French president Emmanuel Macron mounted a diplomatic conquest of Britain yesterday with the announcement that the 950-year-old Bayeux Tapestry will finally be loaned to the UK.
The tapestry – which has never left France and has only twice left its home in Normandy – is expected to be displayed at the British Museum in around five years, after checks on its condition.
At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mrs May welcomed the loan and said “the maximum number of people” will be able to see the work.
Dr Levi Roach, medieval historian at the University of Exeter, said there could “scarcely be a better symbol of the close yet fraught ties that have bound the two nations together” as the UK prepares to quit the European Union.
A French government official said: “This loan is under consideration, because there will be several months of restoration work at the Museum of Bayeux.
“It will not be before 2020 because it is an extremely fragile cultural treasure which will be subject to major restoration work before being transported anywhere.”
Although the first record of the tapestry is in the Bayeux Cathedral inventory of treasures in 1476, it is believed it was stitched in England by nuns of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury.
The embroidery is stitched in nine different panels.
It is currently on display in a darkened room in the Bayeux Museum in Normandy.
The British Museum said it would be “honoured and delighted” to display the tapestry.
Its director, Hartwig Fischer, said: “This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the UK.”
However, rival bids to host the tapestry have already been made. At PMQs, Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman said that Battle Abbey would be an appropriate location, at the site where Saxon King Harold is said to have been slain by an arrow through the eye. Home Secretary Amber Rudd also suggested her Hastings and Rye constituency should be in contention.
Mrs May said: “I am sure we will be looking very carefully to ensure that the maximum number of people can take the benefit of seeing this tapestry.”
The Prime Minister will meet the French president at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy today.
The loan will be on the agenda as well as efforts to combat terrorism and promote work to map the human genome.