An Epic Drinking Tale From France

Published 1 April 2022

By Robert of Ferness

Although many archaeological projects have been on hold for two years now, a pre-construction cultural resources assessment in a small town in France was able to proceed during the summer of 2021. Thanks to a former graduate-school classmate on the dig, who sent me a few photos of artifacts they uncovered from what may have once been a medieval inn, I have had an opportunity to preview an interesting find. After some study and thought, I have been able to use it as a basis for a modern reconstruction of what it surely was once but a small part.

Fig. 1: The artifact in situ.

Fig. 2: Matching section of the original Bayeux Tapestry (not to scale).

However, as my friend pointed out, this small graphic is obviously copied from the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry.

It does seem rather unusual to reproduce just a tiny portion of such a large work in a different medium, as this artisan has done, so I would posit that this one piece is all that survives of a once much larger set. Further, I suggest that the work as a whole told a story, like the Tapestry does, but probably a different one, a version much closer to its context, and more appreciated by those who would see it up close.

Without further ado, then, is my reconstruction and highlights of portions of its tale. Of course future discoveries may well prove me wrong in my interpretations, but one has to start somewhere. The fact that this item was found on the site of a probable inn strongly supports the idea behind my conjectured result.

The basic story portrayed here seems to be one that would be familiar to many: it’s an epic pub crawl. However, there are some notable differences, such as asides covering the preparation, brewing, and transport of the beer that will be consumed. The main characters do seem to be enjoying themselves for the most part, with entertainment along the way, and a good meal, but what would a pub crawl be without a bit of rough play before the evening ends?

In homage to the Bayeux Tapestry from which this smaller version comes, I have named this reconstruction the Bièresyeux Capestry. (For those not familiar with French pronunciation, try saying “beers-yo” and you’ll be very close.) At some point my reconstruction will be used for its ultimate purpose: capping 261 bottles of homebrew.

Fig. 3: Fully reconstructed capestry; dimensions are 29 feet long by 1 inch wide (8.84m by 2.54cm); compare to the Tapestry, which is 230 feet long by 1 ½ feet wide (70m by 45.72cm). Banana for scale (click for much larger image).

Highlights from the Bièresyeux Capestry

Panel 1: heading out for a night on the town.

Panel 11: having the first pint then continuing on the pub crawl.

Panel 30: our pub crawlers stop to admire a byrfalcon.

Panel 39: this inn is closed - totally lame!

Panel 44: but the next one is extra fancy, having both rooftop and outdoor seating options.

Panel 56: garderobes, porta-castles - call them what you will - they still serve to make room for more drink.

Panel 67: the pub crawl continues as our heroes hoist large umbrellas against the inevitable passing rainshower, as the horse of one unfortunate passer-by slips in the everpresent mud.

Panel 80: this appears to be the next pub, one that offers its patrons both indoor and outdoor activities.

Panel 89: one of the indoor activities, perhaps some kind of beer pong game.

Panel 99: thanking the pub owner for a most excellent time!

Panel 101: the Latin caption here says Hic Portatur (Here is Porter). This proves porter is a period style of beer, an excellent choice during a pub crawl.

Panel 103: taking one of the games along to the next pub; darts sure are more portable!

Panel 112: crowded pubs make for happy times (true then, true now).

At this point in the story, our author appears to digress for the first time into the making and transport of beer, perhaps as filler to increase suspense while our heroes find their next drinking establishment.

Panel 124: harvesting hops.

Panel 127: several intrusive, non-narrative panels are inserted here that seem to advertise a ship-making company; ads then, ads now.

Panel 135: transporting the beer.

Panel 143: it seems that ads really do work; here our pub crawlers take one of the ships advertised earlier.

Note: the next panel appears to be out of place as one would expect it to appear between the hops harvesting and the transport scene above; perhaps a mistake was made when assembling the panels by the original artisans.

Panel 165: heating the hops tisane for adding to the wort, on the right, which is being kept warm on a separate fire.

Panel 169: we return to the main narrative and find our heroes having a good meal, which is a must if one intends to drink all night.

Panel 179: our main characters appear to be getting out of hand as they set fire to a pub that apparently refused to serve them or threw them out after last call.

Panel 186: in response, the local constabulary turns out in force.

Panel 191: the chief constable arrives and the action really picks up.

Panel 212: officers assist from another district: we have quite the brawl going!

Panel 218: our main characters seem to be in a world of hurt.

Panel 234: however, the constables suffer as well.

Panel 248: our heroes jeer at the coppers - oh this will be a night to remember!

Panel 253: remember, we’re not having fun until someone loses an eye!

Panel 261: headed home in the wee hours of the morning for what no doubt will be a matching epic hangover!