On Monday the book I picked up from some oversize shelves was more along my beaten path: the elaborate coffee table edition of the Bayeux Tapestry by David M. Wilson (New York: Knopf, 1985). This book has very large color photographs of every inch of the tapestry, which is many inches (it is sixty eight meters long). As you undoubtedly know the tapestry, which is named for the Norman town in which it has been preserved, is a huge eleventh-century embroidery that delineates in image and in word the background and history of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the triumph of the Norman Duke William, the death of the English King Harold. I perhaps should say it provides a version of these events as determined by a Norman propagandist. History is written by the victors, and in this instance the victors have needled the vanquished in a particularly brilliant way.
But the great weavers of the late Middle Ages, I take some pride in reporting, were the Flemings. Most people’s favorite character in Chaucer is probably the Wife of Bath, than whom a more textual lady would be hard to find, as she is made up, quilt-like, of brilliantly recycled and recombined squares from the Bible, Ovid, and Jean de Meun. One of the first things we learn about her is her textile prowess: