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on 8 April 2017
very detailed and scholarly. Recommend as reading to anyone interested in the Tapestry
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on 4 May 2017
Carola Hicks wonderfully readable and insightful look at the Bayeux Tapestry is really two stories in one. The first of course is the story told by the Tapestry which chronicles through images and sparse text the legendary and somewhat implausible story of how a Norman-French Duke conquered Anglo-Saxon England in the 11th century. The second story is of the tapestry itself, how it was created and why, and how it has fared during a nearly 1000-year history. Many scholars both past and present have attempted to assign with varying degrees of persuasive arguments who was truly responsible for its creation. Hicks tells us the leading candidates among scholars, but she provides a rather convincing argument for her own candidate, one which seems to have been overlooked by most scholars, be they medieval and/or art historians.

The story depicted in the Tapestry itself could almost pass for a chivalric romance, considering the improbability of a French duke invading and conquering England, a feat which was never before and has never since been accomplished. (The Romans of antiquity did occupy Britain for a time but didn't really "conquer" the isle in the same sense.) Later in the book, scholars of the Enlightenment of the late 17th century didn't know what events the Tapestry was illustrating, some believing it was some kind of fictional story or legend from the Middle Ages. Hicks goes through the main events depicted in the tapestry: the somewhat ill-conceived journey Harold embarks on to Normandy France at the behest of King Edward the Confessor; Harold's pledge to Duke William; the crowning of Harold in England upon the Death of Edward the Confessor; and of course the invasion of Duke William and his military forces across the Channel which climaxes with the Battle of Hastings.

Just as fascinating as the story of Duke William and King Harold is the story of the tapestry itself. No primary sources survive from the time the tapestry was produced which tell us who or why the tapestry was created, although most scholars agree it was created prior to circa 1200, fairly shortly after the events it describes. Hicks as mentioned offers the arguments for some of the "suspects" whom scholars believe might have produced the work, the leading candidate being Bishop Odo, Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux. However, Hicks offers a strong case for an alternative candidate, one which she obviously extensively researched. Additionally, her conclusion is also based on subtle readings of the tapestry whose overtones are very pro-Norman but have subtle hints of empathy for the Anglo-Saxons as well. After circa 1200, primary sources regarding this most famous medieval of art objects are scattered throughout the record until the late 17th century. It pops up in inventories in the late 15th century then disappears for awhile only to be referred to again by other sources.

By the time of the Enlightenment of the late 17th century, the tapestry had been hanging in the church at Bayeux for certain feast celebrations, but locals weren't sure what the tapestry was depicting. Almost no written sources prior to circa 1680 described the tapestry in terms of the story it illustrates through its weaves. A number of scholars, both French and English, begin to study the tapestry to discover its meaning. The revelation that the tapestry was in fact depicting the Invasion of and conquest of the Normans over Anglo-Saxon England became a turning point in art and antiquities scholarship. Certainly, the invasion and conflicts between Normandy and England was a well-known story but for several centuries, from about the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance, the story told by the tapestry appears to have been temporarily lost. The closest equivalent I can think of in modern times might be the unearthing of a previously unknown silent movie, and the events and characters in the film not being entirely known and/or understood. If something like "12 Years a Slave" was somehow lost to time and was unearthed 1000 years from now, would viewers understand that this was an historical account and not a fiction?

The last part of the book is nearly as compelling. Two rather notorious figures of history desired the tapestry as a means to promote and celebrate their military agendas: Napoleon in the early 19th century, and Adolph Hitler in the mid-20th century. Napoleon and Hitler both were obsessed with historical events of the past, particularly the Middle Ages in the case of Hitler. They sought to use the tapestry for the own purposes to rationalize a connection to the past. In Napoleon's case, probably to prove the superiority of the French military, and Hitler to liken himself to Duke William. How the tapestry avoided being confiscated by either figure is a story nearly as compelling as the Battle of Hastings. This book is a triumph of art history and scholarship.
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VINE VOICEon 13 February 2008
A fascinating look at the history of this amazingly long-lived artifact, which has come near to destruction or loss on several occasion at the hands of French Calvinists, revolutionaries, Napoleon and the SS. The book also explores the many attempts at reproductions of the work, or other works in different media inspired by the original. It explores the origins of the work and is inconclusive on who commissioned it, though the author makes a good case for Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor. Will interest those into Medieval history and art history alike.
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on 18 May 2011
I went to see the BT last August and can thoroughly recommend it. I was transported back to 1966 and those stamps, so much so I bought a set off e-bay. Deciding I needed to review my visit I bought this book hoping it would go through in some detail the scenes and the text. Unless I missed it, it doesn't really. It does give the plot in reasonable detail (not enough for me) then goes off on a history lesson about the BT over the next 950+ years. That in itself is quite interesting but a bit long winded for me. I agree with another reviewer that there were not enough images in the book and that it would have been better to read this before visiting the tapestry (embroidery, sewy thingy).

Loved the bit about the more recent cartoons, particularly the one with Mitterand and Thatcher - almost made me think of doing my own.

So not bad and I am sure that some people will really love it - the 1* reviewer should be ignored, this is not a 1* book at all and I feel I am being a little bit mean with only three.

One thing I did find a bit sad was on looking up Carola Hicks I discovered she died of cancer last year - HIC LIES CAROLA :-(
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2008
If you are thinking of visiting the Tapestry, best arm yourself with a book from amazon first as the museum there houses some very expensive books which will put you off finding out more about the tapestry.

Not a particularly light read unless the Normans are a firm favourate for you but there are some very interesting snippets of information that would make a visit to the tapestry much more enjoyable.

Not enough photographs in this book - and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful work of art to see, so it is a shame not to see more photos of it in this book.
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on 27 May 2016
Fascinating and informative - I really enjoyed this highly readable but erudite work that covers not just the historical facts of the Bayeux tapestry and how it came about, but goes into absorbing detail about the manner of its construction and about art and craft of that era.
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on 30 March 2006
I've just finished this book whilst suffering from a bad cold and I can honestly say that it was the best tonic I could have laid my hands on!
The author explores an intriguing subject, which she presents to the reader in a refreshingly approachable manner. Charting the adventures of this enduring tapestry through the ages, one wonders how it ever survived at all. I couldn't put it down!
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on 13 October 2016
Excellent research on a fascinating subject especially if you have visited Bayeux where the Title is displayed for sale in the bookshop there
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on 3 January 2017
Just what I had hoped for. Some chapters much more interesting than others. But that because of my preferences.
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on 17 August 2013
that a piece of embroidery could survive over 900 years and have such a fascinating history of its own. Great.
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