Ken Fol­lett’s favourite paint­ing

John Mcewen com­ments on The Con­se­cra­tion of West­min­ster Abbey and Ed­ward the Con­fes­sor’s funeral

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

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

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