In a move to strengthen cultural relations, France has agreed to loan the UK the Bayeux Tapestry, marking the first time the artefact will be taken out of the country.
The tapestry is 70 metres long and depicts the events prior to the Norman invasion and conquest, ending in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Norman conquest is one the most significant events in the UK’s history, bringing profound political and social change to the country and forever linking the UK with continental Europe rather than Scandinavia as was the case previously.
The loan will be the first time the tapestry has left France in 950 years and French president Emmanuel Macron is expected to formally announce the decision tomorrow, 18 January. However, the president of Normandy’s Bayeux Museum, confirmed that preparations were already underway.
There are no details about where the item might go on display as first the loan will depend on a series of tests due to be carried out on the embroidery to determine whether or not it can safely be transported across the English Channel. The artefact itself is fragile and, if given the go ahead, it would require a good deal of logistical work to protect it from environmental hazards while in transport.
The origins of the Bayeux Tapestry are not entirely clear but most scholars believe it was probably commissioned by the House of Normandy, most likely by William the Conqueror’s half-brother Odo, a local bishop. However, there are some historians who argue it was created in Kent, meaning that any future loan would actually be ‘returning’ the item to the UK.
The announcement comes after months of talks between Britain and France and signal continued cultural cooperation in the face of an impending Brexit. In the meantime, you can view a Victorian-era replica of the tapestry at Reading Museum.