Nicola here, musing on the pleasure of discovering unexpected reads. Last week I visited Tredegar House, which is a fabulous 17th century mansion in Wales, once the home of the Morgan family. Like so many of these places, the house is magnificent and the family history riveting. There’s also a connection to Ashdown House, which made it even more interesting for me so I wandered around looking at the family portraits and admiring the rooms before heading off to the gift shop and the tearoom!
Most National Trust properties these days have a second hand bookshop and browsing through the history section I came across a non-fiction book about the Norman Conquest. It was a “retired” library book called 1066 The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry. I hadn’t studied the Norman Conquest of England since I was at college and hadn’t read much about it in the intervening time, so this looked intriguing and I’m also a total sucker for books that promise to solve a history mystery or tell me some sort of secret I didn’t know. That night I sat down to read it, not really expecting a thriller-style read, and I was totally hooked. Even though it was non-fiction it read like a page-turner, putting forward a story that challenged the traditional interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry as a piece of Norman propaganda and suggesting it had a secret hidden message showing the Anglo Saxon side of the story. It was pretty convincing and I loved it.
One episode in the book particularly caught my interest. It was talking about how the tapestry had survived from 1066 until the present day, which is pretty astonishing when you think about it. It had some fairly close escapes, most notably during the French Revolution when some of the people of Bayeux wanted to rip it up to use it to cover their carts! Soon after that, though, it became a propaganda tool again, this time for Napoleon.