Field of the Cloth of Gold: Henry VIII and Francis I
Posted on 6th February 2023
On 7 June 1520 a meeting took place in a valley between Guines and Ardres near Calais in France, between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France which culminated in eighteen days of festivals, games and parades; the extravagance of which coined its name, the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
By this time both Kings were at the height of their power and influence, and this meeting arranged by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey aimed to cement their friendship and prevent further war; it was not however the friendly alliance building conference anyone hoped for…far from it in fact, it became merely a show of wealth and self-indulgence.
No expense was spared for the event, and two great camps were built to house the royal courts. The English built a huge temporary palace made of timber and cloth, painted to look like stone, incorporating all that a real palace had including a great hall, a chapel and courtyards with fountains flowing with wine. Tents were erected to house the royal courts, each built with the opulence to outshine the other, decorated with expensive cloth threaded with gold and silk. Further from the palace, over two thousand more modest tents were erected to house the lesser guests, each camp housing around 5,000 to 6,000 people.
On 7 June, halfway between the two camps, both formidable Kings met and embraced; following this the festivities began.
There were many events including:
Mock battles with Knights in full armour
Lavish banquets and parties with acrobats, jugglers, music, singing and dancing.
Both Henry and Francis participated in the jousting competitions, but not against each other; they did however compete in an impromptu wrestling match with Francis being the victor, and archery with Henry victorious on that occasion.
There were constant festivities both day and night, all excess and frivolity only ceasing on a Sunday with peace descending on the camps for attendance at church service and quiet prayer.
On the final day 24 June, a huge mass was preceded over by Cardinal Wolsey, before both monarchs went their separate ways. An apparition is believed to have been seen, a kite combining both the salamander symbol of Francis I and the Welsh Tudor dragon of Henry VIII flying through the sky.
The Field of the Cloth of Gold had lasted for eighteen days, but was anything actually achieved by it? Each country did nothing but try to outshine the other in its opulence and extravagance, showing a surface friendship but deep-rooted hatred. The financial cost was immense to both England and France, but politically very little was achieved and just over two years later England and France would be at war again.
Tagged as: Junior Tudors
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