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The knight to the left is the only positively identifiable unmounted horseman: see his spurs. He appears to be braining a rustic ceorl with his own sword, as the knight's is still sheathed. (Or, the ceorl thrust the knight through the abdomen before being killed: there is no evidence of a scabbard and belt on the knight to hang his sword with - although this could be another artist error.) In the lower border another rustic has been decapitated (the close proximity makes for a case that this is the same character). There were some late arrivals during the day on foot, and these figures might represent them as they joined the losing battle too late to save the cause of their king but not too late to join him in death.

The two "dragon" banners here are supposedly the "Dragon of Wessex" Harold's banner as the earl of Wessex. His personal standard the "Fighting Man" is not depicted. It is described as jewelled and was sent as a gift to the pope by William after the battle. The first "dragon" is going down with its bearer - out of sequence if they are meant to be the same (or else the standard is picked up by another housecarle when the original bearer goes down). The "dragon" is a windsock, patterned after Carolingian types, which in turn derived from the Roman.

Right behind the upright "dragon" the figure holding an arrow in his face is identified as king Harold. The main evidence that this figure is meant to be the king is the presence of the name "Harold" sewn around the figure's head. And there is not much argument either that the next figure falling to the ground beneath the sword of a charging knight is the king as well. (The sword "hacking" at the king's thigh is reminiscent of the account in the Carmen.) However, there is ample evidence that the arrow in Harold's eye is in fact a 19th century addition.

The earliest written account of the "arrow in the eye" story comes from the Monte Cassino chronicle of Amatus written before 1080: thirty years after the battle of Hastings, Baudri of Bourgueil mentions an arrow as the cause of Harold's death, but he does not specify where the arrow struck. Snorri Sturlason, writing in the early 13th century, has the death of Harold Hardrada at Stamford bridge caused by an arrow in the throat. I believe the arrow death in the face/neck of two kings-Harold within a month of each other in the same campaign highly unlikely. One of them died by arrow, that is quite certain, but which one?

I believe that the Carmen holds the answer to that question. Recently it has been vindicated afresh in a new edition (of Frank Barlow's) to be an early document and not a 12th century creation as its detractors have claimed. Therefore, if the Carmen is in fact a version of the story written shortly after the battle of Hastings, its claims of how king Harold II died are to be taken seriously.

As a poem to be performed in court the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the battle of Hastings) had to pass muster with the new king, William the Conqueror. That means that the Carmen's account of Harold's death had to at least be accurate according to one of the stories then in popular circulation: i.e. it could be true at least in essence, if not in accurate, factual details.

But as subsequent events indicate, the author of the Carmen, bishop Guy of Amiens (uncle of count Guy I of Ponthieu and his younger brother Hugh, whom the Carmen clearly depicts as one of the heroes at Hastings), "missed the mark" with his poem: it never received acclaim, and in fact seems to have been reworked by William of Poitiers later to paint the Normans in a better light (bishop Guy was not Norman, and his details of them and of duke William in particular are often in poor taste or offensive - most likely without malice-a-forethought): and to disavow any hint of duke William's personal involvement in Harold's death: it claims that four knights (the quatuor) ganged up and each struck the king a mortal blow, and that one of them could have been the duke himself. As later Harold's memory was a problem to king William and the Norman conquerors, any mention of William's complicity in his tragic death (as the Carmen has it) would not be welcome at the Norman court; this explains why bishop Guy's poem seems to have not had an audience, while William of Poitier's pro-Norman, pro-William (sycophantic is the word) Gesta Guillelmi surged ahead and became the original source for the later Anglo-Norman historians of the 12th century.

For these reasons, I tend to believe the Carmen's account of the death of Harold is far closer "to the mark" than it is unbelievable.

According to the most popular translation of the "death of Harold" passage, if taken in the same order as the quatuor are introduced, William is given credit for the first - and only honorable - blow which dispatched king Harold. Three others finished him off: Eustace of Boulogne, Hugh "the noble heir of Ponthieu", and a member of the Giffard (Gilfardus) family. But as Frank Barlow explains:

A basic problem is that it is not easy to sort out the four individuals [who killed Harold] from among a welter of epithets in an unpunctuated text. And the passage could have been just as difficult for William of Poitiers or any other medieval reader....The better-supported of the interpretations makes these Duke William, Count Eustace of Boulogne, Hugh "the noble heir of Ponthieu" (Hectorides), and Gilfard "known by his father's surname" (Gilfart = joufflu = chubby-cheeks). The last two also are identifiable persons. Hugh of Ponthieu, Guy I's younger brother, could easily have been his heir. Gilfard may be the French baron, Robert (son of) Gilfard, who attests charters of King Philip of France in 1066 and on 7 August 1067 at the siege of Chaumont-sur-Loire, where [bishop] Guy [of Amiens] also was to be found. Rather later, Robert witnesses charters in England. Alternatively, the four are [according to R. H. C. Davis], omitting the duke, Eustace, the (unnamed) noble heir of Ponthieu, Hugh (II of Montfort-sur-Risle), and (Walter) Giffard (I count of Longueville-sur-Scie...). Both Hugh and Walter are featured by William of Poitiers as veterans of the battle of Mortemer (1054) and heroes at Hastings.
The argument against Gilfardus being Walter Giffard is that, William of Malmesbury declares the knight who cut off Harold's leg was severely punished - "branded by William with ignominy and expelled from the army"; and yet Walter Giffard inherited an earldom from William; while no mention of any English inheritances is given anywhere for the comital house of Ponthieu. (And just as surely as Walter Giffard held lands in England, so too did Hugh de Montfort; and Eustace of Boulogne, even despite his armed invasion against the duke-cum-king at Dover in autumn of 1067, for which he was out of favor and deprived of his English holdings until sometime in the 1070's). If instead of Walter we assume that Robert is the Gilfardus mentioned (in the most accepted interpretation of who the quatuor were), the problem still remains: to see Robert Giffard - a "French baron" - "branded by William with ignominy and expelled from the army" seems an extreme punishment for a lord: a common knight, or a minor member of a baronial house, perhaps, but not a baron who was an accomplice in the killing of the duke's enemy. To receive such a slight upon his honor and then be returned to favor so that he later "witnesses charters in England" seems just as unlikely: especially in light of the fact that Hugh of Ponthieu remained ever afterward in obscurity. The contribution of Ponthieu to the conquest was only rewarded much later by the marriage between count Guy I's daughter Agnes and Robert of Bellême, while Hugh remained (evidently) disgraced and forgotten. So Hugh of Ponthieu is my choice to be the one who cut off Harold's "thigh" (most likely intended euphemistically to mean, or include, his privy member) and was "branded with ignominy by William".

If Harold had been guilty of sexual impropriety while in Normandy, and if it involved the girl known in the Tapestry as Aelfgyva, and if this touched the ducal-cum-royal house in a sore spot, then king William would not wish for the manner of Harold's death to be "bruited about the courts of Europe." Thus the arrow of fate - the king struck down by a faceless archer as a sign of God's will - became the official version of how Harold had perished. It works for me.

The looting has already started on the lower slopes of the hill as the battle continues. The king is dead and his men either fight to the last where they stand, or take to the woods a mile away to their rear.


This last group of housecarles appear to be fighting to the death - the traditional and proper way for Germanic household troops to behave when their lord has just been killed. None of them have a spear or javelin left to throw or thrust with. All are using sword or axe, showing that the battle is in its final stages: the spear is the weapon of preference, and the sword or axe only resorted to when the spear is broken. The Normans have been throwing javelins: of these six housecarles, one is already down with a javelin through his midsection, a second is falling forward, pierced in the mouth even as he brings his axe down on a horse's neck, a third has a javelin stuck in his shield, while a fourth is either dead on his feet from a thrown javelin, or is gasping at the near miss past his ear.

One of the Normans is a mounted archer, who is obviously planning to use his bow from horseback. He also has spurs, or at least the nearest pair of legs that could match up with the archer's body have spurs. The Tapestry has been heavily restored at this point, and so we cannot rely on details at all. (Or we shall be compelled to believe that a Norman knight was capable of riding two horses at once! But in fact, Benoît's drawing does not show this ridiculous artistic gaffe; it is the creation of our brilliant 19th century reconstructionists.)

Snorri Sturlason also has the English skirmishing before the actual battle at Stamford bridge: throwing arrows and javelins from horseback. Such evidence of mounted missile combat in England before the Normans came cannot be lightly dismissed.


And finally the battle reaches Calbec hill, where the Normans - including infantry who have seized loose horses - begin the pursuit of the rustics through the trees and far into the night. (The waning moon did not emerge until around midnight, so the pursuit must have been very desultory.)

The fact that most of these pursued English rustics on foot are carrying maces is curious. Perhaps nothing more than crude extemporaneous weapons is meant: stones lashed to wooden handles. Or the artists were "on a roll" making maces and there is nothing more to it than that (but it appears, from an examination of Benoît, mainly to be the work of restoration).

The little figure at the bottom is fighting the vines and other flora of the Andresweald forest in his efforts to escape and looks most unhappy: this is wholly reconstructed, and at least shows our worthy restorationists to have been possessed of good imagination. These mounted Englishmen are ceorls escaping on the horses brought by thegns, geneats and housecarles, very few of whom are left to reclaim their mounts. (However, the larger mounted figure - the last one in the surviving Tapestry - is not a mounted man at all, as drawn by Benoît and followed by Lancelot, but is instead a man on foot.)

The Tapestry is lost beyond this point. Conjecture adds a coronation scene for William. I think that is very reasonable: why would it show one for Harold the usurper and not for William in the end? His coronation took place on Christmas day under the hands of Aldred archbishop of York.

Summing Up:

"Although it is a Norman document, the style of the figures stitched in colored wool leads some scholars to believe that English hands from Canterbury made it. Odo was earl of Kent." ("The Age of Chivalry")

Speaking of the entries in Domesday Book, Dr Elizabeth Hallam says: "Those who held lands prior to the Norman seizure are always referred to as 'predecessors' of the current holder. King Harold is, except on two occasions which are clearly mistakes, consistently entitled 'Earl Harold'. Thus through these legal fictions was his reign consigned to oblivion." ("The Domesday Book - England's Heritage Then & Now") Later in the same book an author writes: "By describing Harold as an earl, it confirms that although he had been elected by the Witan the Normans never admitted that he was King."

Perhaps nothing attests more singularly the early dating of the Bayeux Tapestry than the above-mentioned discrepancy. For Harold is very clearly and repeatedly identified after his coronation as "King Harold." It is king Harold and not earl Harold (or simply Harold) who is slain. Yet a mere twenty years later the Domesday surveyors never refer to him by his royal title.

In the interim William had ruled a sullen and frequently rebellious people with an iron hand. Any mentioning of Harold as having once been a legal king was anything but helpful to William's problems with getting his subjects to accept Norman lordship.

If the Tapestry was English-made then the question should arise: did Norman propagandists oversee the work in progress? If the evidence of subtle English protestations appear at times, nothing compares with the English view that Harold was their king for a short while. His crowning is fully-detailed; the royal title immediately replaces the up-till-then "Earl Harold." As it turned out, none of the candidates advanced as the "author" of the Tapestry would have had their best interests served by including such reminders. But before the English rebellions, any trouble with designating Harold as "king" could not have been forseen.

The most plausible explanation is that whoever actually oversaw the artisans on a daily basis was either pro-English or did not understand the serious implications of calling Harold "King." As with all "government projects" underlings to greater men must be put in charge: and not always are they going to be as competent as their bosses might wish. Once the Tapestry was finished and presented to Odo (or whoever), he was probably upset by some of the more glaring faults but let it stand. If time was critical - as it would be with a need for effective propaganda - the Tapestry would have been bundled off to do its work in the Anglo-Norman realm: educating the masses in the official story. An accurate (factual) account of the battle of Hastings and events leading up to it was not the main purpose of the Tapestry; but an acceptable, reasonable story of why the English world had changed was necessary to help legitimize the Norman position in England. As long as the propaganda did its work well, and the English knuckled under the new regime, there was no problem with allowing that Harold had in fact been "king" for a short while: God had made his judgment in favor of the Normans. The same prelate who had crowned the Godwinson had crowned the duke of Normandy king of the English. Therefore, the evidence supports a very early date for the Tapestry, predating the rebellions in Yorkshire in the early 1070s. The Tapestry went the rounds: being put on display in the capital parts of the realm to tell the Norman "spin" on recent events. But once the "harrying of the north" had become history, William could not have put up with any further references to his predecessor as "king" Harold. And his royal title was expunged from all subsequent official records.

Eustace of Boulogne rebelled late in 1067 and was in disfavor until the late 70s. Why would his name figure so prominently in the Tapestry if he was in fact out of the picture at the time? Some scholars propose that a different (and now unknown) "Eustace" was the identity of the figure pointing to duke William. I will always wonder if restoration permanently obscured this missing piece of the Tapestry's identification with "Turstinus" ("Toustain"), the bearer of William's banner according to Vitalis (and later Wace).

What else did William's propaganda machine make use of? It seems evident that the Carmen of bishop Guy of Amiens was supressed right away - because of the gory details of Harold's demise, in which the duke-now-king had had a personal hand. Guy of Amiens at the time was in disfavor with Rome and probably hoped that by showering praise and heroics upon the new king of England William might help bend the pope's ear in his property dispute, and restore his full rights to the management of his see. In fact, bishop Guy died in 1075, still in disgrace. His now-famous poem was a bust at the Norman court: the count of Ponthieu was his nephew (both bearing the name Guy), the same who had exchanged ultimatums with William over the capture of Harold in 1064; and either the son or brother of count Guy had participated in the death of Harold, according to bishop Guy's Carmen; now this was the last straw - three strikes and the Ponthievins are out. (And this ostracizing of the comital house of Ponthieu after Hastings might begin to explain the mule ears on count Guy's mount in the Tapestry - and why later accounts of the Norman conquest fail to mention the contributions of Ponthieu.) The preeminent account of William the Conqueror was composed by his chaplain, William of Poitiers. A careful comparison of it to the Carmen shows that Poitiers' version of the same events is the one that is augmented in almost every instance - strong evidence that he used the Carmen of the bishop of Amiens as part of his source material, and not the other way around. His panegyric became the official history of the Conquest and was used by all the 12th century Anglo-Norman historians. (The Carmen was relegated to the library, from whence it eventually disappeared, to reemerge in 1826; only Orderic Vitalis mentions that he had knowledge of a verse account of the Norman Conquest as written by Guy the bishop of Amiens.) Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi thus came on the scene only after both the Carmen and Bayeux Tapestry had been created - the Carmen being first, as early as the spring of 1067. The death of Harold in the Tapestry to the falling sword of a Norman knight tallys very well with the Carmen account, but was sufficiently ambiguous to cause king William no trouble. (I think it possible that the Tapestry artists had the Carmen at their disposal when they went to work, thus the similarities in some curious ways.)