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The English Preparations

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The English preparations

Preparing for the Field of Cloth of Gold was a huge task. Almost every noble in England attended, with each family having to make preparations at their own expense. Henry VIII needed to match the number of attendants Francis was bringing - a tough task for a much smaller country.

Months of hard work went into buying horses, weapons and material, thousands travelled to the site near Calais to join French workers building tents, an arena, viewing platforms and even a temporary palace.

Part of the Greenwich armoury was moved by ship as well as wagonloads of ‘armoury stuff’. In the middle of all this, news arrived that a new armour would have to be made, from scratch, for King Henry.

Invitation to Sir Adrian Fortescue to attend the Field of Cloth of Gold in the retinue of Queen Katherine, 1520, © The British Library

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A call to nobles

Though English noble families were invited to attend the Field of Cloth of Gold, it was clear that Henry commanded their presence. All were issued with instructions about what to bring and were ordered to dress befitting their status.

Organised like a military campaign, the presence of hundreds of Henry’s subjects was designed to act as an impressive demonstration of royal and national power. Despite the significant cost it was an honour and duty to attend, and a chance for some to improve their social standing.

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Invitation to the
Field of Cloth of Gold

Approximately 1,130 people received invitations to the Field of Cloth of Gold.

It states that all should dress ‘in apparaill as to your degree’.

Invitation to Sir Adrian Fortescue to attend the Field of Cloth of Gold in the retinue of Queen Katherine, 1520,
© The British Library

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A helmet for foot combat

Giles Capel was part of Henry’s retinue at the Field of Cloth of Gold. He may have worn this helmet there during the foot combat. Designed to provide maximum protection, the small slots in the visor ensured there were no large gaps for weapons to penetrate.

Foot combat helm of Sir Giles Capel, about 1510, English or Flemish, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1904 (04.3.274)

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A helmet from three angles A helmet from three angles Foot combat helm of Sir Giles Capel, About 1510, English or Flemish, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1904 (04.3.274) Henry VIII was not the only one who had new armour made for the Field of Cloth of Gold. Giles Capel’s family judged this to be his ‘beste helmett’ and hung it above his tomb after his death. Slide

Video duration: 3 minutes

a painting of ships departing with fortifications in the foreground

'Henry VIII's Embarkation at Dover', about 1520 - 1545, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

a painting of ships departing with fortifications in the foreground

Henry VIII's
Embarkation at Dover

Transporting people and materials to France was a massive task. Henry is shown aboard the 'Great Harry' which has golden sails.

'Henry VIII's Embarkation at Dover', about 1520 - 1545, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

Painting of the field of cloth of gold

'The Field of the Cloth of Gold', about 1545, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

Painting of the field of cloth of gold

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

The scale of the summit was staggering, involving nearly 12,000 people, magnificent temporary structures and hundreds of luxurious tents.

'The Field of the Cloth of Gold', about 1545, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

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In the middle of the preparations for the Field of Cloth of Gold and with just three months to go, the French changed the rules around the foot combat event. Henry would need a new armour.

With men and equipment from the armoury already in Calais, the armourers had to think quickly, make compromises and be resourceful.

The tonlet armour they made with a skirt and bascinet helmet is proof of their quick thinking and amazing skills.

A change of plan

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Henry’s tonlet armour

This armour was worn by Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold. It was originally blued and gilt and decorated with Tudor roses. The armour played a major part in making Henry appear magnificent and, although it had been made quickly, it still would have been incredible to see.

Henry VIII’s tonlet armour for the Field of Cloth of Gold, 1520, Greenwich, II.7

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With men and equipment from the armoury already in Calais, the armourers had to think quickly, make compromises and be resourceful.

A outline of armour with several pieces highlighted in orange

A rushed job

The armour was made and decorated quickly. Three people applied the etched decoration, one of whom made a mistake.

Henry VIII’s tonlet armour for the Field of Cloth of Gold, 1520, Greenwich, II.7

close up of armour showing details Hand written text on a damaged script

Articles and Objects

The Royal Armouries cares for one of the most important national collections of arms and armour in the world.

As history’s expert witness, we shall inspire people to discover and understand how many of the most compelling narratives of human endeavour and experience have been, and continue to be, shaped by arms and armour.

Find out more about the exhibition objects

Learn more about the Field of Cloth of Gold

Henry VIII's Court Armoury

The English Preparations

A Fight for Peace

The Long Road to an Uneasy Peace

Exhibition Themes

Credits

Royal Armouries