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The Bayeux tapestry: 11th century

Probably in about 1080, and probably in southern England, a Norman conceives a magnificent project. He commissions, in the form of an embroidered strip cartoon, an account of how his people conquered England.

A likely candidate for the inspired patron is Odo, bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror. He features in the later scenes rather more frequently than one might expect; and the finished work is kept in his see of Bayeux, where it is used on special occasions to decorate the cathedral and where it now has its own custom-built museum. Sewn in bright thread on a long strip of linen, this superb piece of embroidery has become known - somewhat inaccurately - as the Bayeux tapestry.

The historical scenes of councils and battles and sea journeys are depicted in lively detail between two borders of smaller humorous figures, including strange birds and animls and dragons and even a glimpse of Halley's comet. A running text above the scenes, in Latin, identifies the main characters and explains what is going on.

The story is overtly political in its treatment of Harold, showing him making an oath of allegiance of some kind to William (not mentioned in other sources). An indistinct detail in the scene of Harold's death at Hastings can be interpreted as an arrow in his eye.

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