Ken Follett’s favourite painting
John Mcewen comments on The Consecration of Westminster Abbey and Edward the Confessor’s funeral
The novelist chooses a moving tableau from ‘the mother of all strip cartoons’
‘The Bayeux Tapestry is the mother of all strip cartoons. Not a painting or even a true tapestry, but a work of embroidery, it is dyed wool on a linen base. Like a Spider-man comic, it’s vividly colourful, brilliantly drawn and full of action. And it tells a great story: the Norman invasion. It’s also a treasure chest of historic information, including the only image in existence of the Romanesque Westminster Abbey, constructed by Edward the Confessor in about 1042–65 and demolished in 1245 by Henry III, who built the magnificent Gothic church that stands today. Priceless.’
COUNT WILLIAM came from Normandy into Pevensey on the eve of Michaelmas, and as soon as his men were able they constructed a fortification at the market of Hastings… This was told to King Harold and he then collected a large army and met William at the old apple tree, and William came upon him unexpectedly before his army was drawn up… King Harold was killed there… and many good men, and the Frenchmen had possession of the field, as God granted to them for the people’s sins.’
This paragraph in The Anglo-saxonchronicle is the only contemporary account in the English language of the Norman Conquest, the sole successful foreign invasion of England in 1,000 years. The rights of Harold and William to succeed Edward the Confessor, King of England, are complex. Suffice to say that Edward’s death (January 5, 1066) prompted the conquest.
Westminster Abbey was consecrated a week before, signified in the tapestry by the final placing of the weathercock and Hand of God bestowing the blessing. Edward’s bier is accompanied by bellringers and tonsured clerics.
The ‘tapestry’, of eight unequal parts, is 224ft long and was probably embroidered in southern England under the supervision of a single designer. Its survival is miraculous. During the French Revolution, it was first earmarked as a wagon cover, then cut up to decorate a carnival float of the Goddess of Reason.
In 1968, Lord Dulverton commissioned the artist Sandra Lawrence to design the 272ft Overlord Embroidery (D-day Museum, Southsea, Hampshire) to commemorate the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy.
The Consecration of Westminster Abbey and Edward the Confessor’s funeral from The Bayeux Tapestry, pre-1082, artist unknown, 20in by 24in (approximately), Bayeux Museum, Bayeux, Normandy
Ken Follett is an author. His new book, A Column of Fire, is the third novel in his ‘Kingsbridge’ series