Bridgeford, Andrew. 1066: The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry. London: Harper Perennial, 2004. Print.
Genre: nonfiction; Medieval history
Summary: Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, a 70-meter embroidered tapestry was commissioned to record the event. At a glance, the tapestry seems to celebrate William the Conqueror’s victory; however, Bridgeford takes a much closer look and posits that the cloth tells two stories. One faithfully records how William sailed from France and gutted English defenses. The second story is hidden in subtext and tells a much more subversive version of the battle that would forever alter the cultural landscapes of England, Europe, and the rest of the world.
Critique: Unless you’re a big Medieval history geek, or a huge fan of Kevin Kostner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), odds are you have never heard of or seen the Bayeux Tapestry (commonly pronounced bi-yooz). Think of this tapestry as a precursor to the graphic novel. Across its 230-ish feet of fabric are skillfully embroidered vignettes depicting scenes that establish the main characters, the lead-up to and ultimate fighting of the battle in 1066, and its initial outcomes. Fanciful borders scroll across the top and bottom. Most of the vignettes also include Latin captions that explain who is present or what is taking place.
And in Bridgeford’s excellent storytelling hands, never has a strip of fabric outside of a Victoria’s Secret catalog provoked so much intrigue, mystery, and titillation! Bridgeford zooms in on the tapestry, paying particular attention to the stories, hints, and clues transpiring along the top and bottom borders. He goes totally CSI on the thread dyes and wool sources in an attempt to root out who really commissioned the tapestry. He turns Sherlock on the more random and puzzling panels featuring Aelfgyva — majestic noblewoman or seductress and femme fatale?) and Turold — dwarfish servant or undercover author of the tapestry itself?
And the biggest intrigue Bridgeford wrestles with is the tapestry’s true purpose. Was it really made to celebrate William’s victory, one that transformed England from a Scandinavian backwater into a future world power? Or does the tapestry actually reveal William’s ruthless, greedy, and back-stabbing schemes throughout a bloody power-grab that would make House of Cards Frank Underwood cringe?
Buckle your seat belts, readers. Every chapter is packed with conflict, corruption, pillaging, invasions, ominous comets, mistresses, and more!