In 1066, Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king of England, died. The Normans believed that Edward had recognized William of Normandy as his rightful heir. But the crown went to Harold, earl of Wessex, the king's Anglo-Saxon brother-in-law, who had sworn an oath of allegiance to William. The betrayed Normans, descendants of the seafaring Vikings, boarded their ships, crossed the English Channel and crushed Harold's forces.
At the Battle of Hastings, the Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxons and brought England under the control of the Normans, uniting all of England and much of France under one rule. The dukes of Normandy became the kings of England.
This work was commissioned by Bishop Odo, the half brother of the conquering Duke William (William the Conqueror). It may have been sewn by women at the Norman court, but art historians believe that it was made by stichers in Kent where Bishop Odo was earl after the Norman Conquest. Odo donated the work to Bayeux Cathedral. it is uncertain whether it was originally intended for display in the church's nave.
This work of art depicts the historical narrative of the the death of King Edward the Confessor, the Norman forces under the leadership of Duke William crossing the English Channel, preparing for battle, battle scenes and the death of Harold. The borders are populated by real and imaginary animals. There are words - a running narrative of the events - embroidered along the border.
The artwork is 20 inches high and 230' long. It is a continuous, fiezelike, pictorial narrative. It is not actually a tapestry. It is linen embroidered with wool thread. In the 50 surviving scenes, there are more than 600 human figures, 700 horses, dogs and other creatures and 2,000 inch-high letters. Stylistically, it is related to Romanesque manuscript illumination. The figures are slender. The embroiders carefully recorded the main features of the series of events.
Embroidery consists of stitiches applied on top of an already woven fabric ground. The stitchers worked with twisted wool that was dyed in eight colors. They used only 2 stitches: a quick overlapping stem stitch that produced a slightly jagged line or outline and the laid-and-couched work used to form blocks of color.
For the laid-and-couched stitch,, the embroiderer laid a series of long parallel covering threads; then anchored them wiht a second layer of regularly spaced crosswise stitches; and finally tacked all the strands down with tiny "couching" stitches.
Some of the work was done in contrasting colors to achieve particular effects.