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Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Story

Interpreting The Tapestry Scene by Scene: Scene 1


This is scene one of the embroidery. It starts with King Edward, shown resplendent in his palace speaking with two men. One of the men is obviously Harold, probably the taller because the tapestry seeme to show men of lower status as much smaller so perhaps Harold is with his most faithful huscarle or servant. Further on, 6 men are riding out with their hunting animals and the Latin text in the top of the border reads Harold, Duke of England: and his soldiers ride to Bosham.
From what we know of the tale of the embroidery, the Norman sources tell us that Harold was sent to Normandy on a great mission by his brother-in-law the King to convey his good wishes to Duke William and confirm him in the succession. As I have said in my previous post, the English account written by Eadmer tells a different story altogether. It would have us believe that Harold (very much his own man) informs King Edward that he is going on a journey to Normandy to meet with Duke William and negotiate the release of his brother and nephew who have been hostages in Normandy for several years. Edward advises against this mission and tells Harold that only harm can come of it, but Harold takes his leave despite Edward's advice. Either story can be represented in the scene.
Whichever theory you believe, the next scene can have no double meaning. It simply shows Harold and his men riding toward Bosham where he will embark on his journey in one of his ships. He most likely wanted to ride to Bosham to collect some gifts for William. If he was going to Normandy to get his brothers, he would need to make it worth his while.
Bosham was Harold’s father’s manor estate, granted to him by Cnut. It is said that Cnut’s daughter is buried in the church when she slipped and fell into the millstream. This was also where Cnut was said to have proved to his subjects that he was not all powerful by putting his throne on the edge of the beach to show them he couldn’t hold back the tide.  Godwine, Harold’s father, made it his family home and most likely the Godwin brothers and sisters grew up there. You can imagine the youngsters playing in the courtyard of their father’s longhall. I can almost hear Swegn, Harold and Tostig arguing amongst themselves, an omen of what was to come later.
Swegn was to grow up to be the black sheep of the family and Tostig would eventually go on to be betrayed by his brother Harold and then he in turn would betray Harold by attempting an invasion with Harald Hardrada. Tostig was killed alongside Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, playing his part in the downfall of Anglo-Saxon England.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A Tale of Two Boys

The tapestry shows the tale of Harold's journey to Normandy, his imprisonment by Guy de Ponthieu and his subsequent release into the hands of William of Normandy and his adventures there until he is coerced to take an oath to promise to be William's man and when the time comes, assist him to the throne of England. He is released back to England where he is shown accepting the crown himself after the death of Edward. What follows is the great preperation William undertakes to make a large fleet of boats to invade England with, the battle of Hastings and the demise of Harold and defeat of the English. There it stops abruptly but the final scenes are thought to have been damaged and probably concluded with the coronation of the victorious conqueror.

The Norman slant on this story is that Harold was comissioned by Edward to visit William with gifts and offerings to confirm his intention of naming him as heir. The English version was very different. Harold went on a mission to visit William with the sole purpose of negotiating the release of his brother Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon, against the advice of the King who told him that nought would come of it but trouble. This was Eadmer's version, a monk of Canterbury. It seems that Harold eventually returns to England with only one of the men he wanted to release, Hakon. Wulfnoth was to stay in Normandy presumably until William was crowned king. Hakon most likely died with his uncle the King at Hastings. 

The two men do not appear in the tapestry by name but in a certain scene, where Harold stands before William, who is seated on his throne as his guest is gesticulating and pointing to the man who stands behind him sporting a beard and an English hairstyle. Because most of the men in the tapestry are either English or Franco/Norman, the distinction between the two races are often marked by such differences as cropped hair above the ears and clean shaven faces for the Normans and moustaches and full heads of hair for the English. Iconography exists quite often in the tapestry to signify a certain point that the artist is making. The chap that Harold appears to be pointing to is standing very much apart from the otherNorman knights behind him. He carries his shield under his arm and Bridgeford 2004 states that the shield is not dissimilar to the one that the Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold holding in the battle scenes. He goes on to make the claim that this is most likely Wulfnoth Godwinson, Harold's brother, the kinsman that it is said he came to plead for his freedom.

So, we have the dilemma. Which version do we believe? The Norman's justification for invading England was that Edward had sent Harold to Normandy with the explicit purpose of confirming William as the heir to his throne. Eadmer, who had access to people who might have known the full truth about Harold's journey, states otherwise and that Harold's sole reason for his journey to Normandy was to release his kinsmen. The images in the tapestry seem to follow Eadmer's version but without contradicting the Norman view. In the first scene, Harold is shown in a secret meeting with King Edward. If we are to follow Eadmer's version, we can interpret Edward listening to Harold explain his plans to visit William of Normandy to negotiate with him the release of his kinsmen. However, if we wanted to, we could also follow the Norman. Edward is discussing his request for Harold to visit his second cousin accross the sea to bestow his good wishes and confirm his heirship. Neither tale can be contradicted in the images.

So despite the different opinions that historians give, Harold returned with one of the men only. Hakon, who could have been around 16-17. He is believed to have died at Hastings, whatever the case nothing appears to be heard of him after that date. Wulfnoth has to stay until William is crowned and then he shall be released. However, as Harold defaults on his oath to smooth the way for William to take the throne, Wulfnoth is never released. He remains in captivity for the rest of his life freedom evading him for the second time when due his release upon the death of the Conqueror, William's successor William Rufus reneges on his father's promise to free him.