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Odo of Bayeux

Odo fighting in the Battle of Hastings as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry
Scene in the Bayeux Tapestry showing Odo rallying Duke William's troops during the Battle of Hastings. Latin tituli above: HIC ODO EP[ISCOPU]S BACULU[M] TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS ("Here Bishop Odo, holding a club, gives strength to the boys"). Duke William is also shown wielding a club during the battle in another scene.

Odo of Bayeux (died 1097) was Bishop of Bayeux in Normandy, and was also made Earl of Kent in England following the Norman Conquest. He was the maternal half-brother of duke, and later king, William the Conqueror, and was, for a time, William's primary administrator in the Kingdom of England, although he was eventually tried for defrauding the William's government. It is likely Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry a large tableau of the Norman Conquest, perhaps to present to his brother William. He later fell out with his brother over Odo's support for military adventures in Italy. William, on his deathbed, freed Odo. Odo died in Palermo Sicily on the way to crusade.

Early life

Odo was the son of William the Conqueror's mother Herleva and Herluin de Conteville. Count Robert of Mortain was his younger brother. There is uncertainty about his birth date. Some historians have suggested he was born around 1035. Duke William made him bishop of Bayeux in 1049. It has been suggested that his birth was as early as 1030, making him about nineteen rather than fourteen at the time.

Norman Conquest and after

Although Odo was an ordained Christian cleric, he is best known as a warrior and statesman, participating in the Council of Lillebonne. He funded ships for the Norman invasion of England and is one of the very few proven companions of William the Conqueror known to have fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry, probably commissioned by him to adorn his own cathedral, appears to labour the point that he did not actually fight, that is to say shed blood, at Hastings, but rather encouraged the troops from the rear. The Latin annotation embroidered onto the Tapestry above his image reads: HIC ODO EPS BACULU TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS ("EPS" abbreviating episcopus "bishop" and "BACULU" omitting a final mbaculum "cudgel"), in English "Here Odo the bishop holding a club strengthens the boys". It has been suggested that his clerical status forbade him from using a sword,[1] though this is doubtful: the club was a common weapon and used often by leadership[2] including by Duke William himself, as also depicted in the same part of the Tapestry. Odo was accompanied by William the carrier of his crozier and a retinue of servants and members of his household.

In 1067, Odo became Earl of Kent, and for some years he was a trusted royal minister.[3] On some occasions when William was absent (back in Normandy), he served as regent of England,[4] and at times he led the royal forces against rebellions (e.g. the Revolt of the Earls): the precise sphere of his powers is not certain. There are also other occasions when he accompanied William back to Normandy.

During this time Odo acquired vast estates in England, larger in extent than anyone except the king: he had land in twenty-three counties, primarily in the south east and in East Anglia.

Trial, imprisonment and rebellion

In 1076, at the Trial of Penenden Heath, Odo was tried in front of a large and senior assembly over the course of three days at Penenden Heath in Kent for defrauding the Crown and the Diocese of Canterbury. At the conclusion of the trial he was forced to return a number of properties and his assets were re-apportioned.[5]

In 1082, Odo was suddenly disgraced and imprisoned for having planned a military expedition to Italy. His motives are not certain.[3] Chroniclers writing a generation later said Odo desired to make himself pope during the Investiture Controversy while Pope Gregory VII was in severe difficulty in his conflict with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and the position of pope was in contention; but the contemporary evidence is ambiguous.[6] Whatever the reason, Odo spent the next five years in prison and his English estates were taken back by the king, as was his office as Earl of Kent. Odo was not deposed as Bishop of Bayeux.

On his deathbed in 1087, King William I was reluctantly persuaded by his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain, to release Odo. After the king's death, Odo returned to England. William's eldest son, Robert Curthose, had been made duke of Normandy, while Robert's brother William Rufus had received the throne of England.[7]: 433–436  The bishop supported Robert Curthose's claim to England. The Rebellion of 1088 failed and William Rufus permitted Odo to leave the kingdom. Afterwards, Odo remained in the service of Robert in Normandy.[7]: 450–452 

Odo joined the First Crusade and started in the duke's company for Palestine, but died on the way at Palermo in January or February 1097.[3] He was buried in Palermo Cathedral.[4]

Commentary on Odo

William Stearns Davis writes in Life on a Medieval Barony (1923):

Bishop Odo of Bayeux fought at Hastings (1066) before any such authorized champions of the church existed. ... That bishops shall restrain from warfare is really a pious wish not easily in this sinful world to be granted.[8]

Portrayals on screen

On screen, Odo has been portrayed by John Nettleton in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), part of the series Theatre 625, and by Denis Lill in the TV drama Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990).


  1. ^ This reason for his use of a club was proposed by David C. Douglas & George W. Greenaway, (Eds.) in: English Historical Documents 1042–1189, London, 1959, p. 238, The Bayeux Tapestry. As Duke William himself is shown further on also holding a club, the theory seems to lose force.
  2. ^ Ewart Oakeshott thinks the club has significance as a symbol of leadership in European Weapons and Armour, Ewart Oakeshott, 1980, pp. 62–63
  3. ^ a b c Davis 1911.
  4. ^ a b Bates 2004.
  5. ^ Ireland 1829, p. 653.
  6. ^ Dean 2013, pp. 9–13.
  7. ^ a b Ordericus Vitalis (1854). The ecclesiastical history of England and Normandy, Volume 2. Guizot, François, M.; Delisle, Léopold. H.G. Bohn. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  8. ^ William Stearns Davis (1990). Life on a Mediaeval Barony: A Picture of a Typical Feudal Community in the Thirteenth Century. Biblo & Tannen. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-8196-2061-3.


Further reading

Peerage of England VacantNorman conquestTitle last held byLeofwine GodwinsonAs Anglo-Saxon earl Earl of Kent 1067–1088 VacantTitle forfeitTitle next held byWilliam of Ypres
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Odo of Bayeux
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