Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Bayeux Tapestry and 1066

By Aussiegirl

Several books have been published about the Bayeux Tapestry, but this looks interesting because the emphasis is on its long and varied history, how many times it was nearly lost, and its influence on literature and art.

Independent Online Edition > Reviews

The Bayeux Tapestry, by Carola Hicks
A stitch - and a stitch-up - in time
By Christina Hardyment

Immortalising the only permanently successful conquest of England in 1066, the epic frieze known as the Bayeux Tapestry has iconic status. But who commissioned it and when? What is it made of? How long is it? Is it accurate? Where is it now? Carola Hicks answers all these questions and raises many more in her enthralling account of its ten centuries or more of life.

[...]Hitler was interested in its propaganda value, and only D-Day and the liberation of Paris saved it from being spirited away by Himmler. Hicks shows how it lives on: not just thronged by tourists in Bayeux, but in poetry, fiction and graphic spin-offs that range from political cartoons to Terry Pratchet.

I happened upon this review soon after I had finished reading for the second time one of Tim Birdnow's best essays, The Anniversary of Hastings, a long and brilliantly written piece that he published last October on the anniversary of that famous and critical battle. As his essay slowly proceeds, we learn about the society of early England and the people that make up the cast of players in this most important period of English history. But the best thing is Tim's wonderfully vivid style. Here are two examples:

Throughout history certain days and events have been momentous, and the future often depends on the outcome of single occurrences. The battle of Marathon, Caesar`s crossing the Rubicon, Pope Leo facing down the ``Scourge of God``Attila, Charles Martel`s victory over the invading Saracens at Poitiers (or Tours), Washington`s victory at Yorktown, etc. are all examples of events which changed history. Oftentimes nobody understands the significance of the event. Today marks the anniversary of one such turning point, one which few know much about; it was on this day, October 14, in the Year of Our Lord 1066 that William, Duke of Normandy, destroyed the English army at the battle of Hastings and set the English speaking peoples on the path which would lead them to rule the world.

He concludes his essay with a very interesting observation, of how much we owe to the Norman Conquest, an idea that I must confess hadn't occurred to me:

William would go on to force the Witan to declare him king, and would earn the title ``Conqueror`` for his victories in Northumbria and Wessex. He would sweep the old aristocracy away and replace them with French-speaking nobles who were fiercely loyal to him, and who feared to displease him. (William could be ruthless when angered,.) The feudal system of old England was broken, and the more centralized system of the Normans would put England on the path to Empire.

Had William not prevailed at Hastings, England would have remained one of the Germanic nations along with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, etc. The language would have remained Germanic, it would have remained a decentralized system of earldoms and would never have developed a parliament, nor have had the Magna Carta, nor would have build a massive navy. England would have sunk into the backwater of history had Harold won on that fateful day. We would not have Shakespeare, nor Dickens, nor any of the great literature the English language has given us. America would never have been colonized by Britain, and so there would be no United States. The whole development of western civilization since 1066 was different because of Hastings. In a way, we owe William the Conqueror a debt of gratitude

For anyone who failed to read this when Tim first posted it last October, this is a good time to acquaint yourself with Tim's writing, and his great blog.


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