The Field of the Cloth of Gold
As Louis xii. left no son to succeed him, his cousin Francis, Count of Angouleme, who had married his daughter Claude, now became king.
Francis i. was twenty years old when Louis xii. died. He was tall and handsome, "a comely prince as ever lived," yet he was at the same time only a spoilt child.
Louis had loved his brave and brilliant cousin, but he had been afraid that Francis's extravagant, pleasure-loving ways would not be good for the people of France, for whose welfare he, Louis, had so greatly cared.
"This big boy will spoil everything for us," he had sometimes sadly said, as he watched his cousin going his own wilful way.
His mother adored Francis, but she had not trained him to love the country he was now to govern, nor had she taught him to be kind and unselfish to those who served him.
Francis i. began his reign by giving magnificent balls and holding tournaments, in which he himself was the most important person, for he did not only look on, but performed many skilful feats at the jousts.
On these festivities the king spent so much money, that in a short time the treasury was nearly empty, and, as Louis xii. had feared, it became necessary to increase the taxes.
But Francis i. was not long content with the fame he could gain at balls and tournaments. He longed for the greater glory and excitement of the battlefield, and soon he determined to try to regain what Louis xii. had lost in Italy. When his enemies heard of his ambition, they at once renewed the Holy Alliance.
It was during this Italian expedition that the king was knighted by Bayard on the field of Marignano, as you shall hear.
Appointing his mother, Louise of Savoy, regent in his absence, Francis i. set out for Italy in July 1515 with a large army.
To cross the Alps at a spot which was unguarded by the Swiss, who were fighting for the Duke of Milan, rocks had to be pierced or blown up, bridges thrown across deep ravines. By the king's orders, and by his presence encouraging the men in their difficult task, every obstacle was at length overcome, and the French army descended into the plains of Lombardy.
At Marignano, about ten miles from Milan, the French met the Italian soldiers with their Swiss mercenaries.
Francis was quietly sitting down to supper in the camp, when he was warned that the Swiss troops were near, and he at once went out to meet the enemy.
The Swiss, with long pikes, fought with the greatest courage. Again and again the French charged them, but after each repulse the Swiss advanced, determined as before.
Bayard was, as ever, in the forefront of the battle, Throwing himself furiously upon the Swiss, he cried, "Swiss! traitors! villains! get you back to eat cheese in your mountains if you can."
The king, too, did not spare himself. Ever in the forefront of the battle, he fought so courageously that "the top of his helmet was pierced, so as to let in daylight, by the thrust of a pike."
Night fell and the armies withdrew, but there was little rest either for the soldiers or their leaders.
Francis remained most of the night on horseback with his men; snatching a little sleep, however, by lying down on a gun-carriage, a harder bed than that on which kings are used to take their rest.
As soon as day dawned, the battle began anew. The king fought bravely and his men stood firm, but the Swiss still hoped for victory until about ten o'clock, when the Venetian troops hastened to the help of the French.
Then the sturdy Swiss knew that they were beaten, for they were already exhausted by the struggle of the day before, as well as by the heat and want of food. So, steadily and in good order, they marched away, leaving Francis victorious on the field of Marignano.
Those who had fought most bravely the king created knights at once, before they left the battlefield. First, however, he wished himself to be knighted by Bayard.
"Sire," said the knight when Francis told him his wish, "sire, the king of so noble a realm, he who has been crowned, consecrated, anointed with oil sent down from heaven, is knight over all other knights."
"Bayard, my friend," said the king, "make haste; do my bidding."
"Assuredly, sire," answered the knight, "I will do it, since it is your pleasure."
Then taking his sword Bayard said, "Please God, sire, that in war you may never take to flight." After which, holding up his sword in the air, he cried, "Assuredly, my good sword, thou shalt be well guarded as a relic, and honoured above all others for having this day conferred upon so handsome and puissant a king the order of chivalry, and never will I wear thee more, if it be not against Turks, Moors, Saracens." Whereupon he gave two bounds and thrust his sword into the sheath.
The next day Francis i. entered Milan in triumph, while the Swiss, "ragged, gaunt, wounded, with flags torn and funeral dirges for festal songs," marched wearily back to their mountains.
Soon after the battle of Marignano, in November 1515. Francis arranged a Perpetual Peace with the Swiss and the Pope. He then went back to France, where the people, overjoyed at their young king's victory, gave him a right loyal welcome.
In 1519 the Emperor Maximilian died, and this was a matter of great importance to France.
Charles of Austria, who was already King of Spain, being Maximilian's grandson, should naturally have become emperor. Neither the French nor the English king, Henry viii. , however, wished Charles to become more powerful than he was already.
Indeed, Francis i. determined that he himself would become emperor. With this purpose in his mind he did not scruple to bribe all those who had anything to do with electing a new emperor.
"We are wholly determined to spare nothing, and to stake all for all upon it, as the matter we most desire and have most at heart in this world," said the king, speaking of the choice of an emperor.
But in spite of all that Francis could do, Charles of Spain was chosen emperor, and thus became the most powerful monarch in Europe.
Francis was bitterly disappointed, and henceforth he hated Charles.
Henry viii. , who had also wished to be chosen emperor, was quite ready to join Francis in the war which he intended to carry on against his successful rival. He therefore gladly agreed when Francis suggested that they should meet together to talk over their plans.
The French king delighted in splendour as much as did Henry's great minister, Cardinal Wolsey. French and English indeed vied with each other in their preparations for the meeting of the two kings.
When all was ready, so brilliant was the scene, that the plain near to the little town of Guines, where the two kings met, was ever after called the "Field of the Cloth of Gold."
Henry viii. sent hundreds of skilful workmen from Flanders and Holland to build him a palace at the meeting place.
It was only a palace of wood, yet, when it was gilded with gold, it shone bright in the sunshine, gorgeous as any palace reared in fairyland.
Great gates of gold opened into the palace grounds, in which was a wonderful fountain that also shone as gold; while from the mouth poured, not water as you would expect, but wine that sparkled crimson in the rays of the sun. And from this wonderful fountain all who wished might drink, for on its margin were inscribed in letters of gold the welcome words, "Make good cheer who will."
Without the palace shone as gold, within it was hung with tapestries of gold and rich embroideries. Wherever one turned, one's eyes were dazzled with gleam of gold and precious stones.
Francis did not wish to be surpassed in splendour by the English king, so he ordered an enormous tent to be erected. The roof was covered with cloth of gold, while inside the dome was lined with rich blue velvet. Here and there amid the blue shone golden stars, until almost it seemed that one was gazing into the starry heavens themselves.
Ropes of gold and silver fastened the tent securely, or so it seemed, to the ground. But before the kings met a violent storm of wind arose, and to the dismay of Francis and his lords the gold and silver cords were twisted and broken as though they were but threads. The golden pole which supported the tent was snapped in two, and the beautiful blue velvet dome with its spangling stars was blown to the ground.
Francis did not attempt to put up his tent again. During the storm he went for shelter to an old castle close at hand, where he stayed during the meetings on the "Field of the Cloth of Gold."
In June 1520 Henry viii. , with a grand retinue, sailed from England, and soon after Francis and he met near the golden palace which the English king had built.
Both kings were on powerful horses, richly adorned with trappings of gold and silver, Francis and Henry being dressed, as was but suitable, in garments of gold and silver cloth.
Without dismounting the two kings embraced one another, and then, leaping from their horses, they walked, arm-in-arm, into the golden palace.
"I am come a long way, and not without trouble, to see you," said Francis courteously to the English king, "and I am ready to help you as much as is in my power."
"Never saw I a prince," answered Henry, "whom I could love better than you, nor for whose sake I would have crossed the seas."
For three weeks dances and tournaments were held every day, and in the tournaments the kings themselves took part and fought with the knights.
One day Henry laughingly laid his hand on Francis's collar, and said, "Brother, I should like to wrestle with you."
Francis, nothing loath, at once agreed, for although he did not look as strong as Henry, he was a "mighty good wrestler," and soon the English king was lying on the ground. He sprang up, wishing to try his strength again; but his nobles, afraid lest jest should turn to earnest, persuaded Henry that it was time to go in to supper.
The French king was, as you know, young, and some times he grew tired of the ceremony that always surrounded him. So one morning he made up his mind to do what he liked, and without telling any one he got up early and rode off to visit King Henry in his golden palace, taking with him only two gentlemen and a little page.
When he reached the palace and asked for the king, he was told that he was not yet awake.
"It does not matter," said Francis gaily, and to the amazement of the English lords he went at once to Henry's bedroom, knocked at the door, and walked in.
Henry, sleepy as he was, was pleased that the King of France had come to visit him alone. He jumped out of bed, took from his neck a collar of gold, and begged Francis to wear it for his sake.
Francis was pleased with Henry's gift, and promised to wear it; while he gave Henry a bracelet which the English king said he would wear every day.
It was too merry a visit to end quickly. Francis stayed while Henry dressed, and refusing to let him call for his servants, he helped him, warming his shirt, and making himself so useful that Henry's toilet was soon over.
Then, well pleased with himself and his morning escapade, Francis rode off to his old castle.
On his way home the king met his nobles, who, alarmed by his absence, had come to look for him.
They welcomed Francis gladly, and then, after hearing where he had been, one of the nobles begged to know who had advised him to go without an escort.
"Not a soul counselled me," answered the king, laughing, "and well I know that not one in my kingdom would have done so."
But Henry viii. was not really so friendly to Francis as he seemed. Before he went back to England he met the Emperor Charles; and when war broke out Henry viii. did not, after all, help Francis, but fought on the side of the emperor against the French king. So that in reality all the expense and all the splendour of the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" had been of little use.