George T. Beech (Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo)
Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire: Tome 83 fasc. 2, 2005. Histoire médiévale, moderne et contemporaine – Middeleeuwse, moderne en hedendaagse geschiedenis. pp. 355-365.
An entry in the Inventory of the Bayeux cathedral treasury records that in 1476 the church owned the following: Item une tente tres longue et estroicte de telle a broderie d’ymages et escripteaulx, faisans representation du Conquest d’Angleterre, laquelle est tendu environ la nefde l’église le jour et par l’octave des reliques (l). Not until the 1720 ‘s did scholars first find and appreciate the potential importance of this brief entry. Several had just become aware of a Conquest of England embroidery in the Bayeux cathedral treasury which was exhibited every year at the feast of relics, and had begun to suspect that it might be a near contemporary witness to the events of 1066. One of them, M. Lancelot came upon this brief description in the cathedral archives in the course of searching for earlier references to the hanging (2). At the time he had no doubts that this entry refered to the tapestry he was then studying and all later experts are in agreement with him. Since no earlier one has yet been found this remains the oldest certain reference to the Bayeux Tapestry. Not long before this, in 1430, an entry in the inventory of the more than 50 tapestries then in the possession of Duke Phillip the Good of Burgundy reads as follows: Ung grant tapiz de haulte lice, sans or, de l ‘istoire du duc Guillaume de Normandie, comment il conquist l ‘Engleterre (3)·
Nothing appears to be known about the nature of this hanging, about its provenance or what happened to it, nor do there seem to be any later references to it. Modern specialists on the dukes of Burgundy and their tapestry collec tionsare aware of this entry but simply cite it without commentary, presumably because they lack any further information about it (4). Scholars of the Bayeux Tapestry may be acquainted with it but none has written about it (5). The resemblance between these two brief descriptions cannot but lead one to wonder about the tapestry, otherwise unknown, owned by Phillip the Good in 1430. What, if any, was its relationship to the Bayeux Tapestry? Given the present day belief that the latter has been in Bayeux since the 11th century, the historian instinctively concludes that the Burgundian hanging was a second one dealing with the Conquest, and in this case he/she asks who might have commissioned it, where and when it was produced, and for whom? But the assumption that the Bayeux Tapestry had been in that cathedral since the 11th century has no factual basis and a number of specialists believe that it had originally decorated the castle of a nobleman and came to Bayeux only some timebefore 1476 (6). In view of the fact that the earliest attestion of its pres ence in Bayeux cathedral is this 1476 entry (7), how can one avoid the question: could the Burgundian inventory listing refer in fact to the same one as the Bayeux inventory? Could they be one and the same tapestry? Could Bayeux cathedral somehow have acquired by 1476 the one in Burgundy in 1430?