The Battle of Hastings took place on October 14, 1066 (anniversary tomorrow). It was a battle for the throne of England between the forces of Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson and Duke William II of Normandy. Spoiler: the Normans win, though this should be obvious to even the least historically inclined, as the duke is commonly referred to as "William the Conqueror."
The Bayeux Tapestry is a work done in needlepoint which depicts the battle and all the events leading up to it. It is 70 meters (230 ft) long and 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) wide. As someone who has occasionally dabbled in cross stitch and crewel embroidery, and knows how long it takes to finish even a small project, all I can say is... wow. Seriously, wow. And there is a piece missing off the end of it, so it was originally even longer. Here's a couple pictures of it as it's displayed now; though you can see only a piece of the tapestry, they give you some idea of it's size:
Although I've called this an English tapestry, it actually resides in France- in Bayeux Cathedral, Normandy. The origins of the tapestry have been often debated, with one persistent legend being that William the Conqueror's wife Matilda and her ladies-in-waiting stitched it. This, however, is highly unlikely. Most scholars agree that the Bayeux Tapestry was in all probability commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half-brother who, after the Conquest, was made Earl of Kent. There are many reasons for this assumption, one being that several of the Bishop's colleagues appear in the tapestry. Also, the tapestry has always been at Bayeux Cathedral, which Bishop Odo built. It is assumed that it was designed and stitched in Kent- which is why I called it English- because that was where Odo was living at the time. Also, the vegetable dyes used on the threads are of the type used in England at that time. As well, the Latin phrasing on the tapestry is distinctly Anglo-Saxon in style (or so I'm told). Last but not least, during this time period, Anglo-Saxon needlework was deemed to be the finest available, well-known throughout Europe for it's skill and beauty. It's assumed that Bishop Odo commissioned the work early in the 1070's, so that it would be ready in time for Bayeux Cathedral's dedication in 1077.
Whoever the unknown stitchers were, they did wonderful work, bless their strained eyes and sore fingers. Look at the fine stitching and incredible detail, and reflect that this work was produced well over 900 years ago. It's really quite amazing. Also, it's a real blessing that the Tapestry is still in existence after all this time, especially since in the 12th century, the Bayeux Cathedral was partially destroyed and had to be rebuilt. It also survived the sacking of Bayeux in the 1562 by the Huguenots, and the French Revolution, when revolutionary twits confiscated the artwork as "public property" and used it as a cover for military wagons. The Nazis also took possession of the Tapestry during their occupation of France and schemed to take it to Berlin, but didn't get it out of the country before France was retaken by the Allies.
The Battle of Hastings is stitched in great detail, and includes the scene of poor old King Harold's death - purportedly from an arrow in the eye.
In case anyone missed what was going on in the scene, the words "Harold Rex Interfectus Est" or "Harold the King is Killed" appear over the stitched picture. Interestingly, in 1066- the year depicted- Halley's Comet became visible in the sky, and is depicted on the tapestry:
The Normans thought that the comet's appearance was a good omen for William's conquest while the Anglo-Saxons, who lost, decided that it had portended evil to their cause. As Eilmer of Malmesbury, who had apparently been alive for its previous appearance as well as this one, wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: "You have come, have you?... You've come, you source of tears to many mothers, you evil. I hate you! It is long since I saw you; but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country. I hate you!"
So if, like me, you have an interest in British history, the Bayeux Tapestry provides a fascinating glimpse- albeit a biased one - of the events leading up to, and including, the Norman Conquest. The Tapestry is also worth a look if you want to see what fine workmanship the people of that time period were capable of producing. And if you're a fan of cartoons or graphic novels, you might regard the Tapestry as the early English equivalent.