Bayeux Tapestry: Duke William; soldiers; Turold the dwarf. Peasants working.
11th c French Anglo-Norman Textiles
(1066 - 1154)
Linen & wool
Bayeux. Normandy. France.
Bayeux. Centre Guillaume le Conquerant.
Charlemagne continued to issue grants of land to his followers in return for an oath of loyalty and the promise that they would provide their royal overlord with mounted horsemen when he required them. By the 12th century this arrangement had become inheritable and had spread to other parts of Europe.
Great lords could in turn grant portions of their lands to other lesser lords and so on down the chain, but the basis for the land grant was the promise that fully armed knights would be provided and maintained when the feudal lord called for them. From this military arrangement, a whole social and legal structure developed.
The economic basis of the feudal structure was the manor, which essentially consisted of one lord and one village. A portion of the estate was reserved for the lord. The remaining land was farmed by freeholders who paid rent for land working privileges or by serfs who were bound to the land. Serfs could work their own land, but had to spend a certain number of days working the lord's land which provided him with both meat and produce.
This detail from the so-called "Tapestry of Bayeux" depicts the feudal lord, William of Normandy, with three of his followers, including one who was a dwarf called Turold.
Below them, in the margin, tiny figures of peasants are sowing and plowing. This minute scene not only illustrates the relative importance of the warriors and the workers, but it also shows several agricultural improvements that increased the productivity of the land. One was the development of a new heavy plow that could dig deep into the heavy rich soil of Northern Europe, something that the old "scratch plows" of antiquity could not do. The second was the use of horses for plowing instead of oxen which increased the speed of the labor. However, horses could only be utilized for plowing because of the development of the horse collar, which shifted the force to the horse's shoulders from the neck preventing pressure on the horse's windpipe that could strangle the animal. The third was the development of the three field crop rotation. One field was planted with wheat or rye, the second with a legume and the third would be left fallow with animals grazing on it and fertilizing it.
"The Bayeux Tapestry" is a marvelous primary resource for the understanding of many details of Medieval life. The tapestry, which is actually an embroidery, commemorates William of Normandy's conquest of the Saxons and depicts the events leading up to the conquest. We have learned many details of Norman military costume and tactics, as well as many aspects of daily life like the plowing peasants we have just examined. While the panels are only 20 inches high, the entire length of fabric is almost 230 feet long!
"The Bayeux Tapestry" is a unique document in that it illustrates a contemporary event very shortly after it happened. The consistent style of the embroidery suggests that it was the work of a single workshop. The legend that it was embroidered by William's wife Berthe is somewhat doubtful. Although we do not know where it was created, it is quite possible that it was made by English women, who were famous for their embroidery work, perhaps after the designs of someone who had been at the battle or who was very familiar with military tactics and equipment. It is quite possible that it was commissioned by William's half-brother, Bishop Odo, for his church at Caen. Odo took quite an active part in the battle, as did many clerics of the time.
It is an amazing work of art, and I will only be able to show you a few details from it, but examine them with care.
ANGLO-NORMAN Anonymous | Bayeux Tapestry. Detail. Duke William; soldiers; Turold the dwarf. Peasants hoeing & sowing seeds. | c. 1080 | French | Anglo-Norman