The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half-Brother

by Trevor Rowley, 2013

220px-Odo_bayeux_tapestryTellingly, a banquet scene on the Bayeux Tapestry makes the central figure, in a Last Supper-like arrangement, Bishop Odo. This incomparable record of the Norman invasion of England, thought to have been commissioned by Odo for the dedication of his cathedral in 1077, in no way minimizes Duke William’s achievement. However, it also gives due prominence––perhaps a bit more than was due––to Odo’s role.

Son of William’s mother Herleva and her husband Herluin of Conteville, Odo gained so much from his kinship with the Conqueror that Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers lists him as one of the richest men in history. Created Earl of Kent by King William, he owned vast holdings. It doesn’t seem to have been enough. He may have been one of those people for whom there is no “enough.”

Courageous, he took part in the Battle of Hastings. Worldly, he indulged the tastes and pleasures of the flesh. Greedy and scheming, he was eventually imprisoned by William for treachery––and, on his release, at once spun further schemes. It could not have been easy for an ambitious, talented, envious man to live as he inevitably must in the Conqueror’s shadow. There can’t be many instances of sibling rivalry to compare with it.

For its trustworthy research underpinnings and the felicity of Rowley’s writing, the review I posted on Amazon gave this book five stars.

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