Yesterdays News Today

Archive for February, 2009

The Plot of the Bayeux Tapestry, Part II – Godwinson is Crowned King of England



When we last left the plot of the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold Godwinson had been sent to Normandy after receiving favors from his brother-in-law Edward the Confessor. Harold and William the Conqueror fought together against Conan II, Duke of Brittany and Harold swore allegiance to William. Some say that allegiance was specifically to help William conquer the English crown.


How that can be possible I often wonder since Harold became king himself? There’s hardly a man I know of who’d give up his chance to be king so another could take the glory. (Yes, I’m sure I’ll receive comments a-plenty on this, but by now, I hope you realize it would take a lot of work and effort for you to change my mind on anything.)


At this point, Harold returns home where Edward, who is ill, reprimands him for making an oath to William. However, Edward dies and Harold becomes king before Edward can change his mind. The Bayeux Tapestry then shows Harold being crowned by the controversial Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury.


Unfortunately, here is where the tapisserie gets it wrong. Harold was, in fact, crowned by Aldred, Abbott of Tavistock, Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York. He was a diplomat and leader who served Edward the Confessor. His crowning of Harold gives the claim more legitimacy. (Note: A savvy politician, Aldred supported Harold until his loss at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.)


My Labor of Love – – Cresting the Herald: Heraldry for Fun but Not Necessarily Profit




Yes, I’m going to tell you about my book, and you can’t stop me. I think that Cresting the Herald: Heraldry for Fun but Not Necessarily Profit is, bar none, the best introductory, intermediate and advanced book regarding heraldry that has ever been written even better than Giacomo Torredelli’s work from 1634 and we all know how seminal that was. Well, you would if you took my classes.


Regardless in Cresting the Herald, I tackle a wide variety of topics including the history of heraldry, the first families of heraldry, how to create a coat of arms and more.


In the section on creating a coat of arms, I use my cat Richard the Lionheart as an example. Of course, now you’re thinking – this silly nanny is off his rocker, he is

but I assure you I am not. My cat is perfectly pedigreed just like I am. He is a pure-bred, multi-generational British shorthair. His great-great grandfather was the house cat of Prince Albert. I have the papers to prove it.


You can read the book to see official facsimiles of these.


Honestly, I must say that Cresting the Herald was truly a labor of love. I spent five years and two sabbaticals at Oxford researching it to get it just right. I am not a parent nor do I ever plan to be since my only true love besides Richard and heraldry is one Bryce Rhys-Jones, an actor from the 1950s.

The History Behind the Bayeux Tapestry, part 1




We’re continuing our foray into the Bayeux Tapesty, tapisserie de Bayeux, because this is my blog and I decide what to write. Even Richard the Lionheart, my tabby is staring at me for this outburst. Sorry, Richard. It’s just that I’m so passionate about Norman Invasion of 1066. It’s almost as cool as Charlemagne’s coronation on Christmas Day in the year 800 which united the Eastern and Western empires for the first time.


Oh, sorry. I got carried away there for a second.


Anyway, the Bayeux Tapestry features William the Conqueror as the main character. (Fun fact: my last cat was named William the Conqueror, but sadly he was vanquished by a horrible mini-Cooper.) William, the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, gained his father’s title after Duke Robert was killed whilst on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


The tapisserie itself begins with Edward the Confessor, England’s king. He has no son (or heir). Edward confers his title and lands upon Harold Godwinson, aka Harold II, former Earl of East Anglia and brother to Edith of Essex, Edward’s wife. Edward also sends Harold, for reasons unknown, to Normandy.


Once there, Harold is imprisoned by the Count of Ponthieu. William sends messengers to retriever Harold and the count sends him to his liege. William then invites Harold along on an expedition to fight the Duke of Brittany. (Isn’t this fascinating and it’s all in the tapestry!!!!)

More About the Coat of Arms




A coat of arms can be a source of pride and achievement for a family. In the European tradition – do Americans have traditions yet – the coat of arms features symbols representing a person or group of people. During the Middle Ages, or medieval era for those of you whom I have educated at Cambridge University, coats of arms were used by knights as a means of identifying them. This way a man would know who he was killing before he thrust the sword in him.


Hahaha! Well, my cat, Richard the Lionheart thought the joke was funny.


Anyway, in the modern era, coats of arms are can be used for cities, states and countries as well as for people and families. Some universities and business have created their very own coat of arms – a practice I detest immensely.


In the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon countries, most notably England and Scotland, coats of arms belonged to a man and they would be transmitted as legal property from father to son. Women were allowed to bear the coat of arms of their fathers and/or husbands, but had to indicate their relationship to the arms bearer.


The usage of the coat of arms helped identify individuals before other means of identification were made available. The study of coats of arms, of course, falls under the branch of heraldry.

An Introduction to Heraldry

Coat of Arms


When I was a child, my father took me upon his knee and said, “Gerald, there is nothing more important for your future than to know about your past.” He then proceeded to tell me all about our family history. I had never been so happy, thrilled and scared in my life. I still can’t believe that Great-Grandmother Smythe once had Prince Albert as a client.


Anyway, I’m prattering on about things that don’t matter to you. Let me put my professor cap back on for a bit. Heraldry, for those of you who are unaware, is actually encompasses all matters relating to the duties of officers of arms. Officers of arms were appointed to noble houses to oversee them, protect them and otherwise keep them safe.


To the unitiatied, however, heraldry can be related to the practice of creating, designing, displaying and whatever other –ing you want to do with a coat of arms. Coats of arms are a standard using symbolic structures that represent a person or group of people.


The Higgenbotham-Smythe coat of arms has, for example, a goose being plucked by a farmer for the holiday meal.  It is rather droll if you ask me.

Who Commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry?



When it comes to the tapisserie de Bayeux, I could go on and on forever. One of my favorite medieval pieces, the tapisserie, or tapestry, legend states that Matilda of Flanders (the low country), wife of William the Conqueror, commissioned and created the piece with her ladies-in-waiting. This is why the piece is often referred to in France as La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde (Queen Matilda’s tapestry). 


However, recent scholarship suggests otherwise. Current scholars, not necessarily do I include myself in that number, believe that William’s half brother, Bishop Odo, was responsible for this living, breathing work of art.


Why? Well, these so-called scholars cite two major reasons:

1)      Three of Odo’s followers were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Remember that book was a survey of William’s holdings much like a modern census.

2)      The Bayeux Tapestry was found in the Church of Bayeux, which Odo built.

I have to disagree with their reasoning because it just doesn’t make sense. First of all, Odo was a bit of how do those young Americans say it – a thug. Just because he was a bishop doesn’t make him holy. Secondly, tapestry was (and might still be) women’s work. Mathilde and her ladies-in-waiting would be more likely to make the tapestry in general.


 Of course, you don’t have to agree with me although I know I’m right

What is the Bayeux Tapestry ?

bayeux tapestry sectionToday

In my class – Heraldry 101 for Dummies (the University makes me teach it. Trust me the title is not one I’d have chosen) – one of my legacy students – hate legacies as they are usually dumber than stumps but parents donate whole wings to the university so I must try and suffer them cheerfully asked me if the Bayeux (Bay—-ewwww) Tapestry came from New Orleans.

My word! I just can’t begin to list how many things were wrong with that question.

For those of you who don’t know – and I’m certain that it’s many of you reading this article – the Tapisserie de Bayeux, or Bayeux Tapestry, depicts events leading up to the infamous Norman invasion in 1066 as well as the invasion itself. That reminds me of an off-color joke the Dean told me last year at the faculty luncheon, but I must resist such urges in potential mixed company.

Annotations on the tapesserie are in Latin, a language that is not dead, at least not in scholarly circles. In Bayeux, Normandy, France, there is a special display of this living legacy – my student wouldn’t know anything about that really – as well as a replica in Reading, Berkshire, England.

The story of the tapesserie is very interesting, but … like a good professor, I must leave that for another lesson.

%d bloggers like this: