You may know the joke about the Holy Roman Empire, which came from the acid pen of Voltaire: ‘It wasn’t holy; it wasn’t Roman; and it wasn’t an empire.’
Well, to take another bastion of European legend, the Bayeux Tapestry wasn’t a tapestry, and it wasn’t put together at Bayeux. Nor did the famous oath it portrays take place at Bayeux. And it wasn’t ordered by William the Conqueror.
It is an embroidery – a nine-hundred-and-fifty-year-old embroidery. What normally would be the chances of such a piece of material surviving that long?
It wasn’t stitched in Normandy; it was done, we think, in Canterbury, and by English seamstresses.
It was not ordered by William the Conqueror. Well, he wasn’t William the Conqueror then, was he? The evidence for authorship seems to point towards William’s half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (here, possibly, is the origin of the Bayeux connection).
Finally, the notorious ‘Bayeux Oath’ story doesn’t stand up either. Historians tell us that the more likely places were Rouen (the capital then of Normandy – which makes sense), or Bonneville-sur-Touques, about forty miles east, where Norman barons often met.
So now you know!