National Geographic : 1966 Aug
HEREHAROLD HAS SAILED THE SEA AND WITH HIS SAILS After a Hearty Meal With Warming Wine, Harold and His Saxons Set Master, your ship awaits, gestures a servant. Harold quaffs a beaker of wine and prepares to embark. The barefoot English, tunics tucked about their waists, and carrying hawk and hounds, wade through the shallows to their ship. A sailor steps the mast, another weighs art-the famed Bayeux Tapestry. Stitched shortly after William's victory at Hastings, the Tapestry hangs now in the former Bish op's Palace across from the historic Cathedral of Bayeux. On its 77 yards of embroidered linen, the drama of the Conquest, and of its immortal figures, comes alive. The history of the Tapestry excites as much interest as the events it depicts. Miraculously, it survived two 12th-century burnings of the Cathedral of Bayeux, where it was almost certainly kept, as well as the vicissitudes of the Hundred Years' War and the 16th-century Wars of Religion (see box, pages 208-9). Eyes scanning every inch of the panoramic work, we walked its length oblivious to the clamor of touring school children. Perhaps it appeared to them as an oversized cartoon strip-which, in fact, it was to the simple folk of the 11th century. We saw it as a masterwork of medieval artistry, an epic poem on linen, captivating, ingenuous, concisely edited. All through our journey in Normandy and England, its em broidered figures would flash across our minds again and again. JAY and I picked up William's trail at his birthplace, Falaise. To get there, we began by spanning the Atlantic in less time, and obviously with less peril, than he spent cross ing the English Channel in 1066. But then, he was engaged in the dangerous business of making history; we were merely writing it. There are times when you know you are enjoying life, and we knew it as we drove 210 in spring sunshine through the green fields and pink orchards of Normandy. We knew it when we drove into the sun-searched square of Falaise and William's heroic bronze figure on a spirited horse greeted us. Jay was de lighted by his sudden appearance. Around the square-the Place Guillaume le Conquerant-almost every building had been flattened or damaged by the intense bombing of 1944. In August of that year, Falaise was the northern hinge of the pincer movement in which much of the German Seventh Army was trapped between Allied forces. William's statue, thrusting a bannered lance in defiance, came through the storm of bombs unscathed. Rearing in the center of the square, it guards the approach to the ducal castle, which served as an important stronghold from the 10th to the late 16th century. Then time and artillery forced its abandonment. Now the castle is a tourist site. But tourism has done history many a good turn, and be cause people want to see the castle, some of it has been restored. Actually the oldest parts now visible seem to date from the 12th and 13th centuries-after William's time. In the castle of Falaise, however, history is borne on the wings of legend. The guide showed us the window from which the young Duke of Normandy, Robert I "the Magnifi cent," supposedly first saw the fair Herleve, also known as Arlette, the daughter of a tan ner. She was washing clothes in a stream by the castle where visitors still idle (opposite). Another version of the story relates that Robert met her while returning from the hunt.