A Needle in the Right Hand of God: The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry

By R. Howard Bloch, New York, 2006.

Unknown-1Since my comprehensive review is posted on Amazon––and since 36 out of 37 customers found it helpful––I’ll refer the reader to that and just comment briefly here. Prof. R. Howard Bloch, Sterling Professor of French and the Director of the Humanities Division at Yale University, as well as author of several books about the Middle Ages, tells us how it is possible for the French to claim the Tapestry as French and the English to claim it as Anglo-Saxon. The Tapestry itself, he says, does not strongly take sides between the conquered Anglo-Saxons and the conquering Normans. Its point of view is neither clearly the one nor the other. Its lively, vivid images show both armies fighting bravely. It leaves open the possibility that all may become King William I’s peaceful subjects.

Prof. Bloch’s mother, formally trained as a textile engineer, decorated the family home with creative needlework. His father was an expert in the manufacture of finished cloth. Thus he seems especially well qualified to explain the influences on the Tapestry of a variety of fabric sources, such as Byzantine silks, from other cultures.

The book is engagingly written––and interesting to read alongside Travor Rowley’s The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry, which I also gave five stars on Amazon and briefly review here as well. Whereas Prof. Bloch assumes that we can never know with certainty who ordered the making of the Tapestry, Rowley’s premise is that it was Bishop Odo. Seeing it in that light draws attention to the images in it that highlight none other than Odo himself: passages where, so to speak, he takes himself out of his half-brother’s shadow.

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