Field of the Cloth of Gold

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The Field of Cloth of Gold, coloured print by James Basire in 1774, from a 16th-century oil painting in the Royal Collection.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold or Camp du Drap d'Or is the name given to a place in Balinghem, between Guînes and Ardres, in France, near Calais, that 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. These two monarchs would meet again in 1532 to arrange Francis' assistance in pressuring Pope Clement VII to pronounce Henry's first marriage as illegitimate.

Under the guidance of English Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the chief nations of Europe sought to outlaw war forever among Christian nations. Mattingly (1938) studied the causes of wars in that era, finding that such nonaggression treaties could never be stronger than the armies of their sponsors. When those forces were about equal, these treaties typically widened the conflict. That is, diplomacy could sometimes postpone war, but could not prevent wars based on irreconcilable interests and ambitions. What was lacking, Mattingly concludes, was a neutral power whose judgements were generally accepted by either impartial justice or by overwhelming force.[1]

The site is indicated by a commemorative plaque on the D231 road (Route de Marquise) at 50°51′08″N 1°55′22″E / 50.8523°N 1.9229°E / 50.8523; 1.9229Coordinates: 50°51′08″N 1°55′22″E / 50.8523°N 1.9229°E / 50.8523; 1.9229. The site, though now in France, was at the time regarded as part of England. This was probably the main reason for it as the choice of meeting place, being English territory but surrounded by France rendering it as close to neutral territory as was practicable.


Cardinal Wolsey

For two and a half weeks in June 1520, a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France occurred near Calais that was to become known to history as the Field of Cloth of Gold. Although the political purpose of the meeting didn’t amount to much in the over-all scheme of things in early 16th century Europe, the glamour and extravagance of the meeting give us a picture of two Renaissance princes and their times.

In 1518, through the work of Cardinal Wolsey, the Treaty of London was signed as a non-aggression pact between the major European powers of the time. But less than a year later, the pact was already in danger of falling apart. To preserve the peace, Wolsey arranged a meeting between Henry VIII and Charles V, the new Holy Roman Emperor, and a meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France. This second meeting was to be in France, near the English-held town of Calais.

Francis I and Henry VIII were close in age, with Henry being just three years older than his French counterpart. Henry had been king of England for 11 years at the time of the meeting while Francis had been on the French throne for five-and-a-half years. Both Kings had been hailed as great Renaissance princes, which no doubt raised curiosity for each man about the other. This meeting was also a chance for each to display the grandeur and wealth of their courts.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and their large retinue left from Dover on about the first of June and stayed in Calais for six days before riding out to meet the French King. One of the more spectacular parts of the meeting was a temporary palace of timber and canvas brought by the English court to go with the pavilions and tents.

Excerpts from Hall’s Chronicle describing the meeting: “Thursday 8 June being Corpus Christi day, Henry and the French king Francis I, met in a valley called the Golden Dale which lay midway between Guisnes and Arde where the French king had been staying. In this valley Henry pitched his marquee made of cloth of gold near where a banquet had been prepared. His Grace was accompanied by 500 horsemen and 3,000 foot soldiers, and the French King had a similar number of each.

When the two great princes met proclamations were made by the heralds and officers-of-arms of both parties, to the effect that everyone should stand absolutely still – the king of England and his company on one side of the valley and the king of France with his retinue on the other. They were commanded to stand thus, completely still, on pain of death whilst the two kings rode down the valley. At the bottom of the valley they embraced each other in great friendship and then, dismounting, embraced each other again, taking off their hats. Henry’s sword was held, unsheathed, by the marquess of Dorset whilst the duc de Bourbon bore the French king’s sword similarly all the while.

On Friday 9 June the two kings met up at the camp where a tiltyard had been set up with a pretty green tree with damask leaves nearby. On Saturday two shields bearing the arms of the two kings were hung upon this tree and a proclamation made to the effect that anyone who intended to attend the royal jousts and compete in feats of arms – such as the running at the tilt, fighting tourneys on horseback and fighting on foot at the barriers with swords should bring their shields of arms and have their names entered into the records kept by Clarencieux and Lancaster, officers-at-arms.

On Sunday 11 June the French king came to Guisnes to dine with the Queen of England and was graciously received by the Lord Cardinal, the Duke of Buckingham, the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Northumberland and various other noblemen, together with a large number of ladies and gentlemen all richly dressed in cloth of gold, velvet and silks. That day too the French king was himself magnificently dressed in tissue-cloth set with precious stones and pearls.

When dinner was over, some time was spent dancing in the banqueting hall. Before he started to dance, the French king went from one end of the room to the other, carrying his hat in his hand and kissing all the ladies on both sides – except for four or five who were too old and ugly. He then returned to the Queen and spoke with her for a while before spending the rest of the day dancing.

At the same moment King Henry was dining with the French Queen at Arde where he spent the time in a similar manner until seven o’clock in the evening when he returned to Guisnes and the French king likewise returned to Arde.

On Monday 12 June both kings and their men-at-arms met at the aforementioned camp. Also present were the Queen of England and the Queen of France, wife of Francis I with her ladies-in-waiting – all riding in litters and sedan chairs covered in sumptuous embroidery. Some other ladies also arrived mounted on richly decorated palfreys.

Then the two kings with their teams of challengers and their sides entered the field, every one fully armed and magnificently dressed. The French king started the jousts and did extremely well, even though the first lance was broken by King Henry, who managed to break one on each charge. The French king broke a good number of lances but not as many as Henry.

Thursday 15 June saw Henry in the field again, fully armoured and challenging all comers. Opponents that day included two French noblemen with their men-at-arms, all well-mounted and finely dressed, who acquitted themselves well. On Friday 16 June there was no contest at the camp because of a tremendous gale. On Saturday both kings entered the field and king Henry’s armour-skirt and horse-trapper were decorated with 2,000 ounces of gold and 1,100 huge pearls, the price of which was incalculable, the Earl of Devonshire also appeared that day wearing cloth of gold, tissue-cloth and cloth of silver, all elaborately embroidered, with his retinue wearing the same uniform.

When the French king and the Earl of Devonshire charged at each other, so fierce was their encounter that both their lances broke. In all they ran off eight times, during which the French king broke three lances while the earl broke two lances and the French king’s nose.[citation needed]

On Saturday 23 June a large and well-appointed chapel was set up on the grounds, decorated with ornate hangings and filled with statues of saints and holy relics. Later the lord cardinal said mass in the chapel – which had been built and fitted out entirely at king Henry’s expense. During the service the chaplains of both kings took it in turns to sing the refrains, which was heavenly to listen to. The mass completed, the kings and queens, together with their noble retinues, proceeded to the gallery beside the chapel to dine in great style.”

The celebrations concluded the next day, on the 24th. The meeting really did not do much in the way of improving the relations between the two countries and in just a couple of years, England and France were once again, as they had been many times in the previous centuries, at war.

The Meeting[edit]

Henry VIII of England, copy after Holbein

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.[2] Above the brickwork, the 30-foot (10 metre) high walls were made of cloth or canvas on timber frames, painted to look like stone or brick. One further aspect of King Henry's retinue was the presence of a two royal monkeys covered in gold leaf, these were known to have been gifts from the Ottoman Sultan Selim I and brought much laughter and merriment from Francis I as contemporary Cardinal Wolsey recounts 'The French King was overcome with much curiosity playing with those little knaves that did all they could to steal and pester his advisers, yet he willed them to be present at every banquet'. 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 ancient 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 honourably.

Grafton's Chronicle, or Chronicle at Large 1569[3]
Francis I of France by Jean Clouet

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."[4] 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.[5] Musical production on the English side was probably led by composer William Cornysh the Younger, master of the Royal Chapel for Henry VIII.[6]

Some idea of the size of Henry's following may be gathered from the fact that in one month 2200 sheep and other viandes in a similar proportion were consumed. 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 thought to be a dragon or salamander flying 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 all present.


This meeting made a great impression on contemporaries, but its political results were very small. While the carefully established rules of the tournament stated that the two kings would not compete against each other, Henry surprisingly challenged Francis in a wrestling match, but it turned sour for Henry when he quickly lost.[7]

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.


An eyewitness description appears in Hall's Chronicle and Richard Grafton's Chronicle at Large.

  1. ^ Mattingley (1938)
  2. ^ Hall, Edward, Chronicle, (1809), 605.
  3. ^ Grafton, Richard, Grafton's Chronicle, or Chronicle at Large 1569, vol. 2, London (1809), 303-304: Hall, Edward, Chronicle, (1809), 605.
  4. ^ Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance, p. 291. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  5. ^ Nicholson, N. & Fawcett, E. Ightham Mote. National Trust (1994)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Karen Watts, Tournaments at the court of King Henry VIII

Further reading[edit]

  • Mattingly, Garrett. "An Early Nonaggression Pact," Journal of Modern History," March 1938, Vol. 10 Issue 1, 1-30 in JSTOR
  • Richardson, Glenn. Renaissance Monarchy: The Reigns of Henry VIII, Francis I & Charles V (2002) 246pp
  • Russell, J.G. (1969). Field of Cloth of Gold: men and manners in 1520. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-6207-9. 

External links[edit]