After 950 Years, the Bayeux Tapestry Is Set to Be Displayed in Britain

Posted January 17, 2018 3:15 p.m. EST

LONDON — The Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th-century treasure showing the tale of how William the Conqueror came to invade England in 1066, is set to be displayed in Britain after France agreed it could leave the country for the first time in 950 years, French officials said Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce the loan during a visit to Britain on Thursday, French officials said. But the transfer is not expected to happen before 2020, as the fragile tapestry needs work to ensure it is safe to move.

The news was nevertheless met with enthusiasm in Britain, where the tapestry has strong historical resonance.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said in a statement, “This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the U.K. It is a gesture of extraordinary generosity and proof of the deep ties that link our countries.”

Fischer did not confirm whether the Bayeux Tapestry would be displayed at the British Museum, but said the institution would be “honoured and delighted” to show it.

The tapestry has more than 50 scenes chronicling the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, one of the most important battles in English history. The Norman Conquest transformed England’s language, laws and customs. Queen Elizabeth II is the 40th monarch in a royal line that traces its origins to William the Conqueror, who led the invasion and occupation.

Little is known about the origins of the tapestry, which is about 230 feet long and nearly 20 inches tall. It is currently on permanent display at a museum in the town of Bayeux, in northern France.

The piece has been moved very few times in its history. Napoleon put it on display in Paris in 1804, when he was planning an invasion of England. It was briefly exhibited again in Paris during World War II, before being returned to Bayeux.

Britain has tried before to display the tapestry: Requests were made for the queen’s coronation in 1953 and for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1966. Both attempts were unsuccessful. (There is a replica at the Reading Museum, in southeastern England.)

Historians have long debated the origins of the tapestry. The earliest written reference to it is from 1476, in an inventory from Bayeux Cathedral, but it is not known whether it was made in England or France.

According to the Reading Museum, there is evidence to suggest that the work was commissioned by William the Conqueror’s half brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, and made in Kent, in southern England.