All About History
The Field of the Cloth of gold
A summit where kingly egos were flying high
01 The king and his men
Henry is portrayed entering the town of Guînes with his entourage, where the English made camp during the summit. Notable figures in the procession include Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, and Cardinal Wolsey beside the king. The figure ahead, carrying the sword of state, is Thomas Grey, the marquess of Dorset.
02 The palace
Seen here in the forefront, the palace was built specifically for the event and was a temporary structure. It had a solid, brickwork foundation but the walls and roof were made from timber and canvas, reducing the overall cost of the building work. The canvas was subsequently painted to make it look like it was made from bricks.
03 Fountains of alcohol
In front of the temporary palace there were two fountains, one for beer and one for wine, for the endless consumption of those attending the summit. Look closely at the foreground and you will see revellers who have doubled over and become sick from drinking too much, while others have descended into drunken brawls.
04 Gold dining tent
The lavish gold tent depicted in the middle of the painting is the king’s golden dining tent, next to which are the ovens and tents where Henry’s sumptuous meals were prepared. Enormous quantities of food were consumed at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where there were thousands of hungry guests in attendance.
05 Henry meets Francis
In the centre of the background lies another luxurious gold tent. Upon closer inspection, you will notice that the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I is taking place inside. The interior is made up of blue velvet, embroidered with French fleur-de-lys, indicating that this tent actually belongs to Francis.
06 Tournament fields
At the top right of the painting are the tournament fields where the jousting, sword fights and archery took place. In a bid to outdo one another, the kings spared no expense when it came to sports, games, feasts and music — the tournaments lasted for 11 days, although there were interruptions due to bad weather.
07 Tree of Honour
Next to the tournament fields was the Tree of Honour, an artificial tree built for the summit and was covered in gilt. It held shields, which indicated the different competitions of the tournament, and if knights wished to participate then they showed their interest by touching their lances on their desired rival’s shields.
08 French camp at Ardres
In the distance is the town of Ardres, where the French were staying during the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This painting, attributed to the British School, was likely commissioned by King Henry to not only commemorate the summit, but to also highlight the lavishness of the English camp compared to the French.
09 Salamander firework
On the penultimate day of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the kings, their queens and retinues all attended Mass together. Towards the end of the service, a salamander firework was accidentally set off, which reportedly terrified the people of Guînes. It is shown in the top left corner of the painting, flying over the town.
10 Catherine of Aragon
Although England’s queen did attend the Field of the Cloth of Gold, she is not depicted alongside Henry as he enters Guînes. Instead, it has been suggested that she is the woman seen in the tent to the far right of the painting here, or she may be in the group behind the tent alongside her ladies-in-waiting.
11 Windows on the palace
Henry had real glass windows installed for his temporary palace created by Flemish glazers and so the French referred to it as a “crystal palace”. Glass was expensive, and it is estimated that around £36,000 was spent in total by the English on the summit, which was more than the total annual costs of the royal household.
12 Tudor Rose
The red and white rose, the iconic emblem of the House of Tudor, can be seen as a symbol throughout the painting. Most noticeably, it adorns the front of the temporary palace, as well as being part of the embroidery of the tent on the far right. Henry clearly wanted to make his mark on the spectacular occasion.