The Bayeux Tapestry will be loaned to Britain after the French president agreed to let it leave his country for the first time in 950 years, the Guardian understands.
Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce that the artefact depicting the Norman conquest of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 will be moved from its current location in Normandy to the UK at an Anglo-French summit on Thursday.
Theresa May will use the decision, which has involved lengthy talks between each country’s respective culture departments, to highlight the strength in UK-French relations following Brexit.
The artwork, which is 70 metres (229ft) long and 50cm high, is thought to have been made shortly after the battle in the 11th century. Some historians argue it was made in Kent, England, a debate that is set to reignite following the announcement.
The loan is not likely to take place for five years and is reportedly subject to tests by the Bayeux Museum to ensure it can be moved without causing damage. It is not yet known where the artwork will be displayed when it arrives in the UK.
There have been previous unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a loan of the embroidery to the UK: once for the Queen’s coronation in 1953; and in 1966 for the 900-year anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
The first written record of it is in 1476 when it was recorded in the Bayeux cathedral treasury as “a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England”.
However, the embroidery has rarely been moved even within France. In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte put it on display in Paris and in 1945, it was briefly displayed in the Louvre after being seized from the Nazis.
The announcement will likely lighten the mood when May hosts Macron at Sandhurst military academy on Thursday.
The prime minister is expected to use the summit to announce that Britian will send military helicopters to join a French campaign against Islamist extremists in the region.