Review: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry

odo-bookBook: The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley (192 pages)

Published: 2013

Genre: Historical Non-Fiction

Period: The Normans

Rating: 9/10

The Man Behind the Bayeux Tapestry: Odo, William the Conqueror’s Half Brother by Trevor Rowley covers the life and times of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother (as the title suggests).  Odo became the youngest Bishop of Bayeux, was England’s first Chief of Justice and acted as the King’s Regent whilst William the Conqueror was away in Normandy.  Currently, it is thought that Odo commissioned the epic Bayeux Tapestry in 1070.  However, it wasn’t a walk in the park for Odo.  He was imprisoned in 1082 for planning a military expedition to Italy.  Odo was released but got himself into trouble again in 1088 when he supported William’s eldest son, Robert’s, claim to the throne instead of William II, William’s second eldest son.  After the failure of the 1088 rebellion, Odo was banished from England and moved back to Normandy.  Odo died in 1097, whilst travelling to Jerusalem to participate in the first crusade.

The book is a fantastic introduction to the Norman period and does not require any previous knowledge to understand the book.  Rowley explains concepts clearly and does not skimp information.  Despite the fact the book is mostly a biography for Odo, Rowley explains the origins of the Normans, the course of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, the Bayeux Tapestry and even the First Crusade.  It is also good for those who have some knowledge as it offers new facts and concepts to consider.  By focusing on Odo, this gives a different insight to Norman nobility and churchmen.  There is simply something for everyone provided in this book.

It was fascinating learning about Odo.  He is a very grey character, especially because there is very little textual evidence about Odo, so we are very reliant upon historical perspective which can lead to major bias.  Rowley treats the subject well and removes as much bias as possible by presenting both views and leaving the reader to come to their own judgement. I found that quite refreshing, sometimes authors have a tendency to aggressively push their interpretation often ignoring other viewpoints.  It was also interesting reading about such a powerful Norman who wasn’t a king.  Admittedly, I did not know much about Odo prior to reading the book so I found it fascinating.

At 192 pages long, it’s a short and easy to read history book.  It is easy to dip in and out of but it could also be read in one sitting as well, taking roughly a few hours to read.  I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know more about the Norman period.

Beth