Bayeux was the first French city to be liberated by the Allies on D-Day, and one of the very few in the area that escaped major damage.
Origins In the 9th century, a Viking chieftain named Rollo landed at Bayeux, married the daughter of the governor, and raised a son named William Longsword (who was to be an ancestor of William the Conqueror). This makes Bayeux the birthplace of the Norman dynasty and of the English royal house as well.
The Bayeux Tapestry The pride of Normandy — an immensely long band of linen, embroidered with colored wool and measuring 231 feet by 20 inches. It depicts the Norman invasion of England (1066) in vivid, rare detail. Tradition attributes the work to William's wife Mathilda (it's still called the "tapestry of Mathilda"), but historians know that it was actually made by skilled Saxon embroiderers in England. It's not really a "tapestry" but a scroll. Fifty-eight individual scenes record the political struggles that led up to the invasion, William's preparations, the occurrence of a huge comet that lit up half the sky (which William took as a good omen), the crossing of the Channel, and the Battle of Hastings itself, which saw William's victory and the death of the Saxon King Harold. Latin captions are stitched into the linen with the pictures, along with mythical animals and other ornaments.
This work provides us with the most detailed information we have about everyday life in early medieval Europe: what the people looked like, what they wore, the impressions created by the 700 ships of William's' Channel fleet, how his soldiers fought, and how they camped for the night. The pictures develop as a single, continuous story, and the tape recording (in English) that you hear provides a fascinating narrative.
There are 626 persons shown, with 190 horses, 35 dogs, 506 other animals, 37 ships, and 33 buildings.
The Conquest of England (quoted from the Michelin Guide)
"In 1066, Dives, then a large port, saw the departure of what was one of the most amazing expeditions of the Middle Ages, the force which was to conquer England.
When William of Normandy learned of Harold's ascent to the throne of England in January 1066, he sent emissaries to remind him of his former promises. Harold, named as heir to the throne by the dying Edward the Confessor and approved by the English barons, ignored the envoy.
The Duke then called on Rome and the Pope, recognizing the justice of William's complaint, commanded him to chastise the English, sent him a consecrated standard and relics of St. Peter and excommunicated Harold.
William needed the consent of his barons before he could lead an expedition overseas, and an extraordinary council was therefore convened at Lillebonne. There, the Duke, a tenacious character and clever politician, won over the barons and enthusiasm began to mount.
Preparations for the invasion included a diplomatic tour de force: William assured himself of the neutrality in the affair of the rest of France, that his neighbors would not attack Normandy while he was away, and persuaded Norway to undertake a second front against England.
Meanwhile, a fleet was equipped and troops mustered — paid for from the treasuries of Rouen and Caen.
At Easter a comet "whose tail illuminated almost half the firmament" sowed terror in England, but in Normandy was interpreted by the duke's astrologer as a good augury for the future king.
Duke William resided in Bonneville Castle above Touques from where in less than seven months, he had completed his political and military plans.
The main fleet was gathered ready at Dives, but had to await a favorable wind. The duke, an amazing man of many parts, personally imposed strict discipline on the troops.
Finally on September 12, under the Pope's standard, some 12,000 knights and foot soldiers embarked in 696 ships followed by boats and skiffs which brought the overall number of vessels afloat to 3,000. The fleet made for St-Valery-sur-Somme to pick up reinforcements.
Meanwhile, Harold was forced to break up the armed watch he was keeping on the south coast against the expected Norman armada and hurry off north. At Stamford Bridge the English cavalry and foot soldiers under Harold utterly destroyed the Norwegians, but in Normandy the wind had changed, and three days later, on September 28, William was landing at Pevensey. Harold and his knights rode south, reaching London on October 6, and determined to give battle immediately, and on October 14, the armies clashed.
Harold had chosen a position on an isolated spur 5 miles — 9 km. — northwest of Hastings. The armies were similar, but employed different tactics: the English left the cavalry in the rear and fought on foot, using the Danish battle-axe which Harold himself plied manfully in his last fight; the Normans fought from the saddle with spear and sword, supported between charges by bowmen from the rear. The English, on their hill, resisted the cavalry, but were shot down by the archers. By nightfall Harold and all his house earls lay dead on the hilltop.
William celebrated his victory by founding Battle Abbey upon the hilltop in Sussex.
The Bayeux Tapestry graphically records the events of the Conquest.
William occupied Dover after his victory and then Canterbury, where the prosperous London merchants, fearful of civil war, sent him a delegation. Realists to a man, they offered their support in exchange for confirmation of their privileges; in their turn, the bishops and the army made their submission. With the consent of the Norman barons, William, Duke of Normandy, accepted the crown.
The coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. The new king swore to maintain the laws and customs of the kingdom. The acclamation of the sovereign was so loud that the guards posted outside suspected a revolt and rushed into the abbey.
The King rewarded his companions in arms liberally with land and offices and kept for himself, 1,422 manor-houses and all forts and forests.
In the spring he returned to celebrate Easter in Normandy — it was the apotheosis to an expedition conceived only some fifteen months earlier.
Nine centuries later, an invasion in the opposite direction was to land on the Coast of Calvados, and concluded equally victoriously."
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