Post-classical history

20

Wadard and Vital

On 13 February 1932 a meeting of the Society of Genealogists took place at its assembly room in Bloomsbury Square, London. Geoffrey H. White, one of the most eminent genealogists of his time, rose to his feet to read a paper on 'The Companions of the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings'.1White's paper had been eagerly anticipated. It had come to the society's attention that, following a considerable amount of research, a bronze plaque had been unveiled the previous June at Falaise Castle, the birthplace of William the Conqueror, recording the names of 315 knights who had fought by his side at the great battle. A similar, though not identical, list had been compiled in the 1860s for the church of Dives-sur-Mer. Already a note had been published in the society's journal concluding that the celebrations that had marked the unveiling of the Falaise Roll were 'socially delightful', 'admirable in their international effect', and even 'gastronomically laudable', but the list itself was 'of no value whatsoever' for serious historical purposes. If the Falaise Roll could not be trusted, many British persons, previously to be seen glowing with unusual pride at the thought that one of their ancestors had invaded the country in 1066, would be summarily deprived of this distinction. Geoffrey White, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, was now to give his learned opinion on the matter.

He approached the question with dry humour. White pointed out that an ancestor who came over with William the Conqueror was formerly regarded as an appendage that no English gentleman should be without. 'When a man rose in the world,' he continued, 'one of his first cares was to adopt an eligible ancestor. And the adoption of an ancestor was in many ways a much easier operation than the adoption of a child.' For instance, he surmised, it would be difficult to adopt a child who did not actually exist, but there was on the other hand no difficulty in adopting an imaginary ancestor. Again a child usually had relatives and their consent to the adoption had to be obtained; but a person who wished to adopt somebody else's ancestor never troubled about such formalities. 'Thus,' White went on, 'a really popular ancestor might accumulate quite a number of unconnected families as his descendants, much as a comet might develop a number of tails, or a Hollywood star a number of husbands, although I believe that the stars usually shed one husband before adopting the next.'

There were many in White's audience who were rather inclined to believe in the Falaise Roll. Disconcerted by the mocking tone with which White had begun his lecture, they listened edgily to what he had to say next. The compilers of the Falaise Roll and the list at Dives-sur-Mer had certainly undertaken a very great deal of work; but what divided them from serious researchers was the reliability of the sources used. To White and most historians, reliance could only be placed on the very earliest historical records, and unfortunately these mention only a handful of William's companions by name. White considered that the reliable sources were limited to William of Poitiers and the Bayeux Tapestry. On the basis of these two sources he came up with his own list comprising a meagre thirteen 'companions' who could be proved, in the strictest sense, to have been directly involved in the battle on the Norman side. Descent in the male line could not now be shown from any of these persons. Even our Wadard and Vital were not accorded the distinction of being proven warriors at Hastings, for the tapestry merely illustrates them in the run-up to the battle and they occur in no other historical account. Wadard is shown organising the plunder of food in the days beforehand [scene 37; plate 8] and Vital [scene 46; plate 9] is a scout shown speaking to Duke William shortly before the commencement of actual hostilities.

When White had concluded his paper, his colleague Dr T. R. Thomson rose to echo the same conclusions and even went so far as to imply that the compilers of the Falaise Roll were 'charlatans'. This now provoked an angry reaction from the floor. A Mr Townroe stood up to read out a letter from Professor Macary, the historian from Falaise who had worked extensively on the list. Macary had taken umbrage at the unfriendly attitude of the Society of Genealogists' previous note and now indicated that he was not prepared to enter into any further discussions on the matter. A Mr de Carteret gallantly rose to defend the probability that his eponym had been a 'Companion of the Conqueror'. Others made similar protests and the meeting concluded on a distinctly unfriendly note. In summing up the chairman, Lord Ferrer, likened the verbal sparring to another Battle of Hastings.

The compilers of the Falaise Roll included not only Wadard and Vital but hundreds of others as well. They used the poet Wace extensively. Wace, writing an account of the battle a century after it had happened, gives us 116 additional names, but his lateness as a source has generally meant that he has been dismissed by modern historians as unreliable. More obviously unreliable are the various redactions of the 'Battle Roll', which purports to be a record of the principal knights who fought at Hastings preserved at Battle Abbey, the monastery that William founded on the spot where Harold fell. The 'Battle Roll' is nowadays considered to have been compiled only in the fourteenth century and to be worthless as evidence. Following the stormy meeting of the Society of Genealogists the matter rested for another decade. In the 1940s the question was re-examined by Professor David Douglas.2 Using scattered charter evidence, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio and Orderic Vitalis, Douglas was able to stretch the number of persons who were proven, or at least highly probable, companions-in-arms of Duke William up to twenty-seven identifiable individuals. On the basis of the Bayeux Tapestry, Wadard and Vital were now accorded the distinction of falling into the 'highly probable' category. This White was now prepared to concede. Although they are not actually shown taking part in the battle, it does indeed seem highly probable that both Wadard and Vital were present and fought at Hastings. The artist evidently had his own reasons for limiting the named warriors in the actual battle scenes to the trio of more important men - Odo, William and Eustace.

The latest interpretation of the Carmen adds a handful of further names to the small roster of proven or highly probable companions - the French baron Robert Gilfard, Hugh, brother of Count Guy of Ponthieu, and Taillefer. Robert Gilfard and Hugh of Ponthieu are named in the Carmen (along with Count Eustace and Duke William) as those who kill Harold. Taillefer juggles with his sword at the front line of the invading army. Although dismissed as a figure of romance, the early date now attributed to the Carmensuggests that Taillefer was a real person, though like Robert and Hugh he was very probably French rather than Norman. Dr Elisabeth van Houts has reassessed the evidence of the 116 predominantly Norman names given to us by Wace and also shown that, whilst it is not infallible, Wace's list should not be dismissed as cursorily as it has been in the past.3

Wadard and Vital, then, are part of a very select group of individuals - those whose presence at Hastings is evidenced by a strictly contemporary source. But why does the tapestry single out Wadard and Vital, two lesser-ranking Norman knights, from amongst others whose names are known and myriad more whose names have been lost? It is not that they are depicted performing any great feat of bravery; on the contrary, they seem deliberately to have been given secondary roles. The names of Wadard and Vital occur in no other account of the invasion. It seems that it is not what they did but who they were that commended them to the tapestry's artist. The first clue was discovered in the nineteenth century: both Wadard and Vital were knights attached to Bishop Odo of Bayeux and they received extensive lands from him in conquered England. Their precise significance, however, has remained an abiding mystery.

At first sight, it might seem that Wadard and Vital are merely names stitched in wool, persons too insignificant for any substantial evidence of their lives to have survived. We might, therefore, choose to pass over them without much comment or a second glance. This, however, would be wrong. The evidence of the Domesday Book that both were knights of Bishop Odo has proved to be only the starting point, and other information has come to light. As research into the Bayeux Tapestry progressed, scholars looked for evidence of Wadard and Vital in their native Normandy. It was noted that prior to 1066 both appeared side by side as witnesses to a land grant to the abbey of Saint-Pierre-de-Preaux, which is situated in the Risle valley in the central part of the duchy. They also appear severally in two other documents of that abbey. It has been deduced from this that, whatever their connection with Odo, they were tenants of the abbey of Preaux. What is also noteworthy is that Odo's father, Herluin of Conteville, is associated in documents with the abbey of Preaux and it was situated near to the abbey of Grestain, which had been founded by him. This may indicate an early connection between Wadard and Vital and the family of Odo's father. Vital additionally appears to be the owner of some houses in Caen, also held from Bishop Odo.4

The undoubted connections of Wadard and Vital with Odo have been interpreted by some as providing almost conclusive proof for the view that Odo was the tapestry's patron. The precise reason, however, why it should have been appropriate to depict these particular knights of Odo, among many others, has remained obscure. The tenor of this book has been to cast doubt on the idea, which has long reigned unquestioned, that Odo was the tapestry's patron. Rather it has been argued that Count Eustace II of Boulogne may have had a much closer involvement in the making of the tapestry than has hitherto been believed and that he may, in fact, have been its patron. Yet if Eustace was the tapestry's patron, why should he, or perhaps his designer, have wanted to depict men loyal to Odo so obscure as Wadard and Vital? Could either of them have had some connection with Count Eustace II of Boulogne? Or did either of them have some special connection with the designer of the work? Clearly, we need to investigate the lives of these two obscure men more closely, so far as the available evidence allows.

Knights such as Wadard and Vital would have been trained for knighthood from an early age.5 A boy destined to become a knight was typically placed in the household of a superior lord between the ages of seven and twelve. Here he would be taught the skills of fighting, riding and hunting. Amid the forests of northern France he would practise with his companions, taking part in warlike games, wrestling, fighting with swords, galloping at targets, shooting with his bow and arrow. It was a dangerous life for a child. In the mid-eleventh century, two of the sons of a Norman lord named Giroie were both killed in separate accidents. One was thrown against a rock whilst wrestling; the other was struck by a misaimed lance while practising with his friends. As he grew older the young squire would take part in mock battles, which were beginning to take the form of tournaments. Not long before 1066, the technique of charging at the enemy on horseback, with the lance couched firmly underarm, had been developed in France; advances in saddle design had made it possible, but it was a manoeuvre that took much practice to perfect. Some knights are shown using this tactic in the Bayeux Tapestry; others use their lances in the more traditional thrown manner. The youngster might then accompany a fully-fledged knight to war, carrying his arms and armour, and taking his warhorse to battle; it would be in this capacity that he might first see action.

Finally, provided he had completed - and survived - his training the young man would be dubbed a knight by his lord. The equipment he now needed - weapons, armour and saddlery - was extremely expensive. Wadard and Vital both wear costly chain-mail armour, they carry a sword and a lance and ride the traditional Franco-Norman warhorse, the destrier. A destrier could cost up to eight times the price of a normal riding horse. The newly dubbed knight might now enter the service of the lord who had trained him, or he might venture further away in the hope of finding a new lord or with dreams of becoming a hero in battle and winning the hand of a rich and beautiful heiress. Life for the settled knight revolved around his lord's baronial hall. One account of the early life of a knight shows him attending the baronial court on a regular basis, sitting at his lord's table, giving counsel and daily practising his skill in arms.6 After the Conquest, Orderic Vitalis gives us an account of the unruly court of Earl Hugh of Chester, where the principal occupations of a veritable swarm of knights and young squires seem to have been feasting, hunting and their own welfare, though additionally the earl's chaplains were at hand to instruct them on matters of religion.7

Nothing is known of the background of either Wadard or Vital, but we may guess that it proceeded something along these lines. It may be that they had been long attached to Odo's household, or that of his father Herluin of Conteville. By 1066 they seem to have attained the status of minor Norman landholders. When the call of war came, the knight was expected to fight for his superior lord, for war was his raison d'etre. There was no call to arms more important than the one that resounded throughout Normandy during the first months of 1066. So it was that Bishop Odo of Bayeux must have called up his knights Wadard and Vital, and many others besides, to fight in Duke William's army against Harold of England. Whatever the natural trepidation a soldier might feel at the prospect of war in a foreign land, it offered the hope of loot and advancement in the world. To Wadard and Vital the cause must have seemed just and it would be fought under the protection of the papal banner.

It is impossible to know exactly what Wadard and Vital did on the battlefield of Hastings, what role they had, what feats they performed. Perhaps, however, the reason for their inclusion in the tapestry lies not in the events of 1066 but those involving Odo and Eustace a year later. It has been suggested in this book that the Bayeux Tapestry might have been commissioned by Count Eustace II of Boulogne as a gift of reconciliation to Bishop Odo following his abortive attack on Odo's castle at Dover in the autumn of 1067. If the 1067 rebellion forms the unspoken background to the explicit story told in the Bayeux Tapestry, then it will have determined how the story is presented and the choice of characters. Could it be that Odo's knights Wadard and Vital were also in some way involved in the 1067 incident? All the accounts of this incident agree that Eustace's attack was beaten back by a small number of knights who had been left in charge of Odo's castle. Could this be the answer to the riddle? Might the small number of Odo's unnamed defenders of Dover Castle against Eustace's attack have included Wadard and Vital? Wadard and Vital might easily have been among the remnant of Odo's knights defending Dover Castle after the bulk of his men had departed with him to the north of the Thames - indeed, perhaps they were the primary knights left in charge of the castle. On this scenario, Eustace would have crossed swords, perhaps literally, with one or other of them, and perhaps both. What is more, they might have been the knights who were responsible for capturing his nepos. If Eustace sought a reconciliation with Odo following his attack on Dover Castle, and the release of his nepos, it would have been entirely appropriate to acknowledge the skill and bravery of Odo's knights, Wadard and Vital, who had inflicted upon him so resounding a defeat against the odds.

There is some evidence to connect Wadard, in particular, with Dover and the defence of its castle. The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, records that he held six houses in Dover as Odo's tenant (which is more than any other sole tenant mentioned). Wadard, then, clearly had an interest in Dover. There is some further, striking evidence to link Wadard with the defence of Dover Castle. The Domesday Book does not tell us how its defence was organised. But, strangely enough, surveys which date from two centuries later can be used to show that there is an obvious correlation between the defence of Dover Castle and the lands held by certain tenants of Odo, including Wadard. What is remarkable in the thirteenth-century surveys is that we find that various landholdings similar to those held by tenants of Odo (not only in Kent but elsewhere as well) carried with them the feudal duty to supply knights to defend Dover Castle. One of the most important of these landholdings was known in the thirteenth century as the barony of Arsic; Arsic corresponds to the core of the lands held by Wadard at the time of Domesday. The coincidence is slavish and must have been administratively very cumbersome. The implication is that the thirteenth-century arrangements simply followed, and can be used as evidence for the defence of Dover Castle established by Odo. Manors which were held by Wadard from Odo at the time of the Domesday Book in counties as far apart as Surrey, Dorset, Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire are all found to owe a duty of garrisoning Dover Castle in the thirteenth century, despite their geographical distance from the fortress. The Domesday Book does not generally deal with military service, but there are two entries regarding Wadard that particularly stand out: his lands held from Odo at Combe (in Kent) and at Thames Ditton (in Surrey) are both listed as owing 'the service of one knight'. It is not specified where or for what purpose the knight was owed. But in the later records both Combe and Thames Ditton owed one knight to the Arsic ward for the defence of Dover Castle.8

This does not, of course, prove that Wadard, and still less Vital, defended Dover Castle against Eustace's attack in 1067. What we have suggested is merely an interesting speculation. There is one further point, however, that can be made. It will be recalled that both Wadard and Vital carry lances in the tapestry. The tip of Wadard's lance points rather markedly at one particular letter in his name, a letter which is strangely detached from the rest: the letter 'D'. Vital, too, points to the letter 'D' in the inscription which runs above him. Could 'D' stand for Dover ('Dovere' in Latin documents) and thus be an allusion to their joint defence of Dover Castle?

The hypothesis suggested above offers, for the first time, the prospect of a precise reason for the inclusion of Wadard and Vital in the Bayeux Tapestry and an unexpected glimpse through the fog of history at the events of that autumn morning in 1067 when Count Eustace attacked Dover. Unfortunately, however, it is a hypothesis that can be taken only so far and no further. Like so much of eleventh-century history, we quickly run up against complete silence in the sources and a general paucity of evidence. There are some further known facts about Wadard and Vital, and these provide an alternative line of enquiry.

In the Domesday Book Wadard stands out clearly as a tenant of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, from whose patronage he benefited largely. For his loyalty and obedience to Odo, he was granted land in eight different English counties. One of the largest of Wadard's holdings was at Fringford, which lies just off the modern A421 between Oxford and Buckingham. Wadard was assessed by the Domesday officials as holding ten and a half 'hides' here, which is about 1,260 acres. It is recorded that there were eighteen villagers at Fringford, twelve smallholders, four slaves and two mills. Something is known, too, about Wadard's family. In the Oxfordshire records of the Domesday Book there is mention of one Rainald Wadard, evidently one of Wadard's sons who accompanied him to England in the years after 1066. Rainald held two estates from Odo at Somerton and Fritwell, adjoining his father's estate at Fringford, and one holding each from the monastery of St Mary of Abingdon and Roger of Ivry respectively. It is also known that Wadard had two other sons who are mentioned in the cartulary of Preaux in Normandy, Martin and Simon.

In Wiltshire among Wadard's own holdings, courtesy again of Odo, was part of a larger area known as 'Swinedune', or 'Pig Hill'. Wadard's holding here was assessed at five 'hides', which is about 600 acres. There were five villagers, two smallholders with two ploughs, a mill, a meadow and some pasture land. Before the Battle of Hastings Wadard's Swine­dune estate had been in the hands of an Anglo-Saxon thane named Leofgeat. At that time it was worth £2 annually. By the time of the Domesday survey of 1086 it seems that Wadard had been able to extract £4 per year from the English folk who toiled his land. Not that Wadard would recognise Swinedune today, for his little hamlet worth £4 has since grown and merged into the populous town of Swindon.

At Farningham in Kent Wadard's possession of the manor in 1086 is remembered by the Wadard Morris Men, a troop of traditional English country dancers founded in 1977. They remember Wadard as a knight of the Bayeux Tapestry and as 'the first lord of the manor of Farningham'. In a sense, this is rather unjust to the many previous holders of the land at Farningham under Anglo-Saxon custom long before Wadard arrived in 1066. The name of the last of them, ousted by Wadard, is known, for he is mentioned in the Domesday Book: he was called Alstan. At any rate our Wadard, a battle-scarred veteran of Hastings, would be pleased to learn that his name lives on in the twenty-first century, not only in the Bayeux Tapestry, but in and around the country pubs of west Kent attached to the bells and colourful costumes of the hopping and dancing Wadard Morris Men. In total, Wadard's annual English income, as evidenced by the Domesday Book, was about £130. This sort of wealth, the spoil of conquest, made Wadard a rich man within the ranks of Norman knights. He must have been pleased with the way he had risen in the world. No longer an insignificant knight, he was a man of property who had acquired unaccustomed wealth.

So far we have only spoken of Wadard's holdings granted to him by Bishop Odo. This is natural enough for he was first and foremost, as the Lincolnshire entries tell us, 'Bishop Odo's man'. It was quite common, however, for a knight to hold lands from more than one lord. In the case of Wadard it has often been overlooked that he held additional land in Kent as a tenant of St Augustine's Abbey of Canterbury. This is of interest, of course, since the artistic evidence strongly connects the Bayeux Tapestry with St Augustine's Abbey. Wadard is recorded in the Domesday Book as holding two estates from St Augustine's. The first, assessed at some 300 acres, was at Northbourne, a few miles north of Dover; the second was a similar holding at nearby Mongeham. The Domesday Book records that Wadard needed to render no services to the abbot of St Augustine's for this land. Instead, he paid him 30 shillings (£1.50) annual rent, a sum which was considerably less than that merited by the value of the property (£9). William Thorne, a fourteenth-century chronicler of St Augustine's who had access to older material which is now lost, gives us slightly more information.9 He tells us that Abbot Scolland, the Norman abbot who headed St Augustine's Abbey between 1070 and 1087, granted to a knight called Wadard certain land in Northbourne for life, on condition that he pay every year on the feast of Pentecost the sum of 30 shillings, together with a tenth part of everything he derived from the land. On Wadard's death the estate was to revert to the domain of St Augustine's. Exactly what lay behind this arrangement is lost to history. However, in the context of our quest to uncover the secrets of the Bayeux Tapestry, Wadard's overlooked connection with St Augustine's Abbey may be just as important as his connection with Odo. It raises the question whether Vital was also connected in some way with St Augustine's. Here chance has decreed that rather more evidence has survived.

Once again, because of the fixation with Bishop Odo, Vital's connections with St Augustine's have long been overlooked. Vital's lands as a whole were neither as valuable nor as widespread as those of his companion Wadard; but in addition to holding various estates from Odo in Kent, and also from Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Vital is recorded in the Domesday Book, like Wadard, as holding a small amount of land as a vassal of St Augustine's Abbey. The land in question was at the village of Preston near Canterbury. This, as it turns out, is merely a hint of the substantial ties that existed between Vital, Canterbury and St Augustine's Abbey, ties which by chance are discoverable in other surviving documents.10

In a survey of St Augustine's Abbey, preliminary to the Domesday Book, Vital is actually referred to as 'Vitalis of Canterbury' and is said to have possessed jointly with Ranulf of Colombieres as many as forty-five houses in Canterbury, as a tenant of Bishop Odo, although for purposes of the Domesday survey only twenty-nine of these houses were acknowledged by them. Vital was also remembered as a benefactor of the church in his adopted city. For all his aggression, the typical Norman knight usually subscribed to a God-fearing piety and the weight of guilt for what he had done at Hastings may have soon begun to weigh heavily on Vital's mind. Early in William's reign, the papal legate, Bishop Erminfrid of Sion, had sought to cleanse the Church of guilt for supporting the slaughter at Hastings and had issued a series of regulations prescribing the penances that had to be undergone by those who had inflicted death or injury. Thus a knight was supposed to do a year's penance, of an unspecified nature, for each person he had slain. Where he had inflicted death and injury but was unsure of the exact number of his hapless victims, the regulations obliged him to do penance for one day per week for the rest of his life, or else to build a church. In the mayhem of Hastings, we can well imagine that Vital was unsure quite how many Englishmen he had injured or killed, with that lance and sword we see embroidered in the tapestry, for not long after 1066 we find that he established a church dedicated to St Edmund the Martyr at Ridingate in Canterbury. It is possible that this was in fulfilment of Bishop Ermin-frid's ordinance. At any rate, Vital's choice of an English saint as the patron of his church seems to reveal a surprising degree of assimilation into the world of his new homeland. St Edmund was an Anglo-Saxon king martyred by Danish Vikings in 870, Danes who were distant kinsmen of Normans such as Vital himself. There were perhaps complexities in Vital's character that are not evident from his two-dimensional image in the embroidery.

Vital died soon after the Domesday Survey of 1086. Other documents reveal that his English lands were inherited by a son named Haimo. Like his father, Haimo was remembered as a pious benefactor, for he founded the church of St Mary's Bredin in Canterbury. Vital had another son who became a monk at Rochester and a daughter named Matilda, who married one William Calvellus. At an unknown date before 1086, this William founded a small nunnery dedicated to St Sepulchre just outside the city of Canterbury. Interestingly enough, the land on which the nunnery stood belonged to St Augustine's Abbey and the nuns, though only four in number, appear as the abbey's tenants in the Domesday Book. Theirs was a landholding of only four acres, for which they paid the abbot 'two shillings and one packload of flour'.11 It is conceivable that it was here, at the nunnery founded by Vital's son-in-law, that the Bayeux Tapestry was embroidered, by and under the direction of these nuns, although there is, of course, no proof and the nunnery may have been established after the Tapestry was made.

These clues seem to bring Vital more to life; with each piece of new information, a little part of the fog of history clears. It is only by chance that by far the most intriguing information about Vital was recorded and has survived. We owe this to a monk named Goscelin. Some years before 1066 Goscelin left the Flemish monastery of Saint-Bertin in St-Omer, not far from Boulogne, and settled in England. At first he was attached to the household of Bishop Hermann of Sherborne, but after Hermann died in 1078 Goscelin decided to become an itinerant monk, journeying around the south of England from monastery to monastery, undertaking commissions to write the lives of English saints for the places he visited and winning renown as a talented musician. Finally, in the last decade of the century, he settled at Canterbury in St Augustine's Abbey where he died some time after 1107.12

Being not a Norman, but rather Flemish by origin and English by adoption, Goscelin was able to see the human tragedy of the Norman Conquest for what it was. Thus, around 1080, he wrote to a friend at Angers describing sadly how 'the sons of kings and nobles and proud ones of the land are fettered with manacles and irons . . . How many have lost their lives by the sword or disease, or have been deprived of their eyes, so that when released from prison the common light of the world is a prison for them!' Whilst he was at St Augustine's Goscelin turned his hand to writing an account of the miracles attributed to Saint Augustine himself (De Miraculis Sancti Augustini). Coincidentally he reveals in this work some further striking information about Vital. This is in connection with the rebuilding of the abbey, which had been begun in the early 1070s under the incoming Norman abbot Scolland.13

Everywhere the lordly Normans were tearing down old Anglo-Saxon churches and abbeys and rebuilding them in the grander continental style known as Romanesque. The new Norman abbott regarded the existing English buildings at St Augustine's as clumsy and inadequate. He journeyed to Rome in late 1071 and obtained Pope Alexander IPs approval for his plans to rebuild St Augustine's. On his return, these plans were put into practice. The master mason was called Blitherus. Nothing is known of Blitherus (though the name suggests that he came from continental Europe and was perhaps Flemish or Lotharingian).14 Goscelin describes Blitherus as 'the most eminent master of the craftsmen, the remarkable inaugurator of the church'. Large supplies of building material were, of course, required. The Normans favoured the malleable white limestone from the region of Caen, which is evident to this day in the White Tower at the Tower of London. Goscelin informs us that one Vital, who is surely the same man as the knight in the Bayeux Tapestry, was acting as King William's superintendent for the shipping of Caen stone to Westminster where the king's palace was being rebuilt. We also learn from Goscelin that this Vital's piety and efficiency were well known to Abbot Scolland and the monks of St Augustine's at Canterbury. What is more, at some stage, possibly later, Vital took the bold step of joining the confraternity of the abbey as a lay brother. At any rate, when Scolland needed to employ someone to arrange the shipment of Caen stone required at St Augustine's, he turned to Vital.

Goscelin records that Vital was particularly efficient in organising this task. A fleet of fifteen merchant ships had been requisitioned by him in Caen; these would have been ships not unlike the troop ships we see in the Bayeux Tapestry. Fourteen were destined for Westminster, but Vital employed the master of the fifteenth ship to carry a load of stone to Canterbury. The master agreed, and Vital handed him 'sealed letters' recording what was to be done.15

Goscelin's story of what happened next vividly illustrates the perils of cross-Channel shipping in the eleventh century, though his principal purpose was to relate what he perceived to be a miraculous event.16 It was a fair dawn when the convoy of fifteen ships set sail. Vital must have watched from the shore as the ships departed into the distance with the cargo of stone he had consigned to them. All went well until the flotilla reached about a third of the way across the Channel. Then there was a change of wind; a violent gale blew up. The ships, overladen with their heavy cargoes, were tossed this way and that; great waves broke over the bows; and soon fourteen of them foundered and sank quickly in the deep sea, with the loss of many lives. Only one was left afloat and that was the ship destined for St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury. Seeing the plight of their fellows, the desperate crew prepared to throw the stone overboard in order to save the vessel. But the master stopped them. He declared that their only hope was 'God and St Augustine', in whose service they could now claim to be sailing. It was their duty, he said, to carry the stone to Canterbury. The whole crew agreed and offered up suitable prayers. In addition, of course, they desperately bailed out; they stuffed tow into places where the seams had started; and where the gaps in the side of the ship had grown wide they packed them with cloth. It was a fearful struggle, but in the end the little ship lamely managed to reach the Sussex port of Bramber. Here, under unbearable strain, it finally broke up, splitting in half from end to end and disgorging its cargo of stone on to the sand.

To the master this appeared like a miraculous deliverance, caused by the intervention of St Augustine himself, and he was now more determined than ever to complete his mission. He managed to obtain a new ship, reloaded the stone and sailed round the coast and upriver to Canterbury. At St Augustine's Abbey he handed over the 'sealed letters', which had been given to him by Vital, and delivered the cargo. With a mixture of joy and weeping he retold to Abbot Scolland and his monks the whole story. Scolland rewarded the master not only with the amount stipulated in the letters but with a kindly bonus of some shillings as well. The master responded by giving the bonus back, requesting with tears that prayers should be offered up for his drowned mates.

At precisely what date this happened it is hard to say. The rebuilding programme was presumably commenced in earnest in 1072, after Scolland returned from Rome, and it might well have been in that year that Vital was engaged to transport the stone from Caen. If this is so, he was already a friend and colleague of Scolland, and a close associate of the abbey in the early 1070s, when it is most likely that the tapestry was made. At what stage he became a lay brother is also not known. There is, however, one curious and so far unnoticed aspect of his depiction in the tapestry that deserves comment in this context. Vital is surrounded by four crosses, two in the upper border, two in the lower border. No other figure in the tapestry is portrayed in this way. It seems plausible to suggest that the crosses were included round Vital by the St Augustine's designer in recognition of Vital's piety and good works, which were, of course, well known and acknowledged by the monks of the abbey. It is also possible that when the tapestry was made Vital was already a lay brother of the abbey and that the crosses refer to this fact as well.

There is another intriguing fact that Goscelin tells us about the rebuilding of St Augustine's Abbey. Not only was Caen stone from Normandy used. Stone was also being ferried over from the Marquise quarries in the county of Boulogne.17 The Marquise quarries lie some seven miles from Boulogne and were still worked until well into modern times. The district of Marquise was held by Arnulf of Ardres and later by his brother Gonfrid, both of whom were companions and vassals of Count Eustace II and may well have fought at Hastings under his command.18 Judging by his name, it is possible that the master mason and architect of St Augustine's, Blitherus, himself came from in or around Flanders as well. Vital was not involved in the transport of the Marquise stone. Instead, we learn from Goscelin that, during the abbacy of Scolland, the monks of St Augustine's dispatched one of their own men in order to assemble a team of quarrymen, to oversee the work and to pay them weekly wages. Unlike the Caen material, the stone from Boulogne was cut and prepared at the quarries according to whether it was to be used for plain walling, columns, capitals, bases or other mouldings in accordance with Scolland's grand design. Goscelin's opportunity for telling us this information was provided by his desire to persuade us of further tales of the miraculous. Thus, at that time, writes Goscelin, Robert the Frisian, Count of Flanders (1071-93), had invaded Boulogne and the district around the quarries was being attacked and pillaged. One of the Marquise quarrymen, Burch-ard by name, managed to escape, taking with him for safe custody a cow, which was the sole possession in the world of his widowed mother. Burchard took cover with the cow in a thick wood but here he disturbed a flock of magpies and their noisy chattering threatened to give him away. Terrified at what might happen, Burchard prayed, as he had been instructed, to St Augustine for help. The flock of magpies flew off and the soldiers who might have found him turned away, too. This incident was reported back to the monks in Canterbury and it evidently impressed them. The date cannot be established with precision. Count Eustace II of Boulogne and Robert the Frisian were involved in outright hostility during the Flemish civil war in early 1071 and it is thus possible that the incident occurred in that year. However, relations between the two counts continued to be poor so a later date is also possible. At any rate, some time during the comital reign of Eustace II of Boulogne it appears likely that stone from his county was being shipped to Canterbury for the rebuilding of St Augustine's Abbey under Abbot Scolland. The supply of Marquise stone reveals a background of good relations between Eustace and St Augustine's Abbey, where the designer of the tapestry was evidently connected, and this fits in well with Eustace's grand appearance in the work.

There is one further piece to go in this jigsaw. Though his relationship with Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1070, was notoriously bad, Bishop Odo was remembered as a friend of St Augustine's Abbey. He was, to be sure, involved in some disputes with the abbey over land rights but on the whole he figures in the records as a protector and benefactor of St Augustine's, according it several gifts and favours.19 A pattern of relationships is beginning to be perceivable and it centres not around Odo but rather around St Augustine's Abbey: the artist had some strong connection there; Wadard and Vital were both tenants of the abbey; Vital had been employed to ship stone from Caen and became a member of the confraternity; stone was also being supplied to St Augustine's from Boulogne; and Odo was a friend and benefactor.

We have suggested that Count Eustace II may have been the Tapestry's patron and that it was intended as a gift of reconciliation to Odo. If this is so, Eustace evidently employed an artist with strong connections to St Augustine's; the designer might have been a long-standing monk of the abbey who had originally been a native of Eustace's own region. Perhaps, as suggested above, Wadard and Vital were included in the work because they were the defenders of Dover Castle in 1067. If not, perhaps the designer included them simply because they were two knights associated with Odo whom he knew personally and who both had strong ties to the abbey. It may be that they assisted in some way with the work, or gave the designer details of the battle and other events from their own personal experience. None of these reasons necessarily implies that Odo was the patron. We have learned a surprising amount about Wadard and Vital, the two minor Norman knights, but their exact significance in relation to the Bayeux Tapestry remains mysterious. As so often in medieval history, the surviving evidence is teasingly incomplete.

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