Dr Owen Emmerson, Castle Supervisor explains why Hever Castle is marking the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold and its significance in history:
This year marks the 500th anniversary of one of the most iconic and colourful events of the Tudor era – a lavish meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francis I of France, known as the Field of Cloth of Gold.
This meeting between the previously warring kings was arranged by Henry’s closest advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, to solidify the bond of friendship that had been secured following the Anglo-French treaty made in 1514.
The meeting was organized between the English-held Guînes and the French-held Ardres near Calais and it spanned 17 days, from 7-24 June 1520.
Henry and his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, were accompanied by over 5,000 people, and vast tents decorated with cloth of gold were erected to house the most important guests, hence the name: the Field of Cloth of Gold.
A vast temporary palace was constructed from timber and canvas, and there were two fountains that flowed with wine for all to drink. For entertainment, there were jousts, vast banquets, archery displays, both French and English choirs, and wrestling matches.
A red-faced Henry was outmanoeuvred by Francis when the King’s decided to wrestle. Henry spent a whopping £36,000 on the event in Tudor money, which was more than his royal household’s entire annual expenditure, and more than a third of England’s total annual income.
Present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold were the Boleyn family, who lived here at Hever Castle.
Thomas Boleyn, one of King Henry’s most dependable diplomats, was entrusted by Henry with proposing this famous meeting to King Francis.
Henry ordered Thomas Boleyn to announce his intention to grow his beard until the meeting, and Francis also agreed to grow his – as a mark of respect. However, Henry shaved his off before the meeting, and it was left to Thomas to make up an excuse as to why Henry had broken the pact. He chose to blame Queen Catherine, stating that she had forced him to shave it off. It was a typically shrewd manoeuvre on Thomas’ part, because Catherine was aunt to Emperor Charles V of Spain – who had been a mutual enemy of Francis and Henry.
The whole Boleyn family took part in the Field of Cloth of Gold. Elizabeth Boleyn and her daughter Mary served as attendants on Queen Catherine. George Boleyn accompanied his Father as part of his retinue of attendants. On the French side, a young Anne Boleyn – who had been at the French Court for the past six years – was very likely serving as one of Queen Claude’s maids for the meeting. Anne had adopted a French accent and wore the latest French fashions. Only seven years later, back here at Hever Castle, Anne would famously make the monumental decision to become Henry VIII’s second Queen.
The Field of Cloth of Gold ultimately failed to deliver the universal peace between France and England – indeed Henry would later form an alliance with Charles V, who then declared war with France. But what it did achieve was solidifying Henry’s image as a Renaissance King.
- Find out what Hever Castle has planned in June to mark the Field of Cloth of Gold anniversary.