At the beginning of this scene, William the Conqueror asks Vidal if he has seen Harold’s army. Then, two Norman scouts ride across Telham Hill, which is known to be about two miles from the battle site. The Norman army is portrayed as being more prepared and powerful. Although Harold had been informed of William’s invasion, his army was unprepared for the attack. Harold points to the Norman troops as his scout delivers the news about William’s arrival. William then gives an inspirational speech to the Normans, who charge before his speech ends. The first casualty falls. The battle rages on and Harold’s brothers, Leofwine and Gyrth, are killed. Most historians believe that William’s half brother, Bishop Odo, commissioned the tapestry to commemorate William’s victory over the English. Therefore, it is no surprise that in this section of the panel, the Normans look far more impressive than the English, who have only one horse. The images in the borders range from birds, to mythical creatures, to figures that some historians believe to be references to fables.
As the battle progresses, however, deceased soldiers replace animals in the border and the fighting becomes increasingly violent. Once the battle begins the birds on the upper border seem to be spectators to the battle as they peer down below and observe the horror of warfare (see Figure 1). When Gyrth and Leofwine are defeated and killed in battle, two birds with decorative chests are seen on the upper border, perhaps to represent the afterlife as birds of paradise (see Figure 2). Disturbing images of death and violence fill the scenes of battle: decapitated soldiers, upside down horses, trampled soldiers and swords to the chest of soldiers are all images seen on the tapestry.
Though we cannot know the embroiderers’ knowledge and familiarity with military technologies, the depictions of armor, regalia and weapons in this section of the tapestry give us clues to the technologies employed by the Norman and English armies. In this area, the tapestry provides us with visual renditions of objects that were made out of materials which decay easily, and of which we have no surviving examples today. The only English horse depicted in the entirety of the battle scene is the horse of King Harold; thus the contrast between the English infantry and the Norman cavalry may be indicative of actual differences in the composition of the two armies. It may also be an attempt on the part of the commissioners and embroiderers to display the wealth and power of the Norman army through the contrast between the numbers of horses depicted for the two armies.
The next scene depicts the death of King Harold’s Brothers, Leofwine and Gyrth, and features heavily in our section. We know that Leofwine and Gyrth had greater significance beyond being the brothers of Harold: Gyrth was the Earl of East Anglia, and Leofwine was the Earl of the East Midlands. The fact that the tapestry only refers to them in the context of their fraternal relationship with Harold may serve to frame the battle as the elimination of a potential rival dynasty rather than as the mere destruction of one king and his vassals.
It is also likely that the contrast between the armored and the unarmored combatants depicted in the tapestry is indicative of the social status of the different groups. The armored groups include the Norman cavalry, and English infantry. The major unarmored group depicted in this battle scene is the archers of both armies. Only one of the Norman archers wears armor, and the lone English archer is also smaller in stature than the infantry that surround him, perhaps to indicate a difference in social status (see Figure 3).
Darienne Madlala Matt Heise Yvonne Green Travis Strickler Caitlin Britos