The thirty-five dogs on the Bayeux Embroidery are the most identifiable animals in the textile after horses. Domestic familiars such as horses, mules, sheep, pigs, and oxen populate the main frieze, but exotic creatures such as lions, camels, harpies, and ostriches from bestiaries, fables, and other literary traditions regularly appear in the borders. Yet the dog, as a hunting companion in the main frieze and protagonist in Aesopian fables, figures in both. There is no mistaking the collared hounds with their leash rings hunting with Duke Harold, the loyal pet baying at king Edward’s funeral, and the multiple canine pups figuring in the two reiterations of the Aesop’s fable of the Pregnant Dog and her Puppies. Might the different scenes of dogs and their contexts hold some clues to the source materials of the Bayeux Embroidery and therefore to the associations their intended viewers were expected to make? How do these dogs augment, nuance, or add comment to the story unfolded in this vast pictorial narrative?
Scholarship on animals from the last several decades provides a stimulating point of departure for evaluating the representations of dogs on the Bayeux Embroidery. In particular the interdisciplinary book-body of work known as the Animal Turn, which examines relationships between humans and other animals under new premises, challenges us to reassess the way we think about our fellow creatures. Although the concerns of animal studies may seem far removed from the eleventh-century textile that is my focus, I will argue that the Bayeux Embroidery’s imagery reflects thinking about animals and thinking with animals that is congruous to issues of the Animal Turn. Indeed, the Bayeux Embroidery does not merely depict the traditional world of kings and warriors, as it might appear at first on this pictorial narrative of the Norman Conquest of England of 1066, but it is a realm also enlivened by priapic stallions, belittling birds, bear-baiting, and dogs chafing at their collars.