The ships

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts a collection of English and Normand ships, in the traditional Viking style.

 

The Bayeux Tapestry holds remarkable illustrations of English and Norman ships, built in the traditional Viking style. The ships were built using the clinker technique (large wooden planks overlapping like the tiles on a roof) and without a keel. The clinker technique - developed by the Scandinavians - enabled the construction of boats that were slender, fast and sea-worthy, even in the rough weather of Northern Europe. Clinker built vessels could be beached on any coast without the need for deep-water harbours.

There were several types of boats: the langskip ("longship"), a war vessel, and the knarr, a cargo ship, but the Tapestry does not distinguish them clearly. Prows and sterns were decorated with dragon heads, which owed the ships the name Drekar ("dragons"), a term used in the 19th Century for Scandinavian vessels.

These boats were equipped both with oars and sails. Oar ports are clearly illustrated in the Tapestry. The rectangular sails could measure up to 150 m2. These were operated by the pilot using a rope or a rod. Steering was achieved by the means of an oar placed on the right side of the boat.

Ships are depicted on several occasions in the Tapestry, in scenes 4 to 6 (Harold’s voyage) and scene 38 (the crossing of the Channel by the Normans), where the Mora is illustrated, a ship given to William by Matilda.

 

 

Pierre Bouet and François Neveux
International experts on the Bayeux tapestry

 

Further reading:

The Bayeux Tapestry by Pierre Bouet and François Neveux
Hardback due out in October 2013, éditions Ouest France