Beech Trees in the Bayeux Tapestry: an Ecological Perspective
By Rebecca Welshman
Published Online (2018)
Introduction: Beeches had a variety of uses in medieval times. The wood was a source of fuel and the woodlands were used to turn out pigs. Beech nuts were a food, collected for winter use from beech orchards. The wood was too soft to use as a building material, but was used for writing on – hence the Anglo-Saxon word ‘boc’ (beech/book). There are 37 trees or groups of trees on the tapestry and it has been widely noticed that trees are used as scene endings.
Beeches favour free draining soils such as chalk, limestone, or light loams, which is why they have grown naturally in England below the line that stretches from the Wash to the Severn. This also predisposes the trees to grow on banks or ramparts. In her analysis of the tapestry trees, ancient tree specialist Jill Butler has written that ‘the buds on the trees vary, differentiating at least oak and ash trees, the compartmentalisation of the trunks seems to be emphasised by the coloured stripes and even the hollowing of the trunks has been captured.’
As far as I am aware no one has yet identified any of the trees on the tapestry as beeches. This article attempts to identify a number of beech trees in the tapestry, which might lend support for Simon Coleman’s site at Beech Farm as the proposed battlefield site. I will also discuss the last scene of the tapestry in relation to Malfosse.
Top Image: Bayeux Tapestry Scene 48