The Bayeux Tapestry has all the features of a bestselling fiction novel – deceit, greed, battles and intrigue.
There are no less than 620 people, 200 horses, and 500-odd other beasts (real and mythological) depicted in one long, 70 metre strip of embroidered cloth, completed almost 1000 years ago.
The Bayeux Tapestry is in the “Centre Guillaume le Conquerant” (The William the Conqueror Centre), on 13 bis rue Nesmond, in Bayeux France.
Bayeux, a pretty town in the Calvados département of Lower Normandy, managed to escape extensive damage during the war – which is suprising, considering the allied troops landed on the beaches only a few miles away.
The centre of town is beautifully preserved – you’ll see lovely cobblestone streets, timber framed buildings and Notre Dame cathedral – a stunning piece of Norman Gothic architecture.
Bayeux France is about 30 mins drive west of Caen (here’s a map of Normandy that you can refer to).
Driving and parking in Bayeux is not too problematic. We found a parking spot within walking distance of the main sights.
The tapestry museum, cathedral and cafes (musn’t forget lunch…) are all close together in the centre of town so it’s easy to get around on foot.
The Story of the Bayeux Tapestry
Here is the most well known interpretation (in a nutshell)…told from a Norman perspective, of course!. (PS We highly recommend using the audioguide, which you can collect at the entrance to the museum.)
King Edward is dying and has no son nor heir. He chooses William Duke of Normandy, to be his successor. William is a distant cousin of Edward. The King sends his advisor, Harold (a powerful earl), to deliver the news to William.
Harold travels across the English Channel to Normandy, to meet with William of Normandy. Harold swears his allegiance to William and backs William’s claim to the throne (you’ll see on the Bayeux tapestry itself, Harold’s hands placed on holy relics).
Then…shortly after King Edward dies, Harold is crowned King (supposedly, King Edward had then named Harold his successor while on his deathbed) – therefore breaking a sacred oath. Halleys Comet appears, which in the Middle Ages meant impending doom.
William finds out about Harold’s coronation, isn’t impressed (huge understatement), and prepares to invade England. William’s invasion fleet lands on the English coast and marches to Hastings, a town in southern England. After a ferocious battle, William claims victory – you’ll see Harold struck with an arrow through the eye and the Latin inscription “Here King Harold was killed”. William is crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.