The Bayeux Tapestry


© Shutterstock-jorisvo

An important milestone in the history of the United Kingdom – to be known about, in order to become a UK resident!

It is now about three weeks ago that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced that he expected to give the Bayeux Tapestry on loan to Britain. Here in Oxford, this was the topic of conversation for several days on the streets, in the corner shop, on BBC Radio 4 and at the University. On Radio 4, I even heard the suggestion that the UK might consider offering The Rosetta Stone (British Museum) in return.  I thought this was a joke, however, it was also the topic of an article in The Telegraph: Emmanuel Macron’s decision to let Britain borrow Bayeux Tapestry prompts calls for UK to loan Rosetta Stone to France’.

A historically crucial battle for the UK is commemorated in the Bayeux Tapestry, which can be seen in Bayeux today. An impressive piece of art: 68.80 meters long and 50 centimetres high, in Euro-speech. In UK-speech this means about 231 feet long, by 20 inches high. An impressive piece of art, which weighs close to 350 kilograms.  As it is a very delicate piece of cloth and lining, investigation is required to find out if and how it can be transported.

There is no consensus as to where the tapestry was made: was it in Canterbury, Kent, where there was a famous school of tapestry which used a style of work very similar to that found on the tapestry itself? Or was it in the French Norman monastery of St. Florent of Saumur? There seems evidence that this was the place it was produced, between 1070 and 1083.

So, it is not a surprise that the Bayeux Tapestry features on UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’.

I vividly remember having queued once, about 20 years ago in Bayeux in France, to see this tapestry. In the end we went home with a smaller paper version of it.

As it was amazing how many people here were so excited by Macron’s proposal to investigate loaning the Bayeux Tapestry to the British Museum, I really started to understand how the battle of Hastings was a key milestone in British history. Almost everyone in the UK knows the date 1066, when the Norman French conquered Britain. It’s without doubt the most famous date in British history.

Now, a few weeks later, I’m reading the ‘Guide for New Residents’, called ‘Life in the United Kingdom’.  I’ve seen some stressed colleagues at the university who are in the process of applying for UK citizenship.  And yes, even some prominent Oxford lecturers suffer exam stress!

To gain UK citizenship, it is assumed that the candidate’s knowledge covers the early history of the UK, including the attacks by the Vikings and the Norman Conquest, and this is where the Bayeux Tapestry comes in. It depicts the Battle of Hastings (1066), where William, the Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold of England, after which William became King of England. He is still known as William the Conqueror.

The ‘exam’ questions cover much more than only UK history: also British customs and traditions, including the Christmas meal and decoration habits, Pancake Day before Lent, and until what time you may fool on April Fool’s Day…

So, I am showing solidarity with my colleagues at the European Studies Centre and St Antony’s College, and am reading the same preparatory material.

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EU visiting fellow at the European Studies Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford

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