Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Field of the Cloth of Gold

At the year of 1520 France was becoming a major power in Europe while England was still a minor player. The two leaders Francis I and Henry VIII were two young men of similar age and they both had the same wish: to out-shine the other. To make sure that none of the parties would be offended, everything was divided equally. Even the location was chosen with care: the meeting were to take place exactly at the edge of the English territory of Calais.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold as imagined by an artist in the
18th century.
Everything was arranged by Cardinal Wolsey. The idea was that the scenery of the meeting was to be a "camp" of tents of which each King was responsible for decorating and supplying. And the race for the best and most elaborate decoration was on. There was used so much Cloth of Gold (a very expensive fabric) in the construction of the tents and the costumes of hired actors and other entertainers that the meeting would be known as "the Field of the Cloth of Gold". Each part spared no means in showing what splendour their court was capable of presenting. Henry VIII brought with him a rather odd gift from the Ottoman sultan: two monkeys covered in gold leaf - these exotic animals was a source of great entertainment.

An entire palace (quickly erected and made of wood) of no less than 10.000 square metres (12.000 square yards) was build for the reception of the English King. But the palace was one big illusion - the only real solid thing was the brick base; the walls were cloth or tapestries hanging from wooden bars and were painted to look like bricks. And then there was the glass. Windows were expensive but the palace had been constructed with the usage of glass to give the visitors the impression that they were always outside.

The extravagance was endless: red wine flowed freely from two fountains and no less than 35 priests were employed at the chapel. Francis had called together the choir of the royal chapel which was famous for being one of the very best.

When two monarchs met, it required a lot of space and food to accommodate the huge entourages of the Kings. In just one month of the Field of the Cloth of Gold 2200 sheep were slaughtered for the two courts to eat. Guests of minor importance were housed in 2800 tents that had been erected at fields nearby.

When Henry VIII arrived on French soil on June 4, he settled into his main quarters at Guînes, while Francis I stayed at Ardres. Cardinal Wolsey - shining in the settings that he had organized - met with the French King. On June 7 the two Kings finally met at the Val d'Or. And then the entertainments could begin:
The numerous banquets and tournaments began and both Kings were eager to participate. They would also pay special attention to entertaining the Queen of the other King. Archery and wrestling was a part of the entertainment.
On June 24 Wolsey would say Mass and the two Kings would take leave of each other. Despite the elaborateness of the entire meeting, the following consequences were insignificant - Cardinal Wolsey would later arrange a treaty with Spain and Charles V who were the sworn enemies of the French.

Design of a tent that would be erected at the meeting

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