Maritime Art

The Bayeux Tapestry

By J. Basire, Aquatint after the Bayeux Tapestry (1822)

James Basire (1730-1802) was a British engraver and had a keen interest in the sea. Among his works were engravings of famous maritime and naval scenes, especially Tudor subjects, The Encampment of the British Forces Near Portsmouth 1545 and The Departure of Henry VIII from Calais on 25th July 1544. This image comes form a series of engravings he made based on the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry depicts William Duke of Normandy’s invasion of England in 1066. This particular scene appears in the centre of the tapestry, after the political situation has been depicted. Edward the Confessor has died and Harold Godwinson has proclaimed himself king. William, who believes that he has a claim to the throne raises an army and builds a fleet. The top half of this scene shows how the equipment for the army is brought down to the beach and the waiting boats. We can see the chainmail, spears, swords, axes, helmets, shields and horses. The lower scene then shows the army on the boats, the horses’ heads clearly visible on the starboard side of the vessels. The boats themselves are built in a traditional ‘viking’ style, the hulls clinker built with overlapping planks, the boats rigged with a single mast and woollen sails and steered with a steering oar.

The Society has published a number of notes and articles on Williams’ invasion in 1066 and Anglo-Saxon seapower. Including ‘England’s Naval Trauma 1066‘ which explores whether Harold Godwinson was the victim of the weather as much as of William the Bastard. ‘The Norman Invasion of 1066‘ is an observation on the nature of eleventh century warfare and armed forces that explains the amphibious nature of the King’s thegns, the national fyrd and the mercenary force of here. The conclusion is that the outcome of the invasion was the result of a desperate and close-fought battle, not faulty strategy. ‘The Pevensey Expedition: Brilliantly Executed Plan or Near Disaster?‘  explores the difficulties of medieval fleets when used as transport for armies and its strategic implication in the final result of battles. Based on contemporary records, the authors reproduced the possibilities of prediction of course and final landing places against winds and tides from Duke Williams expedition to Pevensey in 1066.



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