The Field of the Cloth of Gold was the brainchild of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey: an eighteen-day-long event intended to solidify the alliance between England and France through a meeting of their kings. Of course, the rivalry between the two young rulers meant that each did his best to outshine the other…and the two sides spent far more money than either should have. Admittedly, the expenses were perhaps lower than war would have consumed!
The meeting was held in a valley between Ardres in France and Guisnes in Calais (then controlled by the English) – neutral territory, in other words. Each side constructed temporary palaces that were over-the-top magnificent. Chronicler Edward Hall begins to describe Henry’s:
The palace was set on sages by great cunning and sumptuous work. At the entering into the palace before the gate, on the plain green was built a fountain of [enbowed] works, the old God of wine called Bacchus [birlying] the wine which by the conduits in there ran to all people plenteously with red, white, and claret wine, over whose head was written in roman letters in gold, faicte bonne chere quy vouldra...
[And the interior:]
“…[A] royal rich tent, all of cloth of gold, and rich embroidery of the King of England, and diverse other hales and pavillions: the same rich tent of gold was within hanged of the richest Arras, newly contrived and made, that ever before was seen, and a presence of the king’s estate, with two chairs and rich cushions therein: the ground was spread with carpets, of new Turkey making, all of beauty….
Hall goes on to give seven pages chock full of awe before he even gets to the opening day – which STILL included elaborate descriptions before getting to an interesting hiccup that almost ruined everything: the fact that the each side mistrusted the other – Henry rode out first despite the risk, then the French briefly believed that the gold coats worn by the English party were armor… but then they were reassured that Francis was in no danger:
At the hour of meeting appointed, the Lords of England set their people and servants in good array of battle, in a plain field directly before the castle of Guisnes. The King of England commanded that his guard should be set in the breast of the battalion, or bend of footmen, and so it was done. This battalion of footmen conducted themselves so in order, that from the first to the last, never a person of the footmen broke his place or array, but kept themselves so well, that never serving men themselves better demeaned. The serving men thus set in order in the field, on the left hand of the King of England, somewhat toward the Marres, long while thus abiding, in which time the Castle of Guisnes shot a warning piece to the town of Ardres, and in likewise the Town of Ardres gave warning to the Castle of Guisnes.
Now was gathered the French King’s repaid, and by the Lord Marshall and Constable of France, the Lords and gentlemen were set in order: thus both these two high and mighty princes, intending to meet and assemble, many words and tales, and suspect demeanings arose in the English party, for the great love that we the English men had to our Prince, caused the ignorant people that were not worthy to know the pretense of princes, to suspect the French party, and the more because that Monsieur Chatelion, a Lord of France, in rigorous and cruel manner, threw down four pennons of white and green which were set up by Richard Gibson, by commandment from the king for the sure mark or meeting place of the two kings, in what ground they should encounter, words rose between Monsieur Chatelion and Richard Gibson, as far as became for that deed, but at the commandment of the Earl Marshall for that time,which was the noble Earl of Essex, the King of England’s cousin, that wrong by us Englishmen was patiently suffered, thus from time to time, and watch to watch, and view to view, the hour drew near, that was by both the Princes appointed, of meeting or encounter.
Wherefore the King of England our sovereign Lord, with all the Court of nobles of England mounted on horseback, and marched towards the valley of Ardres in honorable order, all gentlemen, squires, knights, and barons, rode before the King and bishops also the dukes, marquesses and earls, gave attendance next the King. He were much wise that could have told or showed of the riches of apparel that was amongst the lords and gentlemen of England, cloth of gold, cloth of silver, velvets, [tinsins], satins embroidered, and crimson satins: the marvelous treasure of gold that was worn in chains and [baudericks] so great, so weighty, some so manifold, some in colors of S. great, that the gold was innumerable to my [demynge] to be summed, of all noble men, gentlemen, squires, knights, and every honest officer of the King was richly appareled and had chains of gold, great and marvelous weight: what should be said? Surely among the Englishmen lacked no riches, nor beautiful apparel or array, and always as the King of England and his horsemen marched so pace for pace marched the most goodly battle or bend of footmen (out of defensable apparel) that ever I trow before was seen.
The French King on his part marched towards the encounter with all the rufflers and gallants of the French Court. In which time came to the French King some report, that caused him to tarry and alight from his horse, then the Frenchmen were very doubtful and in a stay so still rested, until a Lord of France called Monsieur Morret, the said Morret came to the French King and showed him the very fidelity of the King of England, whereby the French King mounted on horseback, and the better courage, marched towards the place appointed for the encounter.https://archive.org/details/henryviii01halluoft/page/196/mode/2up?view=theater
Phew! Order and friendship were restored and the festivities could begin…
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