So, you know the Bayeux Tapestry, right? The 70-meter-long (230 feet) embroidery (not, in fact, tapestry, but let’s not quibble) tells the tale of how the Norman forces invaded Britain nearly a thousand years ago, and it has fascinated scholars ever since. So much has been written about it, in fact, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything new left to say. But somehow, George Garnett, a professor of medieval history at the University of Oxford, has done it.
“To the best of my knowledge, no-one has yet tallied the number of penises,” writes Professor Garnett for BBC History Magazine. Naturally, he has taken it upon himself to correct this historical injustice. “By my calculations, there are 93 penises in what survives of the original tapestry. Four of these are attached to men, and what may be a fifth appears on a soldier’s corpse in the margin,” he explains.
This leaves 88 penises belonging to horses, for those keeping count. And while the human genitalia confined to the edges of the tapestry, the horses’, uh, appendages are proudly displayed in the main body of the work.
Professor Garnett claims that his work sheds important light on how we should understand the famous embroidery. “It cannot be simply a coincidence that Earl Harold is first shown mounted on an exceptionally well-endowed steed,” he writes. “And the largest equine penis by far is that protruding from the horse presented by a groom to a figure who must be Duke William, just prior to the battle of Hastings.”
Which ties in with the leading theory that the tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother.
Yes, it turns out this legendary artifact may actually be a literal dick-measuring contest. Garnett’s theory is that the strength and importance of the various characters can be understood by the size of their horse’s manhood (horsehood?).
But perhaps this idea isn’t so far-fetched after all. Remember those five human penises that were painstakingly embroidered into history? Some scholars believe these have a much deeper meaning than it might seem at first glance – think “elaborate references to ancient Greek fables” rather than “raunchy bro humor in the margins”.
However, like any good historical conspiracy, this theory might just throw up more questions than it answers. Most historians think that the Tapestry was designed for a church audience – the highly educated monks and clergy of 11th-century England. But, Professor Garnett admits, his theory does make us wonder whether it could truly be, as he calls it, “appropriate viewing for monks.”