The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 was an eighteen day meeting and celebration between King Henry VIII and the King of France François I.
It is an example of one of the grandest meetings between different nations. From fountains flowing with real wine, to 36 metre tents made entirely from cloth of gold, jousting and other entertainment this was an extreme example of Tudor festivities.
Did you know a whopping 66,000 litres of beer were ordered for the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520?
At 6pm on 7 June 1520, Henry VIII of England met François I of France near Calais, for an astonishingly grand European festival, designed to improve relations between the two great rival kingdoms. So magnificent was the occasion that it became known as the Field of Cloth of Gold.
To celebrate their newfound friendship — orchestrated by Henry’s right-hand man, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey — Henry and François had agreed to meet and now, in a shallow valley a little to the south of Calais in northern France, the two kings embraced warmly.
In 1520 Henry VIII and François I were both young and at the height of their powers. Henry was 28 years old whilst François was 25. They were both athletic, cultured and ruthlessly ambitious.
Each king had a begrudging admiration for the other, but they were natural rivals.
The conflict between Henry, François and their counterpart, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I — who ruled a vast area of central Europe that stretched from modern-day northern Italy to Denmark and across France and Germany to Poland — led to a volatile cocktail of power struggles that came to a head in the years leading up to the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Against the background of war, humanists such as Erasmus, Thomas More and Guillaume Budé began to argue that kings should seek peace as a route to glory.
In 1518 these efforts were finally successful. Representatives from across Europe came to London to sign a treaty of Universal Peace (sometimes referred to as the Treaty of London).
The treaty of Universal Peace was the brainchild of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief advisor. By securing the peace treaty in London, Wolsey had placed Henry at the front and centre of European politics.
Central to the treaty of Universal Peace was an agreement that Henry and François should meet to affirm their alliance and their commitment to peace. Wolsey began making the preparations for their meeting immediately, but politics elsewhere in Europe got in the way.
The momentous moment marked the start of 18 days of feasts, tournaments, masquerades and religious services set amidst a sea of specially built — and incredibly elaborate — tents, banqueting houses and ‘portable palaces’.
The English party was based at the town of Guisnes. The king entered the town on 5 June accompanied by Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII was joined by several member of the king’s suite such as Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, and Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, who carried the Sword of State.
A palace was specially erected for the occasion by six thousand men from England and Flanders sent ahead of the royal party. The palace was set on brickwork foundations, but the walls and roof were made of canvas painted to look like a solid structure. The framework was of timber specially imported from the Netherlands, the windows of real glass and the façade was adorned with sculpture. Two fountains were set up which provided wine and beer for the guests consumption. Alongside the temporary palace there was the King’s golden dining tent and the ovens and tents in which the King’s meals were prepared.
The weather in June 1520 was changeable and on several days the tournament was rained off. To entertain themselves Henry and François turned to other sports.
French wrestlers, including two priests, challenged the English to wrestling matches. Getting into the spirit, and having had a few drinks, Henry abandoned protocol, grabbed François by the collar and challenged him to a match. It was an unwise move: François had grown up in a region of France famous for its wrestlers and he easily knocked Henry to the ground.
In retaliation Henry showed off his archery skills and challenged François to shoot his own longbow, which proved too heavy for François to draw.
An estimated 12,000 people attended the Field of Cloth of Gold and all had to be catered for. Large kitchen tents and bread ovens were erected in the encampments and food supplies were sourced from far and wide.
English food and drink accounts reveal that they took nearly 200,000 litres of wine and 66,000 litres of beer. Some of this ran through the wine fountain that stood in front of Henry’s temporary palace. English food supplies included 98,000 eggs, more that 2,000 sheep, 13 swans, and 3 porpoises.
There was a special dragon (or salamander) firework, which was released on 23 June which was a large kite equipped with fireworks.
The event ended on the 24 June 1520, it was deemed a success as it brought peace for some time between the two nations.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/life/the-field-of-the-cloth-of-gold/, March 10, 2022