It has, in short, become the settled orthodoxy on the matter. We have seen, however, how subtly and cleverly the work is shot through with an astonishing English undercurrent, undermining the Norman claim to the English throne at every turn. This suggests, on the contrary, that Odo was not the patron. It is, of course, always possible that Odo commissioned a work which was, unbeknownst to him, secretly designed in a way that undermined and subverted Norman interests. While this theory cannot be disproved, it is surely likely that, if Odo commissioned the embroidery, he and his associates would have taken great interest in the work as it progressed and overseen the labours of the artist and embroiderers so as to ensure that no such mixed messages were promulgated. The alternative hypothesis we have proposed that the forgotten Count Eustace of Boulogne was the patron, has several advantages.
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Geoffrey H. A similar, though not identical, list had been compiled in the s for the church of Dives-sur-Mer. If the Falaise Roll could not be trusted, many British persons, previously to be seen glowing with unusual pride at the thought that one of their ancestors had invaded the country in , would be summarily deprived of this distinction. Geoffrey White, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, was now to give his learned opinion on the matter.
He approached the question with dry humour. White pointed out that an ancestor who came over with William the Conqueror was formerly regarded as an appendage that no English gentleman should be without. And the adoption of an ancestor was in many ways a much easier operation than the adoption of a child. Disconcerted by the mocking tone with which White had begun his lecture, they listened edgily to what he had to say next.
The compilers of the Falaise Roll and the list at Dives-sur-Mer had certainly undertaken a very great deal of work; but what divided them from serious researchers was the reliability of the sources used. White considered that the reliable sources were limited to William of Poitiers and the Bayeux Tapestry.
Descent in the male line could not now be shown from any of these persons. Even our Wadard and Vital were not accorded the distinction of being proven warriors at Hastings, for the tapestry merely illustrates them in the run-up to the battle and they occur in no other historical account. Wadard is shown organising the plunder of food in the days beforehand [scene 37; plate 8] and Vital [scene 46; plate 9] is a scout shown speaking to Duke William shortly before the commencement of actual hostilities.
When White had concluded his paper, his colleague Dr T. This now provoked an angry reaction from the floor. A Mr Townroe stood up to read out a letter from Professor Macary, the historian from Falaise who had worked extensively on the list. Others made similar protests and the meeting concluded on a distinctly unfriendly note. In summing up the chairman, Lord Ferrer, likened the verbal sparring to another Battle of Hastings. The compilers of the Falaise Roll included not only Wadard and Vital but hundreds of others as well.
They used the poet Wace extensively. Wace, writing an account of the battle a century after it had happened, gives us additional names, but his lateness as a source has generally meant that he has been dismissed by modern historians as unreliable.
Following the stormy meeting of the Society of Genealogists the matter rested for another decade. In the s the question was re-examined by Professor David Douglas. This White was now prepared to concede. Although they are not actually shown taking part in the battle, it does indeed seem highly probable that both Wadard and Vital were present and fought at Hastings. The artist evidently had his own reasons for limiting the named warriors in the actual battle scenes to the trio of more important men - Odo, William and Eustace.
The latest interpretation of the Carmen adds a handful of further names to the small roster of proven or highly probable companions - the French baron Robert Gilfard, Hugh, brother of Count Guy of Ponthieu, and Taillefer. Taillefer juggles with his sword at the front line of the invading army. Although dismissed as a figure of romance, the early date now attributed to the Carmensuggests that Taillefer was a real person, though like Robert and Hugh he was very probably French rather than Norman.
But why does the tapestry single out Wadard and Vital, two lesser-ranking Norman knights, from amongst others whose names are known and myriad more whose names have been lost? It is not that they are depicted performing any great feat of bravery; on the contrary, they seem deliberately to have been given secondary roles.
The names of Wadard and Vital occur in no other account of the invasion. The first clue was discovered in the nineteenth century: both Wadard and Vital were knights attached to Bishop Odo of Bayeux and they received extensive lands from him in conquered England.
Their precise significance, however, has remained an abiding mystery. At first sight, it might seem that Wadard and Vital are merely names stitched in wool, persons too insignificant for any substantial evidence of their lives to have survived. We might, therefore, choose to pass over them without much comment or a second glance.
This, however, would be wrong. The evidence of the Domesday Book that both were knights of Bishop Odo has proved to be only the starting point, and other information has come to light. As research into the Bayeux Tapestry progressed, scholars looked for evidence of Wadard and Vital in their native Normandy. It was noted that prior to both appeared side by side as witnesses to a land grant to the abbey of Saint-Pierre-de-Preaux, which is situated in the Risle valley in the central part of the duchy.
They also appear severally in two other documents of that abbey. It has been deduced from this that, whatever their connection with Odo, they were tenants of the abbey of Preaux. Vital additionally appears to be the owner of some houses in Caen, also held from Bishop Odo. The precise reason, however, why it should have been appropriate to depict these particular knights of Odo, among many others, has remained obscure.
Rather it has been argued that Count Eustace II of Boulogne may have had a much closer involvement in the making of the tapestry than has hitherto been believed and that he may, in fact, have been its patron.
Or did either of them have some special connection with the designer of the work? Clearly, we need to investigate the lives of these two obscure men more closely, so far as the available evidence allows.
Knights such as Wadard and Vital would have been trained for knighthood from an early age. Here he would be taught the skills of fighting, riding and hunting. Amid the forests of northern France he would practise with his companions, taking part in warlike games, wrestling, fighting with swords, galloping at targets, shooting with his bow and arrow. It was a dangerous life for a child. In the mid-eleventh century, two of the sons of a Norman lord named Giroie were both killed in separate accidents.
One was thrown against a rock whilst wrestling; the other was struck by a misaimed lance while practising with his friends. As he grew older the young squire would take part in mock battles, which were beginning to take the form of tournaments.
Not long before , the technique of charging at the enemy on horseback, with the lance couched firmly underarm, had been developed in France; advances in saddle design had made it possible, but it was a manoeuvre that took much practice to perfect.
Some knights are shown using this tactic in the Bayeux Tapestry; others use their lances in the more traditional thrown manner. The youngster might then accompany a fully-fledged knight to war, carrying his arms and armour, and taking his warhorse to battle; it would be in this capacity that he might first see action. Finally, provided he had completed - and survived - his training the young man would be dubbed a knight by his lord.
The equipment he now needed - weapons, armour and saddlery - was extremely expensive. Wadard and Vital both wear costly chain-mail armour, they carry a sword and a lance and ride the traditional Franco-Norman warhorse, the destrier.
A destrier could cost up to eight times the price of a normal riding horse. The newly dubbed knight might now enter the service of the lord who had trained him, or he might venture further away in the hope of finding a new lord or with dreams of becoming a hero in battle and winning the hand of a rich and beautiful heiress. By they seem to have attained the status of minor Norman landholders.
There was no call to arms more important than the one that resounded throughout Normandy during the first months of Whatever the natural trepidation a soldier might feel at the prospect of war in a foreign land, it offered the hope of loot and advancement in the world.
To Wadard and Vital the cause must have seemed just and it would be fought under the protection of the papal banner. It is impossible to know exactly what Wadard and Vital did on the battlefield of Hastings, what role they had, what feats they performed. Perhaps, however, the reason for their inclusion in the tapestry lies not in the events of but those involving Odo and Eustace a year later. If the rebellion forms the unspoken background to the explicit story told in the Bayeux Tapestry, then it will have determined how the story is presented and the choice of characters.
Could this be the answer to the riddle? On this scenario, Eustace would have crossed swords, perhaps literally, with one or other of them, and perhaps both. What is more, they might have been the knights who were responsible for capturing his nepos. There is some evidence to connect Wadard, in particular, with Dover and the defence of its castle.
Wadard, then, clearly had an interest in Dover. There is some further, striking evidence to link Wadard with the defence of Dover Castle. The Domesday Book does not tell us how its defence was organised. But, strangely enough, surveys which date from two centuries later can be used to show that there is an obvious correlation between the defence of Dover Castle and the lands held by certain tenants of Odo, including Wadard. What is remarkable in the thirteenth-century surveys is that we find that various landholdings similar to those held by tenants of Odo not only in Kent but elsewhere as well carried with them the feudal duty to supply knights to defend Dover Castle.
One of the most important of these landholdings was known in the thirteenth century as the barony of Arsic; Arsic corresponds to the core of the lands held by Wadard at the time of Domesday. The coincidence is slavish and must have been administratively very cumbersome. The implication is that the thirteenth-century arrangements simply followed, and can be used as evidence for the defence of Dover Castle established by Odo.
Manors which were held by Wadard from Odo at the time of the Domesday Book in counties as far apart as Surrey, Dorset, Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire are all found to owe a duty of garrisoning Dover Castle in the thirteenth century, despite their geographical distance from the fortress.
It is not specified where or for what purpose the knight was owed. But in the later records both Combe and Thames Ditton owed one knight to the Arsic ward for the defence of Dover Castle. What we have suggested is merely an interesting speculation. There is one further point, however, that can be made. It will be recalled that both Wadard and Vital carry lances in the tapestry.
The hypothesis suggested above offers, for the first time, the prospect of a precise reason for the inclusion of Wadard and Vital in the Bayeux Tapestry and an unexpected glimpse through the fog of history at the events of that autumn morning in when Count Eustace attacked Dover. Unfortunately, however, it is a hypothesis that can be taken only so far and no further.
Like so much of eleventh-century history, we quickly run up against complete silence in the sources and a general paucity of evidence. There are some further known facts about Wadard and Vital, and these provide an alternative line of enquiry. In the Domesday Book Wadard stands out clearly as a tenant of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, from whose patronage he benefited largely. For his loyalty and obedience to Odo, he was granted land in eight different English counties.
It is recorded that there were eighteen villagers at Fringford, twelve smallholders, four slaves and two mills. It is also known that Wadard had two other sons who are mentioned in the cartulary of Preaux in Normandy, Martin and Simon.
There were five villagers, two smallholders with two ploughs, a mill, a meadow and some pasture land. In a sense, this is rather unjust to the many previous holders of the land at Farningham under Anglo-Saxon custom long before Wadard arrived in The name of the last of them, ousted by Wadard, is known, for he is mentioned in the Domesday Book: he was called Alstan.
At any rate our Wadard, a battle-scarred veteran of Hastings, would be pleased to learn that his name lives on in the twenty-first century, not only in the Bayeux Tapestry, but in and around the country pubs of west Kent attached to the bells and colourful costumes of the hopping and dancing Wadard Morris Men.
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Geoffrey H. A similar, though not identical, list had been compiled in the s for the church of Dives-sur-Mer. If the Falaise Roll could not be trusted, many British persons, previously to be seen glowing with unusual pride at the thought that one of their ancestors had invaded the country in , would be summarily deprived of this distinction. Geoffrey White, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, was now to give his learned opinion on the matter. He approached the question with dry humour. White pointed out that an ancestor who came over with William the Conqueror was formerly regarded as an appendage that no English gentleman should be without.
1066 : the hidden history in the Bayeux Tapestry
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1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry