The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9

Author: J. S. Brewer  | Date: A.D. 1520

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

A.D. 1520


From the magnificence of the preparations made for the famous meeting described in the following pages, the plain on which it took place, between Guines and Ardres, France, received the name of the "Field of the Cloth of Gold."

The meeting of the two kings, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France, was brought about by circumstances connected with the rivalry between Francis and the emperor Charles V. The enmity of the two latter and their repeated wars form a principal subject of European history during many years.

Francis came to the throne in 1515, and the first four years of his reign were marked by brilliant successes, which brought him fame as a ruler and a warrior. But in 1519 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the imperial dignity, and Charles, being preferred before him, became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Great was the mortification of Francis and he soon after declared war against his rival. Both sought the alliance of Henry VIII, and in hopes of securing his friendship, and thereby preventing a union of the Emperor and the English King against himself, Francis arranged the meeting so brilliantly pictured by Brewer. But Francis, by overdoing this gorgeous reception, gave offence to Henry, whom he seemed to eclipse in magnificence. Meanwhile Charles, anticipating the interview, had visited Henry in England, and by his more politic address he secured the favor both of the English monarch and his great minister, Cardinal Wolsey.

Situated a flat and uninviting plain—poor and barren, as the uncultivated border-land of the two kingdoms—Guines and its castle offered little attraction, and if possible less accommodation, to the gay throng now to be gathered within its walls. Its weedy moat and dismantled battlements, "its keep too ruinous to mend," defied the efforts of carpenters and bricklayers, as the English commissioners pathetically complained; and could not by any artifice or contrivance be made to assume the appearance of a formidable, or even a respectable, fortress to friend or enemy. But on the castle green, within the limits of a few weeks, and in the face of great difficulties, the English artists of that day contrived a summer palace, more like a vision of romance, the creation of some fairy dream—if the accounts of eye-witnesses of all classes may be trusted—than the dull, everyday reality of clay-born bricks and mortar.

No "palace of art" in these beclouded climates of the West ever so truly deserved its name. As if the imagination of the age, pent up in wretched alleys and narrow dwelling-houses, had resolved for once to throw off its ordinary trammels and recompense itself for its long restraint, it prepared to realize those visions of enchanted bowers and ancient pageantry on which it had fed so long in the fictions and romances of the Middle Ages. I have thought it worth while to notice so much of the details as will enable the reader to form some slight conception for himself of this scene of enchantment which the genius of the age had contrived for its own amusement.

The palace was an exact square of three hundred twenty-eight feet. It was pierced on every side with oriel windows and clear-stories curiously glazed, the mullions and posts of which were overlaid with gold. An embattled gate, ornamented on both sides with statues representing men in various attitudes of war, and flanked by an embattled tower, guarded the entrance. From this gate to the entrance of the palace arose in long ascent a sloping dais or half pace, along which were grouped "images of sore and terrible countenances," in armor of argentine or bright metal. At the entrance, under an embowed landing-place, facing the great doors, stood "antique" (classical) figures girt with olive branches. The passages, the roofs of the galleries from place to place and from chamber to chamber, were ceiled and covered with white silk, fluted and embowed with silken hanging of divers colors and braided cloths, "which showed like bullions of fine burnished gold." The roofs of the chambers were studded with roses, set in lozenges, and diapered on a ground of fine gold. Panels enriched with antique carving and gilt bosses covered the spaces between the windows; while along all the corridors and from every window hung tapestry of silk and gold, embroidered with figures. Chairs covered with cushions of turkey-work, cloths of estate, of various shapes and sizes, overlaid with golden tissue and rich embroidery, ornamented the state apartments. The square on every side was decorated with equal richness, and blazed with the same profusion of glass, gold, and ornamental hangings; and "every quarter of it, even the least, was a habitation fit for a prince," says Fleuranges, who had examined it with the critical eye of a rival and a Frenchman.

To the palace was attached a spacious chapel, still more sumptuously adorned. Its altars were hung with cloth of gold tissue embroidered with pearls; cloth of gold covered the walls and desks. Basins, censers, cruets, and other vessels, of the same precious materials, lent their lustre to its services. On the high altar, shaded by a magnificent canopy of immense proportions, stood enormous candlesticks and other ornaments of gold. Twelve golden images of the apostles, as large as children of four years old, astonished the eyes of the spectator. The copes and vestments of the officiating clergy were cloth of tissue powdered with red roses, brought from the looms of Florence, and woven in one piece, thickly studded with gold and jewelry. No less profusion might be seen in the two closets left apart for the King and the Queen. Images and sacred vessels of solid gold, in gold cloth, cumbrous with pearls and precious stones, attested the rank, the magnificence, and devotion of the occupants. The ceilings of these closets were gilded and painted; the hangings were of tapestry embroidered with fretwork of pearls and gems. The chapel was served by thirty-five priests and a proportionate number of singing-boys.

From the palace a secret gallery led into a private apartment in Guines castle, along which the royal visitors could pass and repass at pleasure.

The King was attended by squires of the body, sewers, gentlemen-ushers, grooms and pages of the chamber, for all of whom suitable accommodation had to be provided. The lord chamberlain, the lord steward, the lord treasurer of the household, the comptroller, with their numerous staffs, had to be lodged in apartments adapted to their rank and services. As it was one great object of the interview to entertain all comers with masques and banquetings of the most sumptuous kind, the mere rank and file of inferior officers and servants formed a colony of themselves. The bakehouse, pantry, cellar, buttery, kitchen, larder, accatry, were amply provided with ovens, ranges, and culinary requirements, to say nothing of the stables, the troops of grooms, farriers, saddlers, stirrup-makers, furbishers, and footmen. Upward of two hundred attendants were employed in and about the kitchen alone.

Outside the palace gate, on the greensward, stood a quiet fountain, of antique workmanship, with a statue of Bacchus "birlyng the wine." Three runlets, fed by secret conduits hid beneath the earth, spouted claret, hypocras, and water into as many silver cups, to quench the thirst of all comers. On the opposite side was a pillar wreathed in gold, and supported by four gilt lions; and on the top stood an image of blind Cupid, armed with bow and arrows. The gate itself, built in massive style, was pierced with loopholes. Its windows and recesses were filled with images of Hercules, Alexander, and other ancient worthies, richly gilt and painted. In long array, in the plain beyond, twenty-eight hundred tents stretched their white canvas before the eyes of the spectator, gay with the pennons, badges, and devices of the various occupants; while miscellaneous followers, in tens of thousands, attracted by profit or the novelty of the scene, camped on the grass and filled the surrounding slopes, in spite of the severity of provost-marshal and reiterated threats of mutilation and chastisement. Multitudes from the French frontiers, or the populous cities of Flanders, indifferent to the political significance of the scene, swarmed from their dingy homes to gaze on kings, queens, knights, and ladies dressed in their utmost splendor. Beggars, itinerant minstrels, venders of provisions and small luxuries, mixed with wagoners, ploughmen, laborers, and the motley troop of camp-followers, crowded round, or stretched themselves beneath the summer’s sun on bundles of straw and grass, in drunken idleness. No better lodging awaited many a gay knight and lady who had travelled far to be present at the spectacle, and were obliged to content themselves with such open-air accommodation. Backward and forward surged the excited and unwieldy crowd, as every hour brought its fresh contingent of curiosity or criticism in the shape of some new-comer conspicuous for his fantastic bearing or the quaint fashion of his armor. Each new candidate for the love add honor of the ladies, for popular applause. or less noble objects, was greeted with shouts and acclamations as he succeeded in distinguishing himself from the throng by the strangeness or splendor of his appointments. Christendom had never witnessed such a scene. The fantastic usages of the courts of Love and Beauty were revived once more. The Medival Age had gathered up its departing energies for this last display of its favorite pastime—henceforth to be consigned, without regret, to "the mouldered lodges of the past."

At the time that Henry set sail for Calais, Francis started from Montreuil for Ardres. It was a meagre old town, long since in ruins, the fosses and castle of which had been hastily repaired. He was attended on his route by a vast and motley multitude. No less than ten thousand of this poor vagrant crew were compelled to turn back, by a proclamation ordering that no person, without special permission, should approach within two leagues of the King’s train, "on pain of the halter." As the French had proposed that both parties should lodge in tents erected on the field, they had prepared numerous pavilions, fitted up with halls, galleries, and chambers, ornamented within and without with gold and silver tissue. Amid golden balls and quaint devices glittering in the sun, rose a gilt figure of St. Michael, conspicuous for his blue mantle powdered with golden fleurs-de-lis, and crowning a royal pavilion, of vast dimensions, supported by a single mast. In his right hand he held a dart, in his left a shield emblazoned with the arms of France. Inside, the roof of the pavilion represented the canopy of heaven, ornamented with stars and figures of the zodiac. The lodgings of the Queen, of the Duchess of Alenon, the King’s favorite sister, and of other ladies and princes of the blood were covered with cloth of gold. The rest of the tents, to the number of three hundred or four hundred, emblazoned with the arms of the owners, were pitched on the banks of a small river outside the city walls. A large house in the town, built for the occasion, served as a place of reception for royal visitors.

From June 4, 1520, when Henry first entered Guines, the festivities continued with unabated splendor for twenty days. They were opened by a visit of Wolsey to the French King, and gave the Cardinal an opportunity for displaying his love of magnificence, not unaptly reckoned by poets and philosophers as the nearest virtue to magnanimity. A hundred archers of the guard, followed by fifty gentlemen of his household, clothed in crimson velvet with chains of gold, bareheaded, bonnet in hand, and mounted on magnificent horses richly caparisoned, led the way. After them came fifty gentlemen ushers, also bareheaded, carrying gold maces with knobs as big as a man’s head; next a cross-bearer in scarlet, supporting a crucifix adorned with precious stones. Then four lackeys followed, with gilt bâtons and pole-axes, in paletots of crimson velvet, their bonnets in hand adorned with plumes, their coats ornamented before and behind with the Cardinal’s badge in goldsmith’s work. Lastly came the Legate himself, mounted on a barded mule trapped in crimson velvet, with gold front-stalls, studs, buckles, and stirrups. over a chimere of figured crimson velvet he wore a fine linen rochet. Bishops and other ecclesiastics succeeded, and the whole procession was brought up by fifty archers of the King’s guard, their bows bent, their quivers at their sides, their jackets of red cloth adorned with a gold rose before and behind.

In this state the procession approached the town of Ardres. Arrived at the King’s lodgings Wolsey dismounted, amid the roar of artillery and the sound of drums, trumpets, fifes, and other instruments of music. He was received by the King of France, bonnet in hand, with the greatest demonstrations of affection. The visit was returned next day by the French. These ceremonies were preliminary to the meeting of the two sovereigns on Thursday, June 7th. On that day, the King of England, apparelled in cloth of silver damask, thickly ribbed with cloth of gold, and mounted on a charger arrayed in the most dazzling trappings overlaid with fine gold and curiously wrought in mosaic, advanced toward the valley of Ardres. No man, from personal inclinations or personal qualities, was better calculated to sustain his part in a brilliant ceremonial such as then struck the eyes of the spectators. An admirable horseman, tall and muscular, slightly inclined to corpulence, with a red beard and ruddy countenance, Henry VIII was at this time, by the admission of his rivals, the most comely and commanding prince of his age. Closely attending on the King was Sir Henry Guilford, the master of the horse, leading a spare charger, not less splendidly arrayed in trappings of fine gold wrought in ciphers, with headstall, reins, and saddle of the same material. Nine henchmen followed in cloth of tissue, the harness of their horses covered with gold scales. In front rode the old Marquis of Dorset, bearing the sword of estate before the King; behind came the Cardinal, the Dukes of Buckingham and Suffolk, with the Earl of Shrewsbury and others.

A shot fired from the castle of Guines, and responded to by a shot from the castle of Ardre, gave warning that the two princes were ready to set forward. As Henry advanced toward the valley with all his company in military array, the French King might be descried on the opposite hill with his dazzling company, in dress, deportment, and the splendor of his retinue not less glorious or conspicuous than his rival. over a short cassock of gold frieze he wore a mantle of cloth of gold covered with jewels. The front and the sleeves were studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and large loose-hanging pearls; on his head he wore a velvet bonnet adorned with plumes and precious stones. Far in advance rode the provost-marshal with his archers to clear the ground. Then followed the marshals of the army in cloth of gold, their orders about their necks, mounted on horses covered with gold trappings; next the grand master, the princes of the blood, and the King of Navarre. After them came the Swiss guard on foot, in new liveries, with their drums, flutes, trumpets, clarions, and hautboys; then the gentlemen of the household; and immediately preceding the King was the grand constable, Bourbon, bearing the sword naked, and the grand ecuyer, with the sword of France, powdered with gold fleurs-de-lis.

As the two companies approached each other, there was a momentary pause. The French watched with some jealousy the close array of the English footmen, who, stretched in a long line on the King’s left, marched step for step with all the solemn gravity of their nation, as if they were rather preparing for battle than pastime, while, on the other side, the superior numbers of the French awakened the national jealousy of the Englishmen. "Sir, ye be my king and sovereign," broke in the lord Abergavenny in breathless haste; "wherefore, above all I am bound to show you truth, and not to let [stop] for none. I have been in the French party, and they may be more in number; double so many as ye be." Then spoke up the Earl of Shrewsbury, "Sire, whatever my lord of Abergavenny sayeth, I myself have been there, and the Frenchmen be more in fear of you and your subjects than your subjects be of them. Wherefore," said the Earl, "if I were worthy to give counsel, your grace should march forward." "So we intend, my lord," replied the King. "On afore, my masters!" shouted the officers of arms; and the whole company halted, face foremost, close by the valley of Ardres.

A minute’s pause—a breathless silence, followed by a slight stir on both sides. Then from the dense array of cloth of gold, silver, and jewelry, of white plumes and waving pennons, amid the acclamations of myriads of spectators on the surrounding hills, and the shrill burst of pipes, trumpets, and clarions, two horsemen were seen to emerge, and, in the sight of both nations, slowly descend into the valley from opposite sides. These were the two sovereigns. As they approached nearer they spurred their horses to a gallop; then, uncovering, embraced each other on horseback, and, after dismounting, embraced again. While the two sovereigns proceeded arm in arm to a rich pavilion—which no one else was allowed to enter, except Wolsey on one side and the Admiral of France on the other—the officers on both sides, intermingling their ranks, made good cheer, and toasted each other in broken French and English, "Bons amys, French and English!"

Friday and Saturday were occupied in preparing the field for the tournament. The lists, nine hundred feet in length and three hundred twenty feet broad, were pitched on a rising ground in the territory of Guines, about half way between Guines and Ardres. Galleries hung with tapestry surrounded the enclosure, and on the right side, in the place of honor, were two glazed chambers for the two Queens. A deep foss served to keep off the crowd. The entrances were guarded by twelve French and twelve English archers; and at the foot of the lists, under a triumphal arch, stood the perron, or tree of nobility, from which the shields of the two Kings were suspended on a higher line than those of the other challengers and answerers. The perron for Henry VIII was formed of a hawthorn; and for Francis I a raspberry (framboisier), in supposed allusion to his name. Cloth of gold served for the trunk and dried leaves; the foliage was of green silk; the flowers and fruits of silver and Venetian gold. Under the tree, which measured in compass not less than one hundred twenty-nine feet, the heralds took their stand on an artificial mound, surrounded by railings of green damask.

On Sunday, while the French King dined at Guines with the Queen of England, the English King dined with the French Queen and the Duchess of Alenon at Ardres. On arriving at the Queen’s lodgings, Henry was received by Louis of Savoy and a bevy of ladies magnificently dressed. Passing slowly through their ranks, in leisurely admiration of their charms, he reached the apartment where the Queen attended his coming. As he made his reverence to the Queen, she rose from her chair of state to meet him. Kneeling with one knee on the ground, his bonnet in his hand, he first kissed the Queen, next Madame, then the Duchess of Alenon, and finally all the princesses and ladies of the company. This done, dinner was announced. At the third service, Mountjoy’s herald entered with a great golden goblet, crying in the name of the King of England, "Largess to the most high, mighty, and excellent prince, Henry, King of England, etc. Largess, largess!" The banquet ended at five in the evening, when the King took his leave. To display his skill before the ladies, he set spurs to his horse, making it bound and curvet "as valiantly as any man could do."

The jousts commenced on Monday, the 11th. The rules adopted to secure fair play and guard against accidents may be read by those curious in such matters in the original black-letter Ordonnance, printed at the time.

On the first day the Kings of England and France, with their aids, held the lists against all comers; and, with the exception of Wednesday, when the wind was too high, the jousts continued without interruption throughout the week. On Sunday, the two Kings exchanged hospitality as before. On this occasion, Francis, dropping all reserve, visited the King of England before eight in the morning, attended by four companions only, and, entering his apartment without ceremony, embraced him as he was seated at breakfast. The jousts were concluded in the following week, with a solemn mass sung by the Cardinal in a chapel erected on the field. The arrangements observed on this occasion, not less elaborate than those by which the feats of arms were regulated, may be read in the same volume as the Ordonnance. Here, as in the ceremonial of the lists, the spirit of chivalry reigned triumphant. When the Cardinal of Bourbon, according to the usages of the time, presented the Gospel to the French King to kiss, Francis, declining, commanded it to be offered to the King of England, who was too well bred to accept the honor. When the Pax was presented at the Agnus Dei, the two sovereigns repeated the same mannerly breeding. The two Queens were equally ceremonious. After a polite altercation of some minutes, when neither would decide who should be the first to kiss the Pax, woman-like they kissed each other instead. A sermon in Latin, enlarging on the blessings of peace, was delivered by Pace at the close of the service; and a salamander was sent up in the air in the direction of Guines, to the astonishment and terror of the beholders. The whole was concluded with a banquet, at which the royal ladies, too polite to eat, spent their time in conversation; but the legates, cardinals, and prelates dined, drank, and ate sans fiction in another room by themselves.

On Sunday, June 24th, the Kings met in the lists to interchange gifts and bid each other farewell. Henry and his court left for Calais; Francis returned to Abbeville.

The two Kings parted on the best of terms, as the world thought, and with mutual feelings of regret. Yet Henry had already arranged to meet the Emperor at Gravelines, there settle the terms of a new convention, to the disadvantage of the French King. The imperial envoy, the Marquis d’Arschot, arrived at Calais on July 4th, and was received by the Duke of Buckingham. On the 5th the King visited Gravelines, and returned with the Emperor to Calais three days after. The interview, graced by the presence of Charles, his brother Ferdinand, Herman, the Archbishop of Cologne, and the Lord Chièvres, though less splendid, was more cordial than the interview with the French King, and was meant for business.

Frugal and reserved, the Emperor contrived, by his simple and unostentatious habits, to render himself more agreeable to his English guests than even Francis had been able to do with all his profuse and expensive civilities. Not, as some may condemn us, in consequence of our national fickleness; nor, as others may excuse us, because Englishmen preferred the plainer manners of the German or the Fleming; but because in the interview with Francis, in spite of appearances, there was no real cordiality. A tournament, in fact, was the least eligible method of promoting friendly feeling; it was more likely to engender unpleasant disputes and jealousies. To enforce the rules laid down for preserving order and fair play among the combatants was not an easy or a popular task. National rivalry was apt to break out, and it was hard for the judges to escape the imputation of partiality. Nor did the English, it must be admitted, return from the field in much good humor. With a feeling of complacency engendered by their insular position and their long isolation from the Continent, they had been wont to consider themselves as far superior to the French in all exercises of strength and agility. The French knights had shown themselves fully equal to their English opponents; the French King was not inferior in personal courage and activity to his English rival. Then rumors, such as spring up like the dragon’s teeth in vast and motley multitudes, evidently fanned and fostered by Flemish emissaries, continually represented the French as engaged in contriving some act of treachery against the English King and nation. Among the nobles, also, the Dukes of Suffolk and Buckingham, the lord Abergavenny, and others were glad of any pretext for maligning a pageant of which Wolsey had the prime direction.

Francis still hovered on the frontier in the fruitless hope of being invited to take part in this interview with the Emperor. The day before Charles left Ghent, the Lady Vendôme and the Duchess her daughter-in-law contrived to have business in that town, but their artifice was not successful. Francis was obliged to content himself with the assurance that the visage and countenance of his English ally appeared "not to be so replenished with joy" as at the valley of Ardres, and that he had given proofs of undiminished affection by riding a courser that Francis had given him. With an impressiveness intended to be candid, he told Sir Richard Wingfield, who had succeeded as English resident at the French court, that "if the King Catholic were a prince of like faith unto the King his brother [Henry], and that he might perceive from Wolsey that his coming thither [to Calais] might be the cause of any good conclusion between them" (that is, between himself and the Emperor), "he would not fail to come in post, and not to have looked for rank and place to him belonging, but would have put him into the King’s chamber as one of the number of the same." But neither his extreme humility nor his flattering proposal that Henry and himself, "the chief pillars of Christendom," should handle the Pope, whom Francis knew "to be at some season the fearfulest creature of the world, and at some other to be as brave," nor the schemes and blandishments of the ladies, availed. He chafed under disappointment; still more at his ill-success in counteracting the growing intimacy of Henry and the Emperor. He had exhausted, to little purpose, "that liberal and unsuspicious confidence" which too credulous historians are apt to think characterized his proceedings at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, to the disadvantage of his less attractive and engaging contemporary. He could neither prevent the meetings of his two rivals nor penetrate their secrets. He was utterly foiled, yet dared not show his resentment. While the Pope and the Spaniards, unable to penetrate beneath the surface or read the signs of the times, were puzzled and scandalized at the Emperor’s condescension, the world looked on with astonishment, as well it might, to see the two monarchs of the West thus anxiously soliciting the Cardinal’s good graces. What could there be in the son of a butcher to command such deference?

Of the projects discussed at this interview we are not precisely informed. The English version, intended for the meridian of the French court, and to lull the suspicions of Francis, is the only account we possess. If any credit be due to a statement prepared under such circumstances and calculated to alienate the French King irrecoverably from the Emperor, we are to believe that the imperial ambassadors had already proposed to Henry to break off his matrimonial engagement with France, and transfer the hand of the princess Mary to the Emperor. As an inducement for the King to coincide in this arrangement, the Emperor undertook to make war on France by sea and land, and not desist until Henry "had recovered his right and title in the same." The King, according to the same document, rejected such a treacherous overture with the utmost horror, vehemently protesting against its immorality and perfidiousness. That such a proposal was made, though probably not by Chièvres, to whom it is attributed—that it was accepted by England, but with none of the indignation described in the document—is clear beyond dispute. Long before any interruption had occurred in the amicable relations between the two countries, before even the landing of Charles at Canterbury, or in the interview in the valley of Ardres, it had been secretly proposed that the French engagement should be set aside, and the hand of Mary be transferred to the Emperor. The King’s horror at this act of faithlessness—if it had any existence beyond the paper on which it was written—must have been tardy and gratuitous, seeing that the chief purpose of the meeting at Calais was to settle the basis of this matrimonial alliance, and obtain the solemn ratification of the Emperor.


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Chicago: J. S. Brewer, "The Field of the Cloth of Gold," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: Brewer, J. S. "The Field of the Cloth of Gold." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Brewer, JS, 'The Field of the Cloth of Gold' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from