Gilbert of Bayeux’s manuscript was discovered in 2021 wound in some scraps of early rent rolls in a chest in the attic of a private house in Ropley in Hampshire. The manuscript contains sixty-seven sheets of calf skin of varying sizes all but three covered in Gilbert’s meticulous handwriting. The text was written in Latin, Norman French and, towards the end, in Anglo-Saxon.
Gilbert’s story is remarkable. It begins about 1050 with his early life in Bayeux as an orphan kitchen servant of Odo, bishop of that city. Gilbert’s organisational and language skills saw him lead the distribution of the loot delivered to Normandy after the invasion of 1066. He was called to England in the next year to form part of the new Norman administration in Winchester. His first task was to speed the transfer of English land to the control of the new masters. Almost always an outsider, he nevertheless witnessed or took part in many of the great local events of the Norman era including, for instance, the making of the Bayeux Tapestry and the production of the Domesday Book. Gilbert met most of the new aristocracy as his own views were increasingly tested. During this time, he also found the great love of his life, Ailgifu, a Saxon mead seller of Medstead and a women of decidedly independent and English opinions.
His trenchant and sometimes controversial opinions are his own and are, therefore, potentially flawed. However, these were his times.