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Yet still he beckoned to the field,
Then pierced with wounds, stretched side by side,
The minstrel and his courser died."
We have dwelt on the details of the tapestry with a prolixity which some may deem tedious. Yet surely the subject is worthy of it; for, in the first place, it is the oldest piece of needlework in the world—the only piece of that era now existing; and this circumstance in itself suggests many interesting ideas, on which, did our space permit, we could readily dilate. Ages have rolled away; and the fair hands that wrought this work have mouldered away into dust; and the gentle and affectionate spirit that suggested this elaborate memorial has long since passed from the scene which it adorned and dignified. In no long period after the battle thus commemorated, an abbey, consecrated to praise and prayer, raised its stately walls on the very field that was ploughed with the strife and watered with the blood of fierce and evil men. The air that erst rang with the sounds of wrath, of strife, of warfare, the clangour of armour, the din of war, was now made musical with the chorus of praise, or was gently stirred by the breath of prayer or the sigh of penitence; and where contending hosts were marshalled in proud array, or the phalanx rushed impetuous to the battle, were seen the stoled monks in solemn procession, or the holy brother peacefully wending on his errand of charity.
But the grey and time-honoured walls waxed aged as they beheld generation after generation consigned to dust beneath their shelter. Time and change have done their worst. A few scattered ruins, seen dimly through the mist of years, are all that remain to point to the inquiring wanderer the site of the stupendous struggle of which the results are felt even after the expiration of eight hundred years.
These may be deemed trite reflections: still it is worthy of remark, that many of the turbulent spirits who then made earth echo with their fame would have been literally and altogether as though they never had been—for historians make little or no mention of them—were it not for the lasting monument raised to them in this tapestry by woman's industry and skill.
Matilda the Queen's character is pictured in high terms by both English and Norman historians. "So very stern was her husband, and hot, that no man durst do anything against his will. He had earls in his custody who acted against his will. Bishops he hurled from their bishoprics, and abbots from their abbacies, and thanes into prison;" yet it is recorded that even his iron temper was not proof against the good sense, the gentleness, the piety, and the affection of a wife who never offended him but once; and on this occasion there was so much to palliate and excuse her fault, proceeding as it did from a mother's yearnings towards her eldest son when he was in disgrace and sorrow, that the usually unyielding King forgave her immediately. She lived beloved, and she died lamented; and, from the time of her death, the King, says William of Malmsbury, "refrained from every gratification."
Independently of the value of this tapestry as an historical authority, and its interest as being projected, and in part executed, by a lady as excellent in character as she was noble in rank, and its high estimation as the oldest piece of needlework extant —independently of all these circumstances, it is impossible to study this memorial closely, "rude and skilless" as it at first appears, without becoming deeply interested in the task. The outline engravings of it in the "Tapisseries Anciennes Historiees" are beautifully executed, but are inferior in interest to Mr. Stothart's (published by the Society of Antiquarians), because these have the advantage of being coloured accurately from the original. In the study of these plates alone, days and weeks glided away, nor left us weary of our task.
NEEDLEWORK OF THE TIMES OF ROMANCE
"As ladies wont
Though, during bygone ages, the fingers of the fair and noble were often sedulously employed in the decoration and embellishment of the church, and of its ministers, they were by no means universally so. Marvellous indeed in quantity, as well as quality, must have been the stitchery done in those industrious days, for the " fine needle and nyse thread" were not merely visible but conspicuous in every department of life. If, happily, there were not proof to the contrary, we might be apt to imagine that the women of those days came into the world only '- to ply the distaff, broider, card, and sew." That this was not the case we, however, well know; but before we turn to those embroideries which are more especially the subject of this chapter, we will transcribe, from a recent work,* an interesting detail of the household responsibilities of the mistress of a family in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
* Historical Memoirs of Queens of England.—H. Lawrance.
"While to play on the harp and citole (a species of lute), to execute various kinds of the most costly and delicate needle-work, and in some instances to 'pourtraye,' were, in addition to more literary pursuits, the accomplishments of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the functions which the mistress of an extensive household was expected to fulfil were never lost sight of.
"Few readers are aware of the various qualifications requisite to form the ' good housewife ' during the middle ages. In the present day, when household articles of every kind are obtainable in any country town, and, with few exceptions, throughout the year, we can know little of the judgment, the forethought, and the nice calculation which were required in the mistress of a household consisting probably of three-score, or even more persons, and who, in the autumn, had to provide almost a twelvemonth's stores. There was the fire-wood, the rushes to strew the rooms, the malt, the oatmeal, the honey (at this period the substitute for sugar), the salt (only sold in large quantities), and, if in the country, the wheat and the barley for the bread—all to be provided and stored away. The greater part of the meat used for the winter's provision was killed and salted down at Martinmas; and the mistress had to provide the necessary stock for the winter and spring consumption, together with the stockfish and 'baconed herrings'for Lent. Then at the annual fair, the only opportunity was afforded for purchasing those more especial articles of house