The "Restoratios" of the Bayeux Tapestry

Charles Dawson

London 1907

NEED MORE: pp.8, 9, 12-

[4] Author's Note

The following notice on the successie "restorations" of the Bayeux Tapestry represents a "by-product" of a critical study of the Tapestry and its literature, undertaken for a larger work dealing, in part, with the early phases of the Norman Conquest of England.

[5] One cannot cannot enter upon this matter without remembering the words of Miss Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, Ed. 1853, p. 65 n., on the subject of the authorship and antiquity of the Bayeux tapestry. She was indignant that anyone who is not learned in crewel-stitch should venture to discuss the matter. Before arguing she wishes to know whether we can sew. She wrote: "With all due deference to the judgment of the lords of creation on all subjects connected with policy and science, we venture to think that our learned friends, the archæologists and antiquaries, would do well to devote their intellectual powers to more masculine objects of inquiry, and leave the question of the Bayeux tapestry (with all other matters allied to needle-craft) to the decision of the ladies to whose province it belongs. It is a matter of doubt to us whether one, out of many gentlemen who have disputed Mathilda's claim to the work, if called up to execute a copy of either of the figures on canvas, would know how to put in the first stitch."

But Miss Strickland had been deceived, for little did the authoress of this early Victorian tirade imagine that, unknown to her, the masculine cobbler had already been at work, not merely upon a waste piece of canvas, such as we might suppose she would have selected for the trial, but upon the actual groundwork of the original embroidery. The restorer's hands have not merely cobbled on an occasional suit of chain-mail, a horse or two, or a border-figure, but they have actually interfered largely with and added to the inscriptions; and beyond all, in the culminating scene of the design, that of Harold's figure by the standard, they have considerably restored the figure, and have actually worked in the arrow which the hand of the King grasped, or is recorded to have grasped, when it entered his eye on that fateful day!

As to the justification for such proceedings, there can be none; but, before going into the question of how the restorers of the tapestry have acquitted themselves of their task, we will first answer shortly an inquiry as to how it came to be considered in need of restoration.

The earliest recorded mention of the existence of the tapestry occurs in the inventory of the Cathedral of Bayeux in the year 1476, and again in 1563. From that time forward we hear nothing of it down to the year 1729, the time of its discovery to the archæological world. It had long been the custom to exhibit the embroidery, on the Feast of Relics and its octaves, hung around the nave of the Cathedral of Bayeux; nnd at other times it was kept in a press in a chapel on the south side of the cathedral. The interest aroused by its discovery, of course, led to a more frequent and casual exhibition of it; and, as no proper method was adopted for its preservation, it no doubt suffered considerably. During the anarchy of 1792 [6] it was suddenly requisitioned as a covering for a military cart in need of canvas, from which peril it was rescued by a Commissary of Police; but again, in 1794, it was in danger of being cut up and used as a decoration during a civic festival, from which fate it was happily once more rescued. In 1803 it was taken by order of the First Consul Napoleon for exhibition in Paris, but returned to Bayeux the next )ear. When, in 1814, Mr. Hudson Gurney saw it, it was coiled round a winch (Fig. 1), or, as he described it, "A machine like that which lets down buckets into a well" and was exhibited to visitors by being drawn out over a table. Mr. Dawson Turner, writing two years later, said that the necessary rolling and unrolling was performed with so little attention that the tapestry would have been wholly ruined in the course of half a century if left under its then management. He describes the tapestry-roll as being injured at the.beginning and very ragged towards the end, where several figures had completely disappeared, and adds that the worsted was unravelling in many intermediate parts. Later on the end is described as a mere bundle of rags (Fig. 2).


Fig.1.–Showing the Former Mode of Exhibition by Means of a Winch


To ascertain the extent of.the restoration of.the tapestry since its discovery, one must necessarily have recourse to the descriptions and drawings of it which exist. The earliest known is that which was found in the cabinet of the antiquary M. Foucault (an ex-Intendant of.Normandy, 1688-1704) in 1721, the exact date and origin of which is unknown. It was this drawing which, in the hands of M. Lancelot and Father Montfaucon, led to the discovery of the original work; but the delineation only covered a small portion ot the design. Father Montfaucon published an engraving of the tapestry, so far as it was then known from M. Foucault's drawing, in his Monumens de la Monarchie Françoise, Part I., 1729. The first representation of the remainder was made by Antoine Benoit upon copper, by the instruction of Father Montfaucon; who gave him orders to reduce it to a given size, but to alter nothing. Father Montfaucon published it in a series of plates in the second volume of his Monumens de la Monarchie Françoise, Part II, 1730. These plates are by no means so inaccurate as they have been represented, and it is by studying them and the former engraving from M. Foucault's drawing with the tapestry that one can alone recognize the original work from subsequent series of restorations.

We believe that these plates became the basis of all the subsequently published plates, down to the year 1816-17, when the celebrated antiquarian draughtsman Charles Stothard was commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries of London to make as perfect a drawing of the tapestry as its dilapidated condition would admit. This was engraved by Basire, and still remains one of the most authentic representations of the tapestry as it appeared in the time of Stothard, the later photographic copies having taken over all he subsequent restorations which have been made.

To return to the year 1729, the tapestry had not long been discovered before the destructive hand of the "restorer" was set to work. M. Benoit had freely and legitimately indicated in his etchings, by means of dotted or broken lines, such of the missing parts of he embroidery as he believed to have formerly existed.

To commence an examination of the actual restoration of the embroidery, let us [7] take the first compartment of the tapestry, that of Edward the Confessor conversing with two of his chieftains (Fig. 3, a, b, c ). Formerly the title or inscription above the Confessor's head consisted merely of the word "Rex" on the left side thereof.The word "Edward," as we see it, on the right side of the head, did not then exist, as, indeed, the form of the lettering and orthography is alone sufficient to indicate . The first word of the next compartment was mutilated, and has since been restored as "Ubi." Father Montfaucon noticed its absence, and said that the mutilated word was obviously "Edward " (or presumably a contraction of it), and restored the terminal mutilated letters in the plate as "RD." The tapestry soon after was considered by the Cathedral chapter to be in need of "relining," and this operation initiated the opportunity of effecting the first restoration. The tapestry, which was then in two pieces, was finely drawn together into one, the word "Edward" (not Eadwardus ) was inserted on the right side of the Confessor's head, and the mutilated letters made into "BI" instead of "RD." Again; later on in the design, where Bishop Odo is represented rallying the Norman troops, the title formerly existed as Eps Odo Baculum Tenens Comfor', and Father Montfaucon remarked that the rest of the sentence "is effaced," but that it undoubtedly was Comfortat Francos. Later on, however, the Bisbop of Bayeux wrote to Lancelot, presumably at Benoit's suggestion, that the words might be restored as Comfortat Pueros, a free translation of which would be "Odo holding a mace cheers up the lads." The tapestry was accordingly so restored, to the wonderment of posterity! But, besides these examples, a whole host of restorations were effected upon the tapestry, following, as to details, the suggestion of Benott as indicated by means of the dotted or broken lines in his plates. . . .

PIX fig 2

[10] happy design of setting at rest various controversies that had arisen regarding the story of the tapestry. Take, for instance, the shorter figure of those two chieftains to whom the Conqueror is speaking in the first compartment. Stothard depicts him without a moustache (see Fig.3b ), as do all the previous draughtsmen. Someone based thereon an argument that this could not be Harold, as he had a moustache, which inconvenient remark somewhat spoiled somebody's pet theory as to the story of the tapestry. However, the "restorer" has obligingly accommodated him with one, to the satisfaction of everybody since then (see Fig. 3c ).


Fig. 4 (a ).–Benoit (1730)

Fig. 4 (b ).–Stothard's Restoration (1818), Adopted by Restorer of Tapestry in 1842. Stothard Added the Letters "E.T." to the Title, and Added a Moustache to the Figure, and Restored the Banner Staff.

One might have hoped that one portion of the tapestry perhaps more sarred than any otber might have escaped the "restorer" –namely, the figure which is seen standing behind "the Dragon Standard" in the act of clutching a shaft at or near its right eye (Fig. 5 a, b, c ). This is regarded with great probability as the figure of Harold. The first restorers had already added much to the figure, for in Benoit's time one of its legs, the right hand grasping the shaft, the spear, chain-mail, the lower part of the face, and other details were misstng, so that indeed Father Montfaucon did not even recognize it as the figure of Harold. The shaft was first figured by Benoit as merely a slanting line, without any further indication as to its being an arrow (Fig. 5a ). Stothard shows it, by means of a suggested restoration, as a dotted line with the addition of the feathers (Fig. 5b ), but the later restorer sets all doubts at rest by boldly stitching it in accordingly (Fig. 5c ).

There are, however, other matters of restoration in the tapestry to be pointed out, whicb go to the root of the question of the origin of the tapestry. It has often been contended thit Mathilda or any other ladies of quality would not hare represented the nude figures which occasionally occur in the margin of the tapestry, and for the same reason it is improbable that such work would have been designed for exhibition in the cathedral. But it is clear, on critical examination, that certain details usually omitted by artists in ideal representations of the human body have been introduced, both as to colour and outline, since thetime of Benoit and Stothard; in short, it is not too much to say that some restorer has added those pictorial details where Art leaves off and the Police come in!

It will be noticed upon careful examination that some of the later colours, especially the blacks, have run into the linen, leaving a sort of iron-mould coloured stain which is not found in connexion with the older worsted of the original work.

In considering the question of the nationality of the work, much stress has been laid [11] on the fact that certain words in the title bear towards Anglo-Saxon origin. Thus the word Ceastra is one of the words, the supporters of the theory being ignorant that "Hestenga-Ceastra" represented a geographical name of the period. 1 Some will regret that the missing "H" to the word "Arold" near the end of the tapestry has been supplied since the time of Stothard, thus destroying a certain French phonetic aspect of tbe word, and also that the word "Adwardus" (over the Confessor's death-scene) has been altered to Eadwardus since Benoit's time; but the writer thinks that the theory of the work having been executed in England and not at Bayeux is altogether uncalled for, apecially as Bayeux was the site of an ear!y Saxon settlement, and its inhabitants spoke a Teutonic dialect so late as the tenth century, the Norse element having been subsequently grafted upon that stock. We cannot here notice the very large number of minor restorations. The end of the tapestry roll is where the restoration has been effected wholesale since Stothard's drawing (Fig. 6 a, b, c ) Benoit does not show, and Father Montfaucon does not mention, any title remaining after the mutilated words Interfectus est (relating to the death of Harold), but someone about their time seems to have puzzled out a further title in Latin to the effect that the English turned and fled (Fig. 6c ). The rest appeared in Father Montfaucon's time as "a confused series of stories, which appeared to depict tbe flight of certain figures on foot pursued by horsemen," one of them being, according to Benoit's restoration, a mounted archer! (Fig. 6a ). Stothard suggested a restoration of the flight [including another horseman (Fig. 6b) ] by means of dotted lines upon his plate, and this apparently the later restorer of the tapestq endeavoured to copy; but he seems to have misunderstood him in part. The last figure, which Stothard depicts as a man clutching at boughs as if struggling to escape through a forest, another draughtsman (L. d'Anisy) has "restored" into yet another man on a horse. The later restorer of the tapestry itself here depicts a grotesque Renaissance sort of a figure such as one sees in the borders of the work, which, if so drawn in the original, would lead one to suppose that the design had come to a close with the scene of the English flight. This assumed termination of the design, however, has remained in considerable doubt both before and since the knowledge of another and contemporary "tapestry" has been acquired.


Fig. 5 (a )–Benoit's Fig. 5 (b )–Benoit's Restorations Fig. 5 (c )–Benoit's and Stot-

Restoration (1730). Incorporated in Tapestry, and hard's Restorations both

Further Ones Made by Stothard Incorporated in Tapestry

(1818). (1842).


The nature and extent of the restorations since Benoit's and Stothard's time will be



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