People in the Bayeux Tapestry
The original Tapestry is over 70 metres long and depicts 626 human figures, 190 horses, 35 dogs,
506 other birds and animals, 33 buildings, 37 ships and 37 trees or groups and trees, with 57 Latin
inscriptions. Here are a few of the people that appear in the Tapestry.
- The Three Kings -
Edward the Confessor
King of England, 1042-1066
Edward was the son of the Saxon King Ethelred (the Unready) and Emma, sister of Duke Richard
II of Normandy. Emma later married Cnut, King of Denmark. Cnut became King of England and Edward
went to live in exile in Normandy.
When Cnut died in 1042 his son Harthacnut was made King of England. But Harthacnut died without
leaving an heir so Edward became King in 1042 and was crowned at Winchester in 1043. He ruled
with the help of the powerful Saxon earls and married Edith, daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex.
Edward invited many of his Norman friends to come to England; he gave them important jobs and
land. He ordered the building of Westminster Abbey.
Because Edward had no children, he had to choose someone to succeed him. There were many
claimants to the throne. One was Harold, Earl of Wessex, Edward's brother-in-law; another was Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and a third was William, Duke of Normandy. The strongest
claim was from Edgar Aetheling, Edward's great nephew who had been raised by Edward since
1057 when he was 4 years old. The Normans said that Edward had promised the throne to William,
but Harold Godwinson was chosen to succeed Edward who died in January 1066.
King of England, Jan - Oct 1066
Harold had no hereditary claim on the throne - he was not of royal birth. He was the son of
Godwin, in his time the most powerful Saxon earl. Harold's sister, Emma, was married to Edward
the Confessor and had at least 5 brothers. The tapestry shows us that Harold had fought with
William against the Duke of Brittany and shows him swearing upon holy relics. When Edward the
Confessor died Harold was chosen to be King of England by the leading Saxon noblemen.
Right away Harold had problems. His brother Tostig accompanied Harold Hardrada King of
Norway when he invaded England. Both Hardrada and Tostig were killed by Harold's army at the
Battle of Stamford Bridge near York. At the same time William of Normandy had brought his army to
England to claim the throne. Harold marched from Stamford Bridge to London then on to Hastings
where William's army waited.
The English and Norman armies fought bravely, but Harold with his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine
were all killed. The tapestry tells us "here King Harold has been killed" - struck down by the
sword of a mounted Norman soldier. After the Battle of Hastings Williams had an abbey built on
the place where the battle had been fought, and the high altar is supposed to mark the spot
where Harold was killed.
William of Normandy
King of England, 1066-1087
William's father was Duke Robert and his mother was Herleva who was a tanner's daughter. Duke
Robert's great-great-grandfather was Rollo, a Viking who invaded France in 911. Although he was
illegitimate William became Duke of Normandy when he was only seven years old - his father died
on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. William's mother married the Viscount of Conteville and had two more
sons - Odo and Robert.
William was a strong leader and wanted to become King of England. William led his army at the
Battle of Hastings where Harold was killed and his army defeated. William then set about the
conquest of England; he gave Norman barons pieces of land all over the country and in return
they supported him in war and administered regions of England on the king's behalf.
During his reign William ordered the collection of information about the people in Britain
and how much property they owned. This information was recorded in the Domesday Book. William
died in 1087 after being injured when fighting in France.
- The Clerics -
Bishop of Bayeux
Odo's father was Herluin, Viscount of Conteville and his mother was Herleva who was also
the mother of Duke William of Normandy. When Odo was only nineteen years old, William made
him Bishop of Bayeux. He built a cathedral there.
When William was planning to invade England, Odo was at his side. He went with the Norman army and, as well as leading the prayers for victory, he fought in the battle. He carried a mace rather than a sword, because although men of the church were not allowed to spill blood, they were permitted to batter their opponents with a club.
Odo was made Earl of Kent and often ruled England when William was in Normandy.
He was given great areas of land and he granted some of these areas to his knights.
The tapestry may have been made in England to record the Norman victory and the part Odo
played in it. The tapestry was later hung in his cathedral at Bayeux.
By 1082 William and Odo had fallen out. Odo was sent to prison in Rouen, and only released
shortly before William died. He returned to England and plotted against William Rufus, the
Conqueror's son, but was captured and banished to Bayeux. He died in Sicily in 1097 on
a crusade to the Holy Land.
Archbishop of Canterbury
He is shown on the Tapestry playing a prominent position at Harold's coronation.
Because his appointment as Archbishop was disputed by the Pope, this may have been a
Norman attempt to discredit Harold's kingship.
- The Women -
Only three women are shown on the main narrative of the Tapestry
This figure must be Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold.
The author of the Life of Edward, written soon after his death, records that she was
present at Edward's deathbed when he commended her to Harold's protection.
Edith appears in: The King is Dead... (scene 1)
This woman is shown either trapped inside or fleeing from a burning building at Hastings
when William's troops were harrying the area. The fleeing woman appears in: Beachhead (scene 3)
The meaning of this scene is obscure but it must refer to a well known event to be in
such a prominent position. Aelfgyva was a widely used Saxon name. The mysterious lady
appears in: The Mysterious Lady (scene 1)