Scope of Project
This project identifies individuals in attendance at the meeting that took place from 7 June to 24 June 1520, between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France.
The Field of Cloth of Gold, also known as the Field of Golden Cloth (French: Le Camp du Drap d'Or) is the name given to a place in Balinghem, between Guînes and Ardres, in France, near Calais. It was the site of a meeting that took place from 7 June to 24 June 1520, between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France. The meeting was arranged to increase the bond of friendship between the two kings following the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. The form "Field of Cloth of Gold" has been in general use in the English language since at least the 18th century.
Two entities had started to emerge as powers in Western Europe at this time: France, under Francis I, and the Habsburg Empire, under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The Kingdom of England, still a lesser power, was being courted as an ally by the two major powers. The 1518 Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact between major European powers to help resist the Ottoman expansion into southeastern Europe, had just been signed. Henry also held meetings with Charles V a month before the Field of Cloth of Gold in the Netherlands and again afterwards at Calais, Henry's only possession in the Continent. Both Henry and Francis wished to be seen as Renaissance princes. Renaissance thinking held that a strong prince could choose peace from a place of strength. The meeting was designed to show how magnificent each court was and how this could be a basis for mutual respect and peace between nations who were traditional enemies. Henry and Francis were also similar figures of similar age and dashing reputations, so there was almost certainly a mutual curiosity. Everything was arranged to provide equality between the two sides. The meeting place was at the very edge of the English territory around Calais. The valley where the first meeting took place was landscaped to provide areas of equal elevation for the two national parties. The whole event was planned and executed by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a charismatic, eloquent master diplomat who as a papal legate had immense power in the name of the pope (Leo X at the time of the meeting). Included among the English guests were Thomas More, and Anne Boleyn's mother and sister.
Each king tried to outshine the other, with dazzling tents and clothes, huge feasts, music, jousting, and games. The tents and the costumes displayed so much cloth of gold, an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, that the site of the meeting was named after it. The most elaborate arrangements were made for the accommodation of the two monarchs and their large retinues; and on Henry's part especially no efforts were spared to make a great impression in Europe with this meeting. Before the castle of Guines, a temporary palace covering an area of nearly 12,000 square yards (10,000 m2), was erected for the reception of the English king. The palace was in four blocks with a central courtyard; each side was 328 feet (100 m) long. The only solid part was the brick base about 8 feet (2 m) high. Above the brickwork, the 30-foot (10 meter) high walls were made of cloth or canvas on timber frames, painted to look like stone or brick. The slanting roof was made of oiled cloth painted to give the colour of lead and the illusion of slates. Contemporaries commented especially on the huge expanse of glass, which made visitors feel they were in the open air. Chronicle descriptions make it clear the decorations, carved and painted had martial iconography;
"The foregate of the same palace or place with great and mighty masonry by sight was arched, with a Tower on every side of the same portered by great craft, and inbatteled was the gate and Tower, and in the fenesters, and windows, were images resembling men of warre redie to cast great stones: also the same gate or Tower was set with compassed images of auncient Princes, as Hercules, Alexander and other, by entrayled worke, richly limned with gold and Albyn colours, .... also the tower of the Gate as seemed was built by great masonry, ... for the sundrie countenances of every Image that their appeared, some shooting, some casting, some ready to strike, and firing of gonnes, which shewed very honorably."
The building was decorated in the most sumptuous fashion and furnished with a profusion of golden ornaments. Red wine flowed from the two fountains outside. The chapel was served by 35 priests. Composer Jean Mouton was most likely in charge of the musical production by Francis I; the French royal chapel had one of the finest choirs in Europe, and contemporary accounts indicated that they "delighted their hearers." The wooden ceiling for one of the tents may later have been installed in the New Chapel at Ightham Mote where, with its colours faded, one with appropriate features can still be seen. Musical production on the English side was probably led by composer William Cornysh the Younger, master of the Royal Chapel for Henry VIII. Some idea of the size of Henry's following may be gathered from the fact that in one month 2200 sheep and other viands in a similar proportion were consumed, along with roughly 1350 Crumpets and 70 jars of strawberry jam. In the fields beyond the castle, 2800 tents were erected for less distinguished visitors. Journeying from Calais, Henry reached his headquarters at Guînes on 4 June 1520, and Francis took up his residence at Ardres. After Cardinal Wolsey, with a splendid train, had visited the French king, the two monarchs met at the Val d'Or, a spot midway between the two places, on 7 June. The following days were taken up with tournaments, in which both kings took part. There were banquets in which the kings entertained each other's queens. The many other entertainments included archery displays and wrestling between Breton and English wrestlers. Wolsey said Mass and the two sovereigns separated on 24 June, Corpus Christi. The painting depicts a dragon flying overhead and this could be interpreted to mean that the Mass itself was interrupted by a mysterious event in which a flying dragon or salamander flew over the congregation. The superstitious would have viewed this as a great portent, but it was probably a firework accidentally or deliberately set off. Alternatively the dragon in the painting could be interpreted as symbolic. The sermon was read by Richard Pace, an intimate friend of Erasmus. Wolsey gave a general indulgence for the forgiveness of the sins of all present.
This meeting made a great impression on contemporaries, but its political results were very small. By one French account it apparently turned sour for Henry when he lost a wrestling match with Francis. Relations between the two countries worsened soon after the event when Cardinal Wolsey arranged an alliance with Charles V, who declared war on France later that year commencing the Italian War of 1521–1526.