The Bayeux Tapestry (French: La Tapisserie de Bayeux), also known as "Telle du Conquest" and "Embroidery of Queen Mathilde", is an embroidered strip of cloth that's nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall and dates back to the second half of the 11th century, right at the turn between the Low and High Middle Ages. It can be seen here in its entirety.
It depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and concerns William, Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, later King of England as Harold II, and culminates in the conquest itself and the battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. It was made within a few years after the battle and ended up named after Bayeux, the French city it was kept in the cathedral of for centuries, but it is now agreed to have been made in England.
The events the tapestry depicts are told solely from the Norman perspective (as it was commissioned by Norman bishop Odo of Bayeux), and numerous minor amendments have been made during restoration, possibly altering the original appearance/context of some scenes. The end section is missing; it could have contained the coronation of William the Conqueror on December 25th, 1066. The tapestry is still preserved in Bayeux, in a large museum that's entirely dedicated to it.
Effectively a vast medieval comic, the tapestry tells the events in a sprawling, colourful, Latin-annotated pictorial form, and remains one of the most important iconographic sources for Western Europe in the 11th century. Its unique nature and striking visuals have inspired many opening credits for depictions of Middle Ages in popular culture, though almost always anachronistically so considering the scarcity of modern works that are actually set in the late 11th century.
The Bayeux Tapestry provides examples of:
- Battle Epic: It's basically a giant retelling of the conquest of England by the Normans, culminating in the battle of Hastings.
- Comet of Doom: After scenes that depict Harold Godwinson being elected and then holding court as king of England, there is a group of people who point excitedly at a flying something meant to represent a comet (as the caption explains: "these people are amazed at the star"). In the context of the tapestry, this is an ill omen of the war that is about to be triggered by Harald's coronation, and foreshadows that it will end badly for Harold. The comet is Halley's Comet, which was visible in April of 1066; Harold had been crowned in January.
- Eye Scream: Harold is depicted as being killed by being shot in the eye with an arrow.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Both sides were depicted as using almond-shaped shields made of wood and reinforced with leather. Those became commonly associated with Norman warriors.
- Missing Episode: The end of the tapestry is missing. The missing panels are speculated to depict William the Conqueror's coronation as King of England following the battle.
- Moe Greene Special: The tapestry depicts King Harold as going out like this, as a figure is shown apparently with an arrow in their eye, with the caption Harold rex interfectus est (King Harold is killed). Of course, since the tapestry is believed to be an abstract retelling, it's possible he didn't actually die this way, and needle marks suggest the arrow may have been something else before someone modified it.
- Nonindicative Name: The piece is an embroidery and NOT a "tapestry", but it's been called a "tapestry" for centuries nonetheless.
- Storming the Castle: Several English motte-and-bailey castles are depicted being attacked by the Normans.
- This Means War!: William felt Harold's coronation as King of England was a betrayal and decided to invade England as a result.
Works that have references to the Bayeux Tapestry or feature it:
- The Vikings: The opening's art style deliberately mimics the tapestry and even borrows some bits of it (the shipbuilders most notably) despite the film being set roughly 200 years before 1066.
- El Cid: Jimena (Sophia Loren) is seen embroidering something that looks very much like a Bayeux Tapestry panel. It's unlikely that she would imitate Norman embroidery artists, but the time period kind of fits (roughly 30 years after 1066).
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks: The opening's art style is clearly based on the tapestry and depicts a number of things happening in the film, from witch-in-training Eglantine Price flying on a broom to Wehrmacht soldiers landing in England from a submarine.
- The Song of Roland (1978 film starring Klaus Kinski): The opening features several panels of the tapestry for no other reason than having the film look and feel "medieval".
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The opening credits feature parts of the tapestry. The film is set in the 12th century, during the Third Crusade over 120 years after 1066. It's akin to showing images from The American Revolution in the opening to a movie about The American Civil War.
- The Simpsons: The couch gag of the episode "E Pluribus Wiggum" was a sequence in the style of the tapestry and depicted the Simpsons fighting a war with the Flanders over the Simpson family couch.
- There's a Game of Thrones version of it.
- Paul Kidby's illustrations for Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero include a few panels done as a deft pastiche of the Bayeux Tapestry, just to create a proper old-timey legendary hero effect.