-spring and involved a monk to help her pass off a serving maid's illigitemate babies as her sons by Cnut. In another version, it was said that the monk himself had fathered them himself. Were they a monk's children fathered on a serving maid so that Aelfgifu could present them as hers and Cnut's? Or, were they lovers themselves, the monk and Aelfgifu? These are questions that, after reading the evidence, I am pondering upon. However, Emma, it is said, hated Aelfgifu and the two women were at odds with each other for many years until Aelfgifu died. It would not be implausable that these tales, rumours, chinese whispers if you may, could have been put about by the Queen to destroy her rival's reputation.
Which leads me now to the mystery of Aelfgyva on the Bayeux tapestry. Aelfgyva is the same name as Aeflgifu only a different spelling, much like Edith and Eadgyth. For centuries people must have pondered over this scene, where a slim figure, clad in what would appear to be the clothing of a well-bred woman stands in a door way, her hands are palm upwards as if she could be explaining something to a monk, apparently behind the door. He is reaching out to touch the side of her face whilst his other hand rests on his hip in a stance of dominance and he looks as if he might be touching her face in a fatherly way, perhaps admonishing her for some misdeed, or perhaps he is slapping her? On the other hand he could be caressing her face. The text sewn into the tapestry merely states ‘where a priest and Aelfgyva...’ and the onlooker is left with no more than this to dwell on. So just what is the author alluding to? Why did he/she not finish the sentence? Perhaps they were referring to a well known scandal of the time and they had no reason to describe the events because everyone would have known about it anyway. Who knows what the truth is? It seems the answer to the questions of the lady’s identity and the relevance the scene has to the story of the downfall of Harold Godwinson, died with the creators of the tapestry long ago. Those who presented it to the owner must have given a satisfactory explanation to him about the scene. One can only wonder as to what it might have been and was it a truthful explanation, or did it have a hidden story?
This brings me to my burning question. Was this scene depicting the scandal of Aelfgifu of Northampton and the monk and if so why and what did it have to do with the tapestry? What was its creator alluding to? Or had someone woven them into the tapestry, mistakenly confusing Cnut's Aelfgifu/Aelfgyva with a similar story that did have some legitimacy with the story of the conquest? I have an interpretation, but it is just that, and most likely the fanciful ramblings of my imagination, although it could perhaps be close. I will attempt to explain my theory further sometime in part two soon. Watch this space as the mystery unfolds!
More about this post on my Sons of the Wolf blog

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Origins of the Bayeux Tapestry
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Welcome to the first post on Threads to the Past, my blog about mysteries of the Bayeux Tapestry. This post is devoted to the Tapestry itself, where it came from and the possible commissioners. This seemed a very good place to start this blog, at the beginning. Firstly, unlike its description, it is an embroidery as I am sure most of you have realised. I have no idea why it was mistakenly called a tapestry and frankly, I don’t think it is necessary to go delving into that one, however the Bayeux Embroidery doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the Bayeux Tapestry, probably because we are so used to it being called that. A tapestry is an entirely different thing altogether from a tapestry which is an image woven into the material rather than embroidered upon a piece of material.
The Bayeux Cathedral

The tapestry is a long piece, around 70 metres long (230ft) with woollen threads embroidering the linen background. The width of the embroidery is around 0.5 metres (1.6ft). Around 50 scenes decorate it with inscriptions written above some of images in Latin. There have been later restorations to the embroidery and in 1724 a backing cloth made of linen was sewn on to it to perhaps protect its fragility. Later, numerals were to be written on the back in black ink to numerate each scene, obviously by someone who was studying it and wanted to create some order to it.
Housed in the beautiful city of Bayeux with its gothic Cathedral at its centre, it is known by its signs as simply the ‘Tapisserie’ and also in English. It is kept in a 17thc building that was converted into a museum in the early ’80’s. Confined carefully inside a glass casing, cautiously illuminated, it stretches out around the narrow corridor and plays out like the scenes from a cartoon. This amazing piece of history has survived the passage of more than 900 years not without some damage, but most of it is entirely original (Bridgeford 2004).
Its first factual reference was in 1476 when it was amongst the inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral (Wilson 1985). The fact that it has remained so well preserved since around 1070 is in my opinion a miracle. How many others of this type on such a grand scale can there be? None to my knowledge unless anyone can put me right. It has even survived the 1562 sacking of the Huguenots when they stormed through the cathedral where it was believed to have been stored, burning and smashing most of the items listed in the inventory of 1476. Due to the swift thinking of the clergy, they managed to secrete some of the items away after a tip off and thus the beautiful masterpiece survived.  It also managed to survive the Second World War when the Nazi’s took the tapestry to study it, believing it to be a great monument to Germanic domination rather than to French national history (Brown 2012).
So how did this embroidery that describes an English/Norman event find its way to Bayeux? How did it survive all these years and who commissioned it to be made and whose fingers created it? What are the stories depicted upon it and who were the players?
These are all questions I intend to explore in this blog. Excited? I am.

Welcome to My New Blog

Welcome to my new blog, THREADS TO THE PAST about the mysteries and tales embroidered into the Bayeux Tapestry. My name is Paula Lofting Wilcox and I am the author of Sons of the Wolf which is my novel set in the 11thc about the fortunes of Domesday man, Wulfhere of Horstede. I started posting various snippets of factual events, people and stories on my Sons of the Wolf blog and thought it may be more of interest to people if I created a seperate blog for the Bayeux Tapsetry aftert I started my posts about the mystery lady, Aelfgyva on the BT. I had intended to make these posts into three parts but the more I investigated the mystery, the longer the threads became. Then I realised that there was a lot more interesting tales illuminated in the threads of this amazing embroidery and felt compelled to create a blog that would be solely dedicated to the history stitched into the fabric of life as it was in  11thc Englalond.

Please join me as I begin the journey and come with me to meet characters like Edward the Confessor, his wife Edith Godwinsdottir, her brother Harold and his arch rival William of Normandy and his brother Odo, the bishop of Bayeux and Eustace of Bologne and many more. You can also learn what facts my investigations into the mystery woman Aelfgyva have turned, learn who she might have been and about what was her role in the story of Harold's fateful mission to Normandy.

I look forward to having your comapny on what I am sure will be an exciting ride.

 Link to my blog Sons of the Wolf