Prelude to Invasion
Because of the interpretation of numerous historians, a number of scenes in the Tapestry have been the centre of debate. One of the earliest shows the journey of Earl Harold to Normandy, which has been questioned because it finds mention in a number of Norman sources but not in a single English account. William of Poitiers, the contemporary panegyrist of William, says it was to confirm the succession to William. It is possible that the scene apparently showing Edward ordering Harold to go could be interpreted (to English viewers) as warning him against it. We see Harold given arms by William, a clear symbol in Norman eyes of his becoming William’s vassal, his ‘man’. The oath is taken at Bayeux on sacred relics, though two chroniclers, William of Poitiers and the 12th-century Orderic Vitalis, locate it at Bonneville-sur-Touques and Rouen respectively. Here we may see Odo twisting facts to enhance his own church. Poitiers also states that the oath was taken before the campaign, suggesting it was placed last on the Tapestry to heighten tension. David Bernstein has seen the bull’s eye on one relic as symbolic of the death of Harold. Wace, writing c.1150-75, suggests Harold was tricked by the relics being covered. No such deceit is shown, but then would hardly be suggested. In any case, Harold was in effect a prisoner and had little choice in the matter. On his return, Edward appears to admonish Harold, who looks distinctly hangdog, a strange stance if he had carried out Edward’s wishes. Perhaps we are to interpret this as Edward’s displeasure at Harold for making firm deals with William, such as marrying his daughter, as alleged by certain chroniclers.
The scene showing the bequest by Edward on his deathbed has Harold and Stigand present, with Queen Edith at the old king’s feet. What passed is now the subject of great argument and the Tapestry is silent on the matter. The left-facing funeral
procession may echo the loss of smooth continuation by this coronation.
One of the most intriguing scenes in the Tapestry is that showing a woman and a clerk, the latter’s hand touching her cheek. Above runs the legend: ‘Where a certain clerk and Aelfgyva’. Today the meaning of this scene is lost but must have been fairly common knowledge at the time. It appears sandwiched between Harold’s arrival at Rouen after being released from Count Guy, and the campaign against Brittany. A naked man in the lower border with obvious male attributes suggests some amoral story. Harold had a young sister called Aelfgifu, apparently betrothed to a Norman baron during his negotiations; was the Tapestry’s insertion a social comment on her chastity?