I am perhaps absurdly pleased by the fact that there is a link between the Bayeux Tapestry and my home town of Swindon in Wiltshire, England. The knight Wadard appears in the tapestry in a scene where he appears to be leading a Norman raiding party who are plundering the countryside for food. His appearance in the tapestry is a mystery. Unlike Duke William, Bishop Odo, King Edward, and Harold Godwinson, he is not a central character, nor does he have a significant role in the events the tapestry unfolds. From the evidence of Norman charters he appears to have been a tenant of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre-de-Préaux. The lands that can be attributed to him in Domesday Book indicate he was a vassal of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William, Duke of Normandy and King of England.
These lands included holdings at Swindune in the hundred of Blagrove, which contained five hides of land, five villagers, two smallholders, four slaves, one lord’s plough team and two men’s plough teams, thirty acres of meadow, thirty acres of pasture, and a mill. From these Wadard drew an annual revenue of £4, an increase over the £2 earned by the previous tenant in 1066, one Leofgeat. The meaning of the name, Swindune, ‘Pig-hill’ suggests one of the uses the land may have been put to.
Wadard’s total holdings in England came to a value of £130, with lands spread around the counties of Dorset, Essex, Kent, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, and Wiltshire. Clearly he benefited well from his participation in the Conquest and from his association with Odo. Sadly we will never know the precise nature of this relationship or why Wadard appears in the Bayeux Tapestry. We might speculate from his involvement in sourcing food from the countryside that he was a seneschal in Odo’s household. Perhaps, if it is correct that the tapestry was made in Kent at Odo’s bequest, Wadard appears because he was the lord of the seamsters and seamstresses who carried out the work. Perhaps it was Wadard to whom Odo turned to fulfil the commission.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a small feather in Swindon’s cap to be associated, albeit indirectly, with one of the most significant events in English history and one of the great surviving works of eleventh century art.
by Mike Dash
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