Immerse yourself in Tudor history as we reunite stunning works of art, gold, weapons, manuscripts and clothing from the Field of Cloth of Gold, Henry VIII's legendary encounter with his great rival François I of France.
The major new exhibition will star a never-before-seen tapestry which sheds rare light on people of colour in the Tudor period.
A Tudor spectacle
The Field of Cloth of Gold, an 18-day meeting between Henry VIII and François I in 1520, was unparalleled in its lavish demonstration of wealth and power.
Inside huge temporary palaces, under tents made of luxurious cloth of gold or on the specially constructed tiltyard, the two competitive kings and their courtiers jousted and wrestled, hosted great banquets and exchanged expensive gifts. Wine flowed from the fountains and a 'dragon' flew above the festivities.
This is Tudor history at its most dramatic, dazzling best.
Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces
Reuniting 16th-century treasures after 500 years
Taking place in rooms at Hampton Court Palace that were used by the mastermind of the event, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King will combine significant artefacts from the Field of Cloth of Gold with dazzling treasures from Henry's Tudor court and François' Valois court.
Key items will include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments — woven from luxurious cloth of gold and selected by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais.
The resulting display will evoke the political tensions that preceded this defining moment in Henry VIII's reign, as well as the ostentation of the event itself.
As well as a treasure trove of precious objects from the rival courts of Tudor England and Valois France, the exhibition will feature a unique tapestry that will go on public display for the first time in its history.
Manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, the richly woven textile depicts a bout of wrestling at the Field of Cloth of Gold, and includes a black trumpeter among the brace of royal musicians.
This incredible object is one of only a handful of surviving early 16th century visual representations of people of colour at the European royal courts, and the only depiction of a black musician in attendance at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Despite bringing so many tents, and constructing a magnificent temporary palace, Henry VIII slept in the relative comfort and security of nearby Guînes Castle. In 1520 Guînes was within an area of English owned territory around Calais.
A giant dragon flew through the sky at the Field of Cloth of Gold, adding to the spectacular occasion. The dragon was in fact a kite filled with fireworks that was attached by a long rope to a wagon that was driven between Ardres and Guînes.
François I’s tent
François I demonstrated his magnificence by building a 120ft tall tent covered in cloth of gold and topped with a 6ft tall gilded statue of St Michael.
The creator of The Field of the Cloth of Gold painting used it as the model for the golden tent in which the two kings are shown meeting, but in fact François’s giant tent had blown over in bad weather before the meeting took place.
Henry VIII meeting François I
Henry VIII and François I met for the first time on 07 June 1520 in a golden tent. The tent was pitched in a shallow valley called the Val d’Or (Golden Valley) halfway between their two camps.
The English and French retinues stood and watched the momentous occasion from either side of the valley.
Image: depiction of Henry VIII in a stained glass window in the Great Watching Chamber at Hampton Court Palace.
Jousting was the most prestigious tournament event, and was one of Henry VIII's favourite sports.
At the Field of Cloth of Gold Henry and François jousted on the same team so that they did not have to face each other. Jousting could be dangerous and François left the arena with a bloodied nose.
Image: jousters compete on a tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace.
The Tree of Honour
On the edge of the tiltyard (tournament arena) stood an artificial tree with leaves and branches made from silk and cloth of gold. Hanging from the tree were three shields, each representing one of the three tournament sports; jousting, combat on horseback, and foot combat.
To participate in one of these events each knight had to touch the shield of his choosing.
Queens and Kings
The English Queen Katherine of Aragon and the French Queen Claude of France played an important role in the diplomacy and the entertainments at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Katherine and Claude, who was heavily pregnant during the event, hosted banquets and masques and handed out prizes to knights who had distinguished themselves in the tournament. Katherine entertained Francois in the English camp while Claude hosted Henry in the French camp.
Bread ovens and kitchens
Feeding over 12,000 people who attended the Field of Cloth of Gold was no mean feat. It lasted for 18 days and supplies had to be shipped in from all over England and France.
The English provisions included more than 2,000 sheep, 98,000 eggs, 13 swans, and three porpoises.
The English, and no doubt the French, brought huge quantities of wine and beer to Guînes in 1520.
Accounts suggest that the English took the equivalent of 266,000 bottles of wine and 132,000 bottles of beer. The English built fountains that ran with wine and beer.
Image: a replica of the wine fountain at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in Base Court at Hampton Court Palace.
The temporary palace
Henry VIII's greatest piece of showmanship was a huge temporary palace, built from timber and canvas that was painted to look like masonry and tiles. Each side of the building was 100m long. In the middle was a large courtyard and to the rear there was a chapel.
The palace was decorated with terracotta roundels like those still visible at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) and all the windows were glazed. There was so much glass that the French called this the Crystal Palace.
Image: A 16th-century terracotta roundel on The Great Gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace, depicting the Roman emperor Tiberius. The Tiberius bust is one of a series of terracotta roundels each representing the bust of a Roman emperor. They were commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the late 1510s.
Henry VIII processed to meet François I accompanied by a huge entourage. Like the French, the English wore their best clothes – including huge quantities of cloth of silver and gold. This helped to give the Field of Cloth of Gold its famous name.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was the mastermind behind the Field of Cloth of Gold and would have been easy to spot in his crimson robes.
Although he later fell from favour, in 1520 Wolsey was Henry VIII’s most trusted and able servant.
Henry VIII in procession
Henry VIII loved pageantry and wanted to be the most magnificent prince in Europe. On the first day of the Field of Cloth of Gold, Henry wore a doublet and mantel of cloth of silver, with a real gold belt – even his horse was decorated with real gold bells.
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