The Bayeux Tapestry

Threads of History – The World of the Bayeux Tapestry
Lecture by Rupert Willoughby on February 14th 2022
Rupert Willoughby, historian and classicist, began his excellent lecture by reminding us how miraculous it is that this wonderfully vivid but fragile 1,000-year-old tapestry exists to this day. It is astonishing that it has survived for example not only the religious wars  of the mid 16th century in France but also the French Revolution. The ‘tapestry’ (from the French word tapisserie) comprises seventy-five scenes of wool-embroidered linen cloth, bearing Latin inscriptions. The last panel is missing and would probably have shown the coronation of William the Conqueror. It is 70 metres in length and tells of the the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the Norman conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy, noticeably told from the Norman perspective. The upper and lower zones include depictions of hunting and images from Aesop’s Fables, as well as scenes of 11th century life. Commissioned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother to William the Conqueror,  it was used to decorate the Cathedral of Bayeux once a year. The eight high-quality dyes are still vibrant today. It is thought that the tapestry was made in Canterbury a few years after the Battle of Hastings. The design is likely to have been created by a team of English craftsmen, as the the Normans had no tradition of figurative art. The high quality of needlework suggests Anglo-Saxon embroiderers, whose work was prized throughout Europe at the time. They are likely to have been  high-born women, their fingers being more nimble than those of men. There is no evidence they were nuns, as has sometimes been suggested. 
Image 1.  
King Edward the Confessor with Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex. Edward wished William of Normandy to succeed him. Here he is sending Harold to France to confirm the pledge with an oath.
Image 2.
Harold and his brother enter Bosham Church. Harold is known to have acquired Bosham from the Archbishop of Canterbury by trickery. On the right,  Harold and his men are seen feasting in Harold’s house. Note the two drinking horns, one on the left and one on the right of the table. A cupbearer would be used as it was not possible to put the full drinking horns down. No drinking horns are shown at a later – Norman – feast. Thus the Normans are presented as being more pious and civilized and better to suited to rule than the uncouth Anglo-Saxons, who were known to drink heavily.
Image 3.
Harold boards a longboat to France. He is holding a falcon on his wrist. Harold was obsessed with his falcons and  took them wherever he went. It was a way of bonding.
Image 4.
It is possible to tell the English and the Normans apart by their hairstyles. Harold has long hair and a moustache and so does King Edward (see image 1). In contrast to the English, the Normans wear their hair very short, and shaved at the back, practical for wearing a helmet.  They are also clean shaven. The Normans were offended by long hair “like women” and also by moustaches and beards.
Image 5.
Harold and William got on very well. William invites him to Brittany. Here Harold is shown in a heroic light saving two men from the quicksand at low tide, one of whom he is carrying over his shoulder. Mont St Michel is seen in the background.
Image 6. 
Harold swears a sacred oath on holy relics to Duke William. This oath is of major importance. By later taking the crown of England,  it implies that Harold broke faith with his liege lord and broke his oath to God.


Image 7.  
After Edward’s death, Harold is crowned King.  Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury is on his left. He was not recognized by the Pope and at an unknown date was excommunicated. It is made clear that for this reason the coronation was not valid.
Image 8.
After the coronation in January, King Harold and fearful Englishmen watch the 1066 Halley’s comet streaking through the sky, as a portent of disaster and a sign of displeasure from the heavens. In fact, the comet appeared in April, 4 months later.

Image 9

Fortifications are being dug at Hastings. Note the spelling, using ‘ae’ in ‘caestra’. A Norman would have written ‘castra’. In other instances in the tapestry, Edward is written AEdward.  These are another indication that the tapestry was crafted by the English.
Image 10. 
News of the burning of a house in Hastings by William’s men is brought to King Harold. A woman and child are seen escaping. This is an early example of cruelty to civilians.

Image 11a. 


Image 11b. 

The end of the tapestry bears the words  ‘Here King Harold has been killed’ (HIC HAROLD: REX INTERFECTUS: EST). This could apply to several images here, including the famous one of Harold with an arrow in his eye. Is he also hacked down? Is he lying on the ground? It is possible all three depict the death of Harold.

Dame Zaha Hadid

Dame Zaha Hadid. A lecture by Anthea Streeter

Anthea began her fascinating and informative  lecture saying that Zaha Hadid died suddenly in 2016 when she was at her peak – having 36 ongoing projects in 21 countries ! An incredible success story. She had been awarded a gold medal from the RIBA – awarded to people who have made a major influence on architecture. One of the distinguishing features of her designs was her  use of diagonals rather than the conventional right angles and this made architecture more exciting.

She was born in Baghdad to a wealthy family. At school she excelled at Maths and her family sent her to a boarding school in England. From there she studied maths at the American University of Beirut and then in 1972 she went to the Architectural Association School of Architecture, where she studied under Rem Koolhaus who found her an inspirational student. Her 4th. year project was a painting of a hotel in the form of a bridge,  inspired by the Russian suprematist artist, Kazimir Malevich. During the 1920s Malevich had made some white structures which he called Architecton which was a source of inspiration to Zaha.

Zaha came top of all the students passing out from the School of Architecture in 1977 with this painting. The  hotel was designed to be on Hungerford Bridge and the links with Malevich’s Architecton are clear.


She was given a lectureship at the School of Architecture and in 1982 she achieved her first milestone by winning her first competition with a design for the Hong Kong Leisure Club on The Peak in Hong Kong (although it was never built)

The use of diagonals in this design are clear to see.

In the early 1980s Zaha set up her own practice and in 1990 she received her first commission – to build a Fire Station for the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein in Germany.

It was one of her first designs to be built but when it was completed in 1993 there was no longer a need for a Fire Station so a concrete wall was added where the Fire Engines would have been .

In 1994 Zaha designed the Opera House in Cardiff, but it was never built as the government decided not to put forward the money.

In 1997 Zaha won a competition to design a Centre for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati.

For this design Zaha won the Pritzer prize for Architecture.

In 1998 Zaha won a competition to design a Contemporary Art Museum in Rome which became known as the Maxxi.

Where the interior is as breathtaking as the exterior. The theme throughout is one of a sense of movement and flow.


Zaha’s design for a new ski jump at Innsbruck was rather controversial as it stood out in strong contrast to the surrounding mountains. It was designed not only as a ski jump but also a cafe with a 360 degree view of the mountains. The design gives a sense of movement and speed.

In 2000 Zaha designed another building in Germany – the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg. Zaha wanted the space underneath to be full of activity and each of the cone shaped pillars that support the building contains a shop, a cafe or an entrance.

Then in 2003 -2010 her design for the Gangzhou opera House was built. Throughout  the whole design there were no right angles.It was comprised of two buildings – one contained the theatre whilst the other housed the restaurants and shops.

and again the interior was as spectacular as the exterior.

Zaha was commissioned again by Innsbruck to build 4 stations on the Nordpark Cable Railway – 2004-2007 The design  shows how Zaha’s buildings often had just minimal contact with the ground.

In 2001 Zaha designed the Maggie Centre at the Victoria Hospital in Fife. The hospital was for cancer sufferers and Zaha was keen to ensure that her design instilled calm and peace.

Another design by Zaha in Scotland was the Riverside Muse in Glasgow – with its non-uniform peaks and troughs.

In 2006 Zaha was commisioned to design the Aquatics centre for the London Olympics. 

The building looked like a wave but extra seating had to be added for the Olympics but these were removed once the Olympics had finished.

In 2008 Zaha deigned a building for the University of Economics and Business in Vienna, with  walls  sloping  at  35  degrees

The wonderful interior was beautifully lit and the acoustics were very clever which meant that inside the building it was incredibly quiet.

Probably Zaha’s most famous famous building was the Heydar Allayer Centre in Baku in Azerbaijan – designed in 2007. It was called her Queen of Curves. The people of Azerbaijan  were so proud of it and kept it beautifully.

Part of the design incorporated wedges of landscaping . There was also a very unusual staircase with slithers of light, probably inspired by the work of Malevich.

Another amazing interior was designed by Zaha for the Hotel Puerta in Madrid. Anthea concluded her lecture showing us images of the Zaha Hadid Gallery in London

and her apartment in Miami.

Anthea’s lecture gave us a very comprehensible insight into the work of an amazing architect. The lecture was made the more instructive by Anthea shoving us pictures of the buildings from many angles.

Zaha Hadid, as Anthea concluded, died suddenly at the peak of her career and was a great loss to architecture around the world. I am sure many of us will look further into Zaha Hadid’s work and if possible visit some of the buildings