7 – 24 June 1520 – The Field of Cloth of Gold

This day in history, the 7th June 1520, was the first day of the historic meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France between the English stronghold of Guînes and the French town of Ardres, on a piece of land referred to as The Field of Cloth of Gold.

Friedrich Bouterwek's "Meeting at the Field of Cloth of Gold", after Holbein

The British Library’s catalogue, “Henry VIII: Man and Monarch”1, talks of how Henry VIII and his queen, Catherine of Aragon, were accompanied by over 5,000 people and David Loades, in “Henry VIII”, writes of how although the meeting was supposed to solidify the Treaty of London between the two countries “the omens for success were not good” and that “the meeting was, in effect, an exercise in competitive display, and Wolsey spared no expense in making a show”2.

So, just how lavish a show was the Field of Cloth of Gold? Here are some details:-

  • There was “a forest of exotic pavilions”3 to house the English Court
  • There was “a wooden and canvas palace”4 to act as the King’s Chamber
  • Courtiers were dressed in “velvet, satin and cloth of gold”5
  • Rich furnishings were used for the state apartments
  • 6,000 men were employed in building the English quarters
  • There were two wine fountains flowing with red wine
  • There was plenty of entertainment – jousts, singing from the French and English choirs, banquets, wrestling and archery displays.

To get an idea of the scale of the temporary palace constructed from timber and canvas, simply look at the famous painting. If you have access to the British Library’s “Henry VIII: Man and Monarch”, you can also see various designs for tents for the Field of Cloth of Gold, which “reveal the impressive size and splendour of the temporary accommodation erected for Henry VIII’s court6“. The designs feature cloth decorated with gold, fringing of the Tudor livery colours, fleurs-de-lis designs on some of the roofs, some with candelabra and friezes bearing the Royal mottoes, others with Tudor roses and “King’s beasts”, e.g. lions, greyhounds, dragons etc., on tent poles. They are quite amazing.

Field of Cloth of Gold tent design

You can see an interesting video on The Field of Cloth of Gold at http://youtu.be/7bzulxjxXc4. Those of you who need a bit of humour added to your day may enjoy this video from Horrible Histories – http://youtu.be/J420LMmOMaE. Enjoy!

Notes and Sources

  1. Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, edited by Susan Doran, British Library
  2. Henry VIII, David Loades, p112
  3. Ibid., p113
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, p94

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5 thoughts on “7 – 24 June 1520 – The Field of Cloth of Gold”
  1. Ah, I love reading about the Field of the Cloth of Gold! So extravagant. Those silly men, Henry VIII and Francis I. They were so… what’s a good word… fabulous. 😀

  2. Thanks Claire for the video link. I found it to be very fascinating. Now I think I will check out the other youtube video links about Tudor history. It’s 8:51 am in the state of Indiana in the US and this is the best breakfast I could have……mind food!

  3. I cannot even try to imagine the logistics in planning and bringing together a spectacular event off this scale, outside of your own country too, with no quick contact available as we have today with ‘phones and computors. Wolsey might not be the most favourite person in these times, but you have to hand it to him and his team, they really pulled the ‘cat out of the bag’ on this occassion.It must have looked like a stage set for a fantasy story, and the people who attended, apart from the ovious ones, must have been completely awe struck. Utterly amazing.

  4. The biggest party in history. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was a genius because his idea was a huge treaty for Universal Peace signed in 1518 and ratified here at the meeting between Henry Viii, still a young man in his prime, not yet 30 and Francis I just a few years younger. They were both Renaissance Monarchs and there wasn’t any sign of the tyrant that Henry was to become in another decade or so and this meeting was the greatest of its day, unique and was remembered by the rest of Europe. Wolsey had in mind a mutual help treaty were none of the Kings of Europe would attack each other and the rest would protect any one who was attacked. Peace across Europe guaranteed was the idea. The peace actually didn’t last more than a couple of years before Charles and Francis were at war over Italy and Henry was attacking France in 1524. However, the idea was ahead of its time and even the meeting of two Kings on such a grand scale was something to be celebrated. 6000 people on both sides went and the next 19 days saw a round of jousting, tennis, wrestling, dancing, feasting, banqueting and just plain showing off by both sides as had rarely been seen before or since.

    If anyone wants to read more then I recommend Professor Glen Richardson’s book on the subject, the best research on the events and highly readable scholarship.

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