Interpreting The Tapestry: Scene by Scene
Harold's ship leaves Bosham after he and his companions have feasted and rested. The here shows Harold and his men leaving his manor and wading into the sea to the prepared ship. Harold his carrying his dog and a hawk as does the fellow next to him. They are either gifts for the Duke of Normandy or he brings them because he is eager to hunt during the journey.
HNext we see Harold's boat sailing out with around 14 men aboard. these were obviously Harold's handpicked men, his bodyguard, the well-trained huscarles. They are obvioulsy not expecting trouble for they bear no armour or arms. It appears that there may have been another boat load of men with him, for the boat in front is very different from the boat behind, although this is pretty consistent with theTapestry's habit of changing the style and colour of the same image. However there is also a boat that carries Harold and his men to the shore at Ponthieu that appears not to have a sail so he may have brought more than one boat with him.
According to the Norman sources, as we know, Edward has sent Harold on a journey to Normandy, to meet with Edward's second cousin, William, Duke of that land. Harold's mission was allegedly to confirm that the English crown would belong to the Duke upon the King of England's death.
Eventually they reach Ponthieu, the tapestry gives no indication that they have been blown of course, however if Normandy was there destination then perhaps they have. Sailing in the 11thc relied on engaging a sail with the wind and it was not uncommon for boats to get blown off course, though Harold was an experienced sailor having commanded Edward's Royal fleet in his youth. Interestingly, the borders of the Bayeux Tapestry are said to be a guide for the main piece but there doesn't seem to be any relevance in the imagery until we see the men with swords, indicating that as Harold and his men were alighting their ship, a fight ensued with Guy of Ponthieu's men on the shore.
William de Jumièges was a contempory chronicler and man of the Duke's. He stated that Harold landed in Ponthieu and was taken prisoner by Count Guy. The Bayeux Tapestry appears to reflect this and Harold is seen being manhandled as a man on a horse gives orders.
Ponthieu is a state to the north of Normandy. It was never part of the land that was handed over to the founders of the duchy and they are at this time, very proud of the fact that they successfully resisted any attempt to make them such. Their many songs and poems pay testimony to their wars with the Pagan invaders, then the religion of the ancestors of the Christian Normans. Guy of Ponthieu, or Wido, as he is referred to on the Bayeux Tapestry, had succeeded his brother Enguerrand in 1053 as count. Enguerrand had been married to Adelaide, William of Normandy's sister but around 1050, the marriage was anulled on the grounds of consanguinity. Another alliance had been forged between William of Talou, who was half uncle to William, and Enguerrand's sister. William of Talou challenged his nephew's right to the dukedom but the younger William had the backing of his great uncle Robert, powerful Archbishop of Rouen. As he was a brother-by-marriage to the Ponthieu brothers, they backed him in his rebellion. Of course this did not endear the brothers to William in the 1050s. It is interesting to note here as an aside, that the earliest surviving account of the Battle of Hastings was written by the brothers' uncle, Bishop Guy de Amiens. In 1053, William of Talou built the Castle of Arques and holed himself up there whilst William of Normandy sent an army to lay seige to it, allowing him and the rest of his army to be able to deal with other problems elsewhere on his borders, such as the French King. His loyal brother-in-law, Enguerrand was killed coming to the aid of Talou. Henry, the French king withdrew and William of Talou surrendered Arques and was sent into exile. This is when Guy took over as comites in Ponthieu.
In 1054, Henry decides to march into Normandy to bring his errant vassal to heel. His brother leads another army that contains Guy and his younger brother Waleran who is killed and Guy captured when they are ambushed.Guy spends two years imprisoned in Normandy whilst his uncle, the Bishop of Amiens sees to the running of his county. King Henry I of France was again defeated for the last time.
In 1056, Guy is released. William has been merciful, however, Guy is now his vassal and would have sworn an oath of allegiance to his new master. So why did Guy de Ponthieu take Harold prisoner when the Englishman, probably washed off course, lands on his beachhead; especially when he knew what it was like to be held against his will.
According to a custom dating back to the 9thc, the counts of Ponthieu were able to ransom any persons, ships or property that landed upon their shore. The two men would have already met in 1056 at St Omer when they both bore witness on a charter for Eustace of Boulogne. Harold was a well travelled man who was thought to have been visiting Europe at that time on his way to meet with the nephew of King Edward, known as Edward the Exile, whom he may have been charged with bringing back to England. It is of course not known whether or not the men had discourse with one another. We can speculate that perhaps they did not like each other, or Guy did not like Harold, but most people spoke well of Harold. He was amiable, witty, intelligent, well read and could speak many languages. He may have been very charming to the women and no doubt many women would have admired these qualities. It might have had nothing to do with whether or not Guy disliked Harold; he was money as far as the greedy Count was concerned and whether or not he liked him was by the by.
By 1064 (we cannot be sure of the exact date but most historians agree it was in this year) when Harold arrived on Ponthieu's shore, Guy might well have been an embittered man by this time. He had spent two years in a Norman dungeon, was humiliated and taught a harsh lesson by the Duke; his brothers had been killed in wars with Normandy and his own county reduced to a client-state of William's. Now here comes along a nice treasure for him, the wealthy Earl of Wessex. Many may have heard that Harold Godwinson was the power behind King Edward's throne. Next to the King he was the richest man in the land.And likely much richer than Guy de Ponthieu. Harold had land holdings all over England. His wife, Eadgyth Swanneck also had lands a plenty. Guy was well known for gaining funds through seizing shipments that came to his lands. Now here was the biggest prize of all.
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Barlow F (2003) The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty (The Medieval World), Longman.
Bridgeford A (2006) 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry, Walker & Co.