23. The Bayeux Tapestry of 1886

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown)

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts one of the most famous moments in British history – the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the climactic Battle of Hastings. In comic-strip style, it tells the tale of Harold II of England and William the Conqueror. Enough words, however, have been written about these men. This is not their story.

The original Tapestry was made in England in the eleventh century, and it is now displayed in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Normandy. Due to its age, photography of the original is not allowed. The photographs here are from the Victorian replica held in Reading Museum. This version is, itself, a piece of history.

Elizabeth Wardle, a skilled embroiderer and founding member of the Leek Embroidery Society, researched the original Tapestry and visited Bayeux in 1885. She felt that England should have its own copy and the project to create a replica was born. The Tapestry was traced by Lizzie Allen from pictures held by South Kensington Museum – now the V&A. The embroidering of the replica took a year to complete with thirty-five women working on the project.

The Bayeux Tapestry could be viewed as the epitome of ‘great-man’ history, with only three women pictured in its seventy metres. Female labour is overlooked in the original – despite that fact that it too was embroidered by women. Discussions on the production of the medieval Tapestry are often limited to crediting Bishop Odo with its commission. The Victorian version, by contrast, is a beautiful and visual reminder of the role played by women in its creation. Each panel still bears the name of its embroiderer stitched onto the lower border. Women are always present in history – you just have to look.

Image Credits: All images are author’s own and were taken at the exhibition of the 1886 Tapestry in Reading Museum.

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