The Bayeux Tapestry, with its meticulous attention to detail, is an exceptional historical document.
The story told by the Bayeux Tapestry takes the form of tableaux with short commentaries in Latin. These tableaux are separated by architectural elements or trees which fit in perfectly with the stylistic unity of the work.
The historical theme occupies the centre of the canvas, covering 33 to 34cm. It is framed by two historiated borders, each measuring 7 to 8cm high.
The borders are curiously embroidered, after the fashion of bestiaries in Roman columns, with animals (cocks, peacocks, rams, deer, bears, fish, lions, camels, etc.), legendary monsters (centaurs, dragons, mythical birds, etc.). There are also isolated characters, scenes from daily life and representations of moralistic fables by Aesop and Phaedrus (The Fox and the Crow, The Wolf and the Lamb, The Bitch and her Whelps, The Wolf and the Crane, The Kingdom of the Lion, etc.).
A band of canvas on which the Tapestry hangs bears 58 numbers which identify the scenes in the story. They are presented chronologically and cover a period of three years, from 1064 to 1066, divided into three main stages not equally represented however:
Harold’s journey to Normandy in 1064-1066 (scenes 1 to 23)
The death of King Edward on 5 January 1066 and the preparations for the Norman invasion in the spring of 1066 (scenes 24 to 38)
And finally the landing in England on 28 September 1066 followed by the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 (scenes 39 to 58).
The Tapestry is the scene of over six hundred characters, two hundred horses, around fifty dogs, five hundred other animals, several dozen trees, about thirty buildings and forty ships.
In addition to the historical account, it provides details of aspects of everyday life in the 11th century.
The two opposing armies are seen facing each other. Like Harold, the English are wearing moustaches. The Normans and their allies shave the back of their heads.
The Tapestry centres above all on the life of the Court. It shows most of the symbolic elements of power (clothes, accessories, attitudes, etc.). These make the principle protagonists stand out so that they are easy to recognise.
In their castles, Earls, Duke and Kings wear ceremonial clothing. They sit majestically on richly decorated thrones with many cushions. They dine at table, using knives, bowls, cups, jugs, dishes and drinking horns. In times of peace, they ride without arms, falcons on their arms, accompanied by their packs of hunting hounds.
The military world also occupies an important place. It is meticulously described through personal arms (battle axes and maces, lances, swords, bows, shields, helmets, coats of mail, standards, etc.), horses’ equipment, ships with their weapons and navigating methods, and also battle strategies and tactics.
Although they are less numerous, religious scenes are full of information. We can see sacred furniture, headdresses, and priests’ vestments. We can also see the role of the ecclesiastical dignitaries in the organisation of ceremonies, whether funeral or sacramental.
In the background, we can also see the various aspects of daily life: farmers, carpenters or unskilled labourers at work with their tools. Cooks are also represented with their full equipment, preparing roasted or boiled dishes of pork, beef, mutton, poultry, fish, all washed down with wine.