The Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th century treasure that tells the tale of how William the Conqueror came to invade England in 1066, will go on display in Britain for the first time in its nearly 950-year known history.
- The tapestry is not known to have left France in its near 950-year known history
- It depicts the invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy and his victory over the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings
- The loan has been agreed to in principle but the tapestry will not go on display for several years
France will lend Britain the 70-metre-long and 50-centimetre-high piece, an official at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris said, under an in-principal deal, although the transfer would not take place for several years because work needed to be done on the tapestry to ensure it was safe to move it.
"It's very symbolic for France and maybe even more for the UK," he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to visit Britain for talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday and the loan deal was greeted with enthusiasm in Britain, where the tapestry has powerful historical resonance.
"This is huge. This is an extraordinary diplomatic outreach by the president of France and a fantastic gesture of goodwill from one of our nearest and closest allies," British MP Tom Tugendhat said.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for the British people to see one of the seminal works in our national history," he told the BBC.
The tapestry, whose precise origins are obscure and which is never known to have left France, is currently on display in the town of Bayeux, in the north-western French region of Normandy.
The invasion of England by Duke William of Normandy, better known as William the Conqueror, and his victory over the Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, changed the course of English history.
The Norman conquest transformed England's language, laws, customs and architecture, and Queen Elizabeth is the 40th monarch in a royal line that traces its origin back to William the Conqueror.
'Emmanuel the conqueror'
There is no consensus on where the tapestry was made. Some researchers believe it was made in Kent, southern England, but many others have pointed to locations in France.
Ms May is likely to hail the loan as a sign of the strong friendship between Paris and London, which like Britain's relations with other European nations is under strain because of the United Kingdom's looming exit from the European Union.
The Elysee official said the loan fitted into Mr Macron's strategy for the revival of European sovereignty and democracy, detailed in a speech in Athens in September last year during which he spoke about the importance of cultural and historic ties between European nations.
"The President had insisted during his speech in Athens on a Europe of culture and the arts, and it's important to put this in practice with our British neighbours to symbolise the strength of our historical relationship," the official said.
The Times newspaper's cartoonist Peter Brookes linked Bayeux and Brexit in his offering in Wednesday's edition, which was drawn in the style of the tapestry.
It depicted Mr Macron as "Emmanuel the Conqueror" riding forth with a confident smile as May, brandishing a Brexit banner, received an arrow in the eye — the fate that befell King Harold according to the tapestry.
Britain's Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was depicted slumped forward on a horse with two arrows in his bottom.