Who Created the Bayeux Tapestry and Why?
Who was the patron? Almost certainly Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who also became Earl of Kent after the Conquest. Half-brother to William, he most probably had the impressive embroidery made to hang in his church at Bayeux, newly consecrated in 1077. Odo is prominently depicted, whether blessing a meal, sitting at the Duke’s right hand during a council of war, or in armour rallying the panicking troops at Hastings. Several of his vassals – Wadard, Vital and Turold – may be those who appear by name in the Tapestry, lending support to the choice of this bishop as likely patron. It also helps to fix a probable date for the work. Odo was eventually imprisoned by William, probably for attempting to march on Rome, which would mean that the Tapestry was made before 1082, a period which also fits with the style of design.
The form of embroidery, in laid and couched work using wool, seems to be found mainly in northern Europe and declined at the end of the Romanesque period, while the long, narrative strip was an unusual form of hanging at later periods.
The style of illustration seen in the scenes on the Tapestry has been linked to English manuscripts. Several of the figures show similarities in their design or pose with those in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, largely products of the Canterbury school of illumination, and, given that Odo was Earl of Kent, it is likely that the Tapestry was designed at Canterbury, possibly by an Englishman under Norman guidance. It is also likely that it was produced by English needle workers, whose work was prized in Europe for its quality. However, some authorities argue that the comparison with contemporary manuscripts points rather to a continental influence than an Anglo-Saxon one, especially since some features of Anglo-Saxon work were copied in continental manuscripts. This school favours a Norman origin, probably centred around Bayeux.
The Tapestry recounts a great historical narrative told from a Norman viewpoint, but it is also a moral tale, graphically illustrating how greed and the breaking of sacred oaths led Harold to his downfall and violent death. William is portrayed as the great crusader, who with God’s help becomes the victor in a trial by battle. For that reason it was worthy to hang in a church. This form of hanging was not uncommon, and a number of such pieces are known from literary sources; they simply have not survived, or survive as fragments. The tradition that William’s wife, Matilda, was responsible for the Tapestry is unlikely but understandable, given the actions of other rulers.