The Garments of Guy in the Bayeux Tapestry
By Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Paper given at the session Dress and Textiles IV: Speaking of (and with) Clothing and Textiles, during the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies (2013)
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts many different people and often makes subtle (and not-so subtle) characterizations of them. In her paper, Gale R. Owen-Crocker looks at how the late 11th century frieze portrays Guy, Count of Ponthieu. Count Guy (d.1100) was frequently at odds with Duke William of Normandy, and in 1054 was captured in battle. Guy spent two years in a Norman prison before swearing fealty to William in exchange for his freedom.
The Bayeux Tapestry shows Guy on three occasions, all related to story of his capture of Harold Godwinsson – events which some historians are skeptical about having actually occurred. It is believed that Harold had intended to sail to Normandy, but his ship goes off course and lands in modern-day Picardy. After he lands he is arrested by Guy and his men – in that scene the men from Ponthieu are shown wearing long culottes, a type of Scandinavian trouser-like garment. Owen-Crocker speculates that the Bayeux artist was using these clothes to depict Guy and and his men as more foreign.
The next scene shows Guy sitting on a throne, a type of image of the is seen on several occasions in the Bayeux Tapestry. Owen-Crocker notes that Guy’s throne looks small with tiny animal heads, and that the count himself is wearing a cloak that is so short that one can see the hose on his legs – a rather undignified look. She comments that the scene makes Guy to be “a little man trying to be big!”
We then see Guy being confronted by William’s messengers who look bigger and more intimidating then the men from Ponthieu. Guy is now shown wearing a cloak over an embroidered tunic, with colourful yellow and green garters, and carrying an axe. Owen-Crocker believes that the tunic he is wearing was made of fur, making the count look decadent and wimpy.
Finally we see the meeting between Guy and William, where Harold is handed over to the Norman Duke. While William looks strong sitting upon his steed, Guy is shown riding a thinner horse that has donkey ears! Owen-Crocker concludes “like the ears on his horse, the man is depicted as an ass.”