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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.
                                                                              

                                                                               

                                                                   

11 comments:

Miriam Newman said...

Modern politicians have nothing on those guys. Even the tapestry was political.

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Hi,

Nice to see article on something/someone that isn't the norm - done to death! ;)

best
F

paulalofting said...

Hi Ladies, thanks for your comments. I'm happy to answer any questions about the blog. Anything that sparks debate about this era is all good IMO. Miriam, thats an interesting point you made about the tapestry being political. I wonder just how important the women who embroidered it realised it was to be and how nearly a 1000 years later people would be analysing its content and interpreting its images?
Francine, I like to be different, :)

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree with Francine - great to see a blog about something so different and fascinating!

bluffkinghal said...

I love it too. It's something I don't know anything about. In fact before I came across this blog, I didn't even know about this tapestry. Good job, Paula!

Carol McGrath said...

I absolutely agree. You must write about the picture to the right. That interesting controversal one. My guess is it is either a reference to an old tale or that it is to do with a potential marriage suggestion for Harold. I like the former. Fabulous blog. My book The Handfasted Wife is about Edith Swanneck and the tapestry inspired the novel. It is unpublished as yet as it is part of my MphL submission at Royal Holloway.

paulalofting said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paulalofting said...

Hi Carol, I have done a 6 part series on my Sons of the Wolf blog about Aelfgyva, here is the link to part one


http://paulalofting-sonsofthewolf.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/aelfgyva-mystery-woman-of-bayeux.html

paulalofting said...

or try going here, www.paulalofting-sonsofthewolf.blogspot.co.uk and scroll through the posts

Mercedes Hayes said...

We can't totally negate the possibility that he got blown off course during a fishing expedition. After all, he certainly didn't land in the right place if his intention was to visit William. I know the tapestry doesn't refer to this, but that alternative explanation must have come from somewhere?

Paula Lofting-Wilcox said...

hi Mercedes
I go by Eadmer's version which seems to follow that of the tapestry. If he and his men were going on a simple fishing trip, if we are to believe the tapestry, why would he take his dogs and birds with him. The eveidence I've discovered, seems to add up to him going with intention of heading for Normandy and the story of him being blown of course on a fishing trip doesnt really seem deasible given the rest of the more contemporary evidence that we have.thanks for you comment!