An Archaeological Study of the Bayeux Tapestry – the Landscapes, Buildings and Places, Trevor Rowley

An Archaeological Study of the Bayeux Tapestry – the Landscapes, Buildings and Places, Trevor Rowley

This book takes a rather different approach to the Bayeux Tapestry, looking at what the locations it portrayed would actually have looked like in 1066. Scene by scene the author looks at the physical locations portrayed on the tapestry, and compares them both to the actual places they are meant to represent, and to other possible sources of inspiration.

In many places the buildings of 1066 are long gone, so the focus is on the archaeological evidence where possible. The author also looks at similar contemporary buildings to see what might have existed in the same areas. In some cases this is the best we can do – many of the castles and churches of 1066 are long gone, and all evidence has disappeared under many generations of newer buildings. However in many cases buildings from the same period have survived, and there are some impressive similarities between them and the features portrayed on buildings on the tapestry.

There is the odd minor mistake. While describing Bayeux Castle he suggests that the roof of the castle couldn’t be wooden if it was a dome, but wooden domes were actually relatively common and not particularly difficult to build (they also remained in use for many years – the upper dome of St. Paul’s in London has a wooden structure with lead covering).

This is an interesting approach to the tapestry and to the campaign it portrays. One of the author’s best decisions is to focus equally on each part of the tapestry rather then just on those areas that relate to the invasion and battle. As a result there is a great deal of material on the period before Harold’s journey to France, on Normandy, and in particular on the campaign in Brittany, and its portrayal of early castles. I found this section of particular interest (partly because of my own background in castle history and partly because it is part of the story that is often skipped over).

The landscape history is also interesting, looking at how the areas involved have changed in the thousand years since these events. The most striking example is the area between Pevensey and Hastings, which used to contain a large bay that separated the two places, with Pevensey on a peninsula at the western side of the bay, and Hastings on the coast to the east, with no easy land route between the two. There is a brief examination of the debate over the exact site of the battle, but thankfully the author doesn’t get dragged into the more obscure and detailed arguments here (although some are mentioned), and instead points out that the area around Battle Abbey was extensively altered to build the abbey itself, so any attempt to base an argument on the exact nature of the area now is rather futile.

This is an interesting read, and a very different approach to the Bayeux Tapestry, giving us a good insight into the physical world in which these events actually took place.

1 – The Bayeux Tapestry
2 – Earl Harold's Journey to Bosham
3 – Earl Harold in France
4 –Castles and the Breton Campaign
5 – The Oath
6 – Westminster
7 – Duke William Prepares for War
8 – The Invasion
9 – The Battle of Hastings
Author: Trevor Rowley
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 209
Publisher: Pen & Sword Archaeologu
Year: 2016

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