Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Field of the Cloth of Gold


[HENRY VIII OF ENGLAND was a powerful king, and both the German Emperor, Charles V, and the French sovereign, Francis I, were anxious to secure his influence and aid. In May, 1420. Charles went to England to visit Henry, and Francis invited Henry to visit him during the following month. Calais was then in the hands of England, and the meeting of the two kings was held on a plain between the English castle and one belonging to the French. The dress and entertainment were so magnificent that this plain was afterwards called the "Field of the Cloth of Gold."
The Editor. ]

THE courtiers who attended the two sovereigns felt bound to almost rival them in sumptuousness, "insomuch," says the contemporary'Martin du Bellay, "that many bore thither their mills, their forests, and their meadows on their backs." Henry VIII had employed eleven hundred workmen, the most skillful of Flanders and Holland, in building a quadrangular palace of wood, one hundred and twenty-eight feet long every way; on one side of the entrance gate was a fountain, covered with gilding and surmounted by a statue of Bacchus, round which there flowed through subterranean pipes all sorts of wines, and which bore in letters of gold the inscription, "Make good cheer who will"; and on the other side a column supported by four lions was surmounted by a statue of Cupid armed with bow and arrows. Opposite the palace was erected a huge figure of a savage wearing the arms of his race, with this inscription, chosen by Henry VIII, "He whom I back wins." The frontage was covered outside with canvas painted to represent freestone; and the inside was hung with rich tapestries.

Francis I, emulous of equaling his royal neighbor in magnificence, had ordered to be erected close to Ardres an immense tent, upheld in the middle by a colossal pole firmly fixed in the ground, and with pegs and cordage all around it. Outside, the tent, in the shape of a dome, was covered with cloth of gold; and, inside, it represented a sphere with a ground of blue velvet and studded with stars, like the firmament. At each angle of the large tent there was a small one equally richly decorated. But before the two sovereigns exchanged visits, in the midst of all these magnificent preparations, there arose a violent hurricane which tore up the pegs and split the cordage of the French tent, scattered them over the ground, and forced Francis I to take up his quarters in an old castle near Ardres.

When the two kings' chief counselors, Cardinal Wolsey on one side and Admiral Bonnivet on the other, had regulated the formalities, on the 7th of June, 1520, Francis I and Henry VIII set out on their way at the same hour and at the same pace for their meeting in the valley of Ardres, where a tent had been prepared for them. As they drew near, some slight anxiety was manifested by the escort of the King of England, amongst whom a belief prevailed that that of the King of France was more numerous; but it was soon perceived to be nothing of the sort. The two kings, mounted upon fine horses and superbly dressed, advanced towards each other; and Henry VIII's horse stumbled, which his servants did not like. The two kings saluted each other with easy grace, exchanged embraces without getting off their horses, dismounted and proceeded arm in arm to the tent where Wolsey and Bonnivet were awaiting them. "My dear brother and cousin," immediately said Francis with his easy grace, "I am come a long way and not without trouble to see you in person. I hope that you hold me for such as I am, ready to give you aid with the kingdoms and lordships that are in my power." Henry, with a somewhat cold reserve, replied, "It is not your kingdoms or your divers possessions that I regard, but the soundness and loyal observance of the promises set down in the treaties between you and me. My eyes never beheld a prince who could be dearer to my heart, and I have crossed the seas at the extreme boundary of my kingdom to come and see you." The two kings entered the tent and signed a treaty whereby the dauphin of France was to marry Princess Mary, only daughter at that time of Henry VIII, to whom Francis I undertook to pay annually a sum of 100,000 livres (2,800,000 francs, or £112,000 in the money of our day) until the marriage was celebrated, which would not be for some time yet, as the English princess was only four years old. The two kings took wine together, according to custom, and reciprocally presented the members of their courts. "The same Fraunces, the Frenche king," says Henry VIII's favorite chronicler, Edward Hall, who was there, "is a goodly prince, stately of countenance, merey of there, broune colored, great iyes, high nosed, bigge lipped, fair brested and shoulders, small legges, and long fete." Titian's portrait gives a loftier and more agreeable idea of Francis I.

When the two kings proceeded to sign, in their tent, the treaty they had just concluded, "the King of England," according to Fleuranges' "Mémoires," "himself took up the articles and began to read them. When he had read those relating to the King of France, who was to have the priority, and came to speak of himself, he got as far as, 'I, Henry, King' (he would have said of France and England ), blit he left out the title as far as France  was concerned and said to King Francis, 'I will not put it in as you are here, for I should lie'; and he said only, 'I, Henry, King of England.' " But, as M. Mignet very properly says, "If he omitted the title in his reading, he left it in the treaty itself and, shortly afterwards, was ambitious to render it a reality, when he invaded France and wished to reign over it."

After the diplomatic stipulations were concluded, the royal meeting was prolonged for sixteen days, which were employed in tourneys, jousts, and all manner of festivals. The personal communication of the two kings was regulated with all the precautions of official mistrust and restraint, and when the King of England went to Ardres to see the Queen of France, the King of France had to go to Guines to see the Queen of England; for the two kings were hostages for one another. "The King of France, who was not a suspicious man," says Fleuranges, "was mighty vexed at there being so little confidence in one another. He got up one morning very early, which is not his habit, took two gentlemen and a page, the first three he could find, mounted his horse, and went to visit the King of England at the castle of Guines. When he came on to the castle-bridge, all the English were mighty astonished. As he rode amongst them, the king gayly called upon them to surrender to him, and asked them the way to the chamber of the king his brother, the which was pointed out to him by the governor of Guines, who said to him, 'Sir, he is not awake.' But King Francis passed on all the same, went up to the said chamber, knocked at the door, awoke the King of England, and walked in.

"Never was man more dumbfounded than King Henry, who said to King Francis, 'Brother, you have done me a better turn than ever man did to another, and you show me the great trust I ought to have in you. I yield myself your prisoner from this moment, and I proffer you my parole.' He undid from his neck a collar worth fifteen thousand angels,  and begged the King of France to take it and wear it that very day for his prisoner's sake. And, lo, the king, who wished to do him the same turn, had brought with him a bracelet which was worth more than thirty thousand angels,  and begged him to wear it for his sake; which thing he did, and the King of France put what had been given him on his neck. Thereupon the King of England was minded to get up, and the King of France said that he should have no other chamber-attendant but himself, and he warmed his shirt, and handed it to him when he was up. The King of France made up his mind to go back, notwithstanding that the King of England would have kept him to dinner; but, inasmuch as there was to be jousting after dinner, he mounted his horse and went back to Ardres. He met a many good folk who were coming to meet him, amongst the rest l'Aventureux  (a name given to Fleuranges himself), who said to him, 'My dear master, you are mad to have done what you have done; I am very glad to see you back here, and devil take him who counseled you.' Whereupon the king said that never a soul had counseled him, and that he knew well that there was not a soul in his kingdom who would have so counseled him; and then he began to tell what he had done at the said Guines, and so returned, conversing, to Ardres, for it was not far.

"Then began the jousts, which lasted a week, and were wondrous fine, both a-foot and a-horseback. After all these pastimes the King of France and the King of England retired to a pavilion, where they drank together. And there the King of England took the King of France by the collar and said to him, 'Brother, I should like to wrestle with you,' and gave him a feint or two; and the King of France, who is a mighty good wrestler, gave him a turn and threw him on the ground. And the King of England would have had yet another trial; but all that was broken off, and it was time to go to supper. After this, they had yet three or four jousts and banquets, and then they took leave of one another with the greatest possible peace between the princes and princesses. That done, the King of England returned to Guines, and the King of France to France; and it was not without giving great gifts at parting, one to another."

by Gustave Masson

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