Custom has decreed that this marvellous old representation of the Norman Conquest should be known by the name of the Bayeux Tapestry, though in reality it is not tapestry at all, but a strip of linen embroidered with archaic figures of warriors, animals, and birds.
The date of its production is supposed to be the year 1066, and the legend runs that Queen Matilda and her ladies employed their time, during the absence of William the Conqueror, in depicting the various incidents of the war in this unique manner.
The total length of the strip is about 76 yards, and the width 20 inches. Fifty-eight groups, each one of which tells its own story, are arranged on this and embroidered in wools similar to the crewels of the present day.
The drawing of the figures is somewhat rough and crude, but there is much life and character to be found in the grotesque personages and horses of impossible colours. Various shades of blue, brown, green, and red are the tints employed in this embroidery, and these in the original still retain much of their freshness in spite of the 800 odd years which have elapsed since the work was done.
The threads of worsted are laid side by side across the figures, crossed by other threads, which are held in position by small stitches taken through the linen. Much of the work is in outline only, every solid part worked in the strapped-stitch described being outlined in a different colour.
During its long life the tapestry has passed through many vicissitudes. It was origin-ally used to hang round the nave of the cathedral at Bayeux at certain festivals of the Church, and has always been considered a most valuable possession, although at one period it appears to have disappeared from view and been almost forgotten, until dragged from its hiding-place by a Benedictine monk. Later it was taken to cover a waggon laden with supplies for the army, but was rescued by a municipal authority who substituted a tarpaulin, and kept the tapestry in his own office until more peaceful times.
Napoleon, wishing to see with his own eyes this page of French history, sent for it to Paris, and had it exhibited in the Louvre. In point of fact, the authorities at Bayeux had some little difficulty in recovering their treasure, the value of which they were by this time beginning to realise. The tapestry, which was kept on a cylinder, and rolled and unrolled every time a stranger wished to examine it, was beginning to show signs of wear, the ends were frayed and ragged from the constant friction; and it was about this time that it came to a final resting-place in the museum at Bayeux, where it is the most precious and interesting object on view there. Placed in a double glass case, just the height of the eye, it can be examined with ease and comfort, and well repays the trouble of a visit.
A curious story is told of an English painter who early in the seventeenth century was in Bayeux, and obtained permission to copy the tapestry. His wife, taking advantage of the opportunity thus offered, cut off a fragment of the tapestry, and afterwards sold it in England, doubtless for a good price, though this is not mentioned. Later, this stolen fragment came into the possession of the South Kensington Museum authorities, and was restored by them to the rightful owners.
A panel inounted as a screen, illustrating the keys of Dinan being delivered up on the point of a lance. Horses and men are coloured in a most bizarre fashion
There is in existence at least one complete embroidered copy of this imperishable work, and many photographs, the best of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and is an exact reproduction as to size and colour of the original. It is an excellent copy from which to work.
Many books have been written about this tapestry, and much discussion raised as to whether Queen Matilda really had any hand in the working of it, or whether William's brother - Bishop Odo of Bayeux - had it designed, and employed Norman workpeople to embroider it to decorate his church. There appears to be very little doubt that 1066, or thereabouts, is the correct date of its production; and, as many hands must have been required for such a colossal undertaking, it is considered quite possible the peasant workpeople may have aided trie Queen and her ladies in their arduous task.
In an interesting pamphlet published at Bayeux it is suggested that some of these workers mixed up the designs, and this accounts for the fact that the burial of King Edward occurs before his illness and death !
The reproduction of these interesting designs, and the adaptation of the various groups to modern requirements, are quite simple matters. Any coarse, unbleached linen is suitable for the groundwork (opinions vary as to the exact depth of tint most desirable, but it must not be too white), and this may be obtained in exactly the right width for the strips. The various groups are more or less complete in themselves, and can be used singly, if required, with very good effect.
For anyone ambitious enough to undertake it, an entire frieze to surround a room is a delightful piece of work. In beginning this, care must be taken to calculate the exact length required for the linen, as it would be unsatisfactory to have a mutilated design come in at the end. If the size of the room admits it, the groups may be arranged as in the original; but if this cannot be done it is more symmetrical to put the figures rather farther apart than to crowd them in to fit the space.