Henry VIII.—The Story of the Field of the Cloth of Gold
LONG before Henry VII. died in 1509 A.D., all the joy and love, which the people had felt for him when he came to the throne, had faded away. He had proved to be a hard and greedy King and no one was sorry when he died.
His son was also called Henry, and he was only eighteen years old when his father died. He was gay and handsome and the people believed him to be generous and good, so there was great rejoicing when he was crowned.
Henry's Chancellor was a man called Wolsey. He was a very great man and for many years it was really he who ruled England. Wolsey was the son of a butcher. Being a clever boy he was sent to school, and afterwards to college at Oxford. There he showed himself to be so clever that people soon began to notice him, and he quickly rose from one post to another until he became chaplain to Henry VII. Henry VII. found Wolsey very useful to him. He became one of Prince Henry's greatest friends, and when Prince Henry became King, he made Wolsey Chancellor and Archbishop of York, and heaped upon him many other honours and posts, until he was almost as rich and as great as the King himself. Wolsey had most splendid houses and about five hundred servants, all of whom wore most beautiful clothes. His cook even wore a satin or velvet coat and had a gold chain around his neck.
Wolsey himself dressed most gorgeously in bright red silk or satin, and he wore gilded shoes set with pearls and jewels. Whenever he went out there was a great procession. A man carrying a mace walked first, then came two gentlemen carrying silver wands, then two of the biggest and handsomest priests that could be found, each carrying a great silver cross, then came Wolsey mounted upon a mule. He rode upon a mule because he said, being a humble priest, it was more fitting for him than a horse. But the harness and saddle were of velvet and gold, and behind him came a long train of his servants and followers on splendid horses.
Henry VIII. was fond of magnificence and show, and it pleased him to have so fine a chancellor. Henry was gay and the Chancellor was gay. If Henry were sad Wolsey would joke and laugh until the King laughed too; if Henry were merry Wolsey would be merry with him. Soon people began to see that if they wanted anything from the King, it was best to make friends with the Chancellor.
Wolsey, on the whole, made good use of his power. He was fond of learning. He saw that without learning no country could be truly great, and he founded a school at Ipswich, which was his birthplace, and a college at Oxford. If he tried to make himself great, he also thought of England and how to make England great.
The first few years of Henry's reign were peaceful and quiet. Henry VII. had been a very rich man when he died, so Henry VIII. had plenty of money and, at first, the people were not troubled with new taxes.
Henry pleased everyone by marrying a rich and beautiful lady called Katherine of Arragon. She was a widow, having already been married to Henry's elder brother, who was called Arthur. Arthur would have been King had he lived, but he had died a few months after his marriage with Katherine. After Arthur died Henry VII. kept Katherine at the English court in the hope that his second son, Henry, would one day marry her. This he now did, although it was then, and still is, against the law for a man to marry his dead brother's wife.
However, as Henry thought it was a wise thing for him to marry Katherine, he asked the Pope to give him leave to do so. And the Pope, whom, you know, was a very powerful person, gave him leave.
In those days people were never long content to be at peace, and Henry soon began to fight with France and with Scotland. In a battle called Flodden, the Scots were defeated and their King killed, and Henry made peace with the Queen, who was his own sister. Soon afterwards he also made peace with France.
Henry then decided it would be wise not only to be at peace with France, but to make friends with the French king. So the great Chancellor, Wolsey, arranged a meeting between Francis I. of France and Henry VIII. of England. This meeting took place on a plain in France near a little town called Guisnes, and everything about it was so splendid that it was called "The field of the cloth of gold."
A palace for the English king was built so quickly that it seemed like a magic thing. It was only made of wood, but it was so painted and gilded that it shone and glittered in the sunshine like a fairy palace. Great golden gates opened into a courtyard where a fountain, sparkling with gold and gems, flowed all day with red and white wine instead of water. This fountain bore the motto—"Make good cheer who will."
The palace walls were hung inside with cloth of gold and silver, everything was rich with embroidery and sparkling with gems. Wherever possible, gold and jewels shone, the Queen's footstools even being sewn with pearls.
When the French king saw Henry's splendid palace, he did not wish to be outdone. He set up a great tent, the center pole of which was a gilded mast. The tent was lined inside with blue velvet. The roof was spangled with golden stars, and a golden sun and moon shone night and day. The outside was covered with cloth of gold, and the ropes which held it up were of blue silk and gold.
The tent looked very grand, and glittered in the sunshine like a ball of fire. But when everything was ready, a terrible wind arose which snapped the ropes of silk and gold, broke the mast, and brought the blue velvet sky, the glittering stars, and golden walls to the ground. So Francis had to content himself with living in an old castle which stood not far away, and very likely he was far more comfortable there than he would have been in his golden and blue tent.
When all was ready, King Henry and Queen Katherine sailed from England, and with them a great company of nobles, each trying to be more splendid than the other.
The two kings met on the plain near Henry's palace. They were both dressed in gold and silver cloth, and rode beautiful horses with harness of gold and velvet. While still on horseback, they embraced and kissed each other. "My dear brother and cousin," said Francis, "I have come a long way to see you. I hope you will think that I am worthy of your love and help. My great possessions show how powerful I am."
"Dear cousin," replied Henry, "I never saw prince with my eyes that I could love better with my heart, and for your love I have crossed the seas to the furthest bounds of my kingdom in order to see you."
Then the kings got off their horses and, arm in arm, walked to a gorgeous tent near by, where a very fine dinner was prepared for them.
For three weeks there were gay times. Grand tournaments were held, in which the kings fought with the knights. And the kings always won. There were balls and feasts too. Sometimes the kings and queens and lords and ladies dressed up and disguised themselves so that no one could tell who was who. This they thought was the greatest fun of all.
The English people were very fond of wrestling, and the soldiers used to amuse themselves in this way. Henry was fond of all kinds of games and sport, and one day, while watching the soldiers, he proposed to King Francis that they, too, should try a wrestling match, and laughingly laid hold of his collar.
Francis was quite pleased, for although he did not look so strong as Henry, he was very quick and wiry. Soon the two kings were struggling together, and in a few minutes Henry was lying upon the ground. He sprang up with a laugh and wanted to try again. But the nobles who stood round persuaded him not to do so. They were afraid that what had begun in fun might end in a quarrel, if Francis should again throw Henry down, for Henry had a very fiery temper.
Francis felt, too, that in spite of all the show of friendship, there was no love between the French and the English. This was hardly to be wondered at, for they had been such bitter enemies for so long a time that it was hard to forget all at once. Francis himself, however, was really generous, and wished it really could be forgotten.
One morning, Francis rose early and, without telling any of his nobles, he rode quite alone to the English camp. Henry was still in bed when King Francis came into his room and said, laughing, "My dear cousin, I come to you of my own free will. I am now your prisoner."
Henry was very pleased to see that Francis trusted him so much that he was not afraid to come quite alone like this. He sprang out of bed and threw a chain of gold round the French king's neck.
In return Francis gave Henry a beautiful bracelet, and then, laughing and joking like a schoolboy, he insisted on helping Henry to dress. He warmed his shirt, helped him to tie and button his clothes, and then, mounting on his horse, rode gayly home.
When he came near his castle he was met by some of his nobles, who were anxiously looking for him. Francis laughingly told them what he had been doing. "Sire," said one of them, "I am very glad to see you back again. But let me tell you, master, you were a fool to do what you have done. Ill luck be to him who advised you to do it."
"Well, that was nobody," replied Francis. "The thought was all my own."
In spite of the fears and jealousy of the French and English, the meeting came to an end as peacefully as it had begun. Henry sailed home again with all his gay knights, but many of them were quite ruined and penniless. They had spent all their money on fine clothes and jewels, so anxious were they to make a great display and be grander than the French.
But all this splendour and show of friendliness meant nothing and came to nothing, for Henry, both immediately before and after this meeting with Francis, met and plotted with Charles, the Emperor of Germany, who was the enemy of Francis. When war again broke out the English fought against the French as they had always done.