Great cities of the Norman World


As a former Roman city, Bayeux had been given a bishop at the end of the Roman period. In the 11th century the town emerged as the second capital of Normandy after Rouen. Its bishops, both Hugh of Ivry (c. 1011 - c. 1049) and Odo of Bayeux (1049-1097), half-brother of William the Conqueror, were related to the ducal family.

Bayeux has retained its rectangular Roman walled enclosure, 16 hectares in extent. The two centres of power were established in separate corners of this enclosure. In the south-west is the Duke's castle, where his representative the viscount permanently resided. In the mid-11th century, this was Renouf of Briquessard. He managed to retain his position despite his involvement in the plot of 1046-7 against William, and also to pass it on to his heirs. In the south-east, the cathedral was subject to a vast reconstruction programme. This was begun under Bishop Hugh, and the new Romanesque cathedral was completed under Odo and dedicated on 14 July 1077. To this day the crypt and the two eastern towers survive. All around it is the ecclesiastical district, where the 25 canons listed in 1092 lived.

The north of the city is crossed by the old Roman road linking Lisieux and the Cotentin region. This was the main trading district of the town where the cives lived, as the leisured lay classes were then called (later referred to as the ‘bourgeois’). In the 11th century, Bayeux prospered and extended beyond its walls. New "bourgs", or market settlements, developed, especially to the east, which became the main artisan district. Commerce and craft were flourishing at the time. Similarly, a number of the residents of Bayeux, clerics or lay people, engaged in money lending. This prosperity was not a lasting one. At the end of the 11th century, Bayeux was to enter into competition with the new town of Caen. In addition, the episcopal town was largely destroyed in 1105 by the troops of Henry I during the civil war which set the sons of William the Conqueror against each other. It was never able to recover its position and remained essentially an ecclesiastical town.

François Neveux
ouen - Office universitaire d'études normandes
Université de Caen

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