Aelfgyva, the Mystery Woman of the
Part Three Bayeux
Starting with a summary of the first two parts of this piece of work, we will look at what we have so far. It would seem that there are several Aelfgifus or Aelfgyvas which was a popular noble name for women in the 11thc. We have the story of Aelfgifu of Northampton who it was said was involved in some mystery around the paternity and even the maternity of her sons by Cnut, Harold Harefoot and Swein. Then we have the tale of Emma/Aeflgifu, Edward the Confessor’s mother who supposedly committed adultery with the Bishop of Winchester. Were there any other contenders for this woman’s identity? There maybe one other. Some historian’s have, in an effort to solve the riddle, gone for a simpler, but unlikely option; that Harold had a sister called Aelfgyva who he had promised to one of the duke of Normandy’s barons in return for his own alliance with the duke’s daughter. The lurid depiction of this woman called Aelfgyva and the cleric is explained as a scandal of some sort that would have been common knowledge at the time. There are other stories that run along similar lines but these also prove very dissatisfying.
Here now I think would be a good time to objectively examine the scene and the ones preceding it. ..... If we go back two scenes, we are looking at four horsemen riding toward a tower-like building with a man in the lookout pointing at the men as they approach. The words in Latin along the top of the tapestry read, Here comes Duke William with Earl Harold to his palace. The next scene has no written explanation but simply shows an image of Duke William sitting on his throne in his Great Hall, a man standing behind him whose fore-finger is pointing toward the figure of Harold who stands before the duke. Harold’s right hand gesticulates, open palmed as if he is explaining something. His left hand points behind him and appears to be almost touching the hand of a bearded guard that is standing a little way from the rest of his companions. It is as if he represents someone important to the story of the tapestry. Curiously, this guard has not dressed his hair in the Norman fashion of shaving the back of his head to the crown, as do the other men in the image, Harold being the other exception. He also has a beard, which the others do not, having shaved their faces. The artist seems to have gone to great lengths to distinguish this man from the others.
Finally, the part where the mysterious Alfgyva stands in a doorway, presumably to convey a scene in a house, with a priest or other type of cleric, reaching out to her, his hand touching her face and his other hand firmly on his waist. He looks as if he has taken a step toward her. He could be touching her face endearingly, or he could be slapping her face. It is definitely open to conjecture, however, it does not appear to be the former, though slapping her, also may not have been the intention of the artist. We will never know. Additionally, the scene in the border below show some very strange figures, a naked man with a large appendix and another naked, faceless man with a hatchet and a work bench. The meaning of these images are obviously very lewd but what connection it has to the mystery scene is another thing we may never know.
According to the Canterbury monk Eadmer, in his account ( Historia Novorium in Anglia c 1095)of Harold’s strange visit to Normandy has the earl embarking on a mission to free his brother Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon from the duke of Normandy’s clutches. A very different account to that given by the Norman propaganda machine, which has Harold travelling gaily overseas to meet with the duke, offering him his loyalty and promising to use his powers of persuasion with the Witan.
The young Godwin boys, were allegedly whisked away as hostages for the purpose of Edward’s promise of the crown to William upon his death. The story is not that hard to piece together and it is seems likely that in 1051 when Godwin and his family were at odds against the king, he was forced to hand over his son and grandson as hostages to Edward. The Godwins then went into exile, leaving his boys most probably in the care of his daughter, Queen Edith until perhaps when she was banished herself. Robert Champart, Godwin’s enemy, is documented in the chronicles as having to flee Godwin’s wrath and historians have surmised that he took the Godwin hostages with him to the court of William and presented them to him as Edward’s surety for the crown upon his death. There are a number of reasons why he may have done this, but for now, I shall not discuss them; I shall leave that for another post.
In 1064, Wulfnoth would most likely have been a man in his late twenties and Hakon a teenager. The former was Godwin’s youngest son and Hakon was thought to have been the son of Godwin’s eldest wayward son Swegn. How they would have fared all those years in Normandy away from their country of birth and family, one might wonder. There are no records of their progress during their stay, however one can perhaps surmise that by the time Harold appears on the scene, they have got used to being a hostage, well treated in respect of their nobility and having found positions amongst the duke’s household.
Eadmer’s version of Harold’s trip to Normandy has a very different slant as we see, with the main purpose of releasing Harold’s kin from the duke’s custody. We are told that Harold arrived with gifts for William, gifts that it was said were for the duke from Edward and Harold to confirm his promise of the ascendancy. Or were they gifts of a different nature? Bribes perhaps for the release of Hakon and Wulfnoth?
Whilst we ponder on these aspects of the story, I shall be writing up the next instalment! I had intended to make this a three parter, but the more I delve into the embroidery, the longer the threads become.
Saxon artefact from ship burial