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The Long Road to an Uneasy Peace

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The long road to an uneasy peace

The meeting between France and England at the Field of Cloth of Gold was the result of six difficult years of diplomacy.

Traditionally, war had been the way to gain power, but new thinking was beginning to make nations act differently and seek recognition through peaceful pacts and treaties.

In 1518 Pope Leo X called for peace in Europe to face the threat of the Ottomans under Selim I. This inspired Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief advisor, to unite 20 European nations under a pact known as the Universal Peace. This paved the way for the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Despite the peaceful purpose, all who attended the event were aware that gathering former enemies together could lead to trouble. Some local towns even prepared defences.

Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

A painting of a battle
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Six years of talks

Henry’s principal advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and Sir Richard Wingfield, ambassador to the French court, were hugely important figures in the organisation of the summit. They skilfully navigated the difficult course between the competing interests of Henry VIII and Francis I and maintained the fine diplomatic balance.

Though Henry and Francis both wanted peace, the Field of Cloth of Gold was also a means to an end, as both tried to increase their political strength and status in Europe.

groups of people in colourful clothes with a ship in the background

Behind the times?

England had a reputation in Europe as being behind the times, not modern in its thinking, fashion or art. This European painting contrasts old-fashioned England, on the left of the painting, with modern Brittany on the right.

'The Meeting of Ursula and the Prince', 1497-1498, Vittore Carpaccio, Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice

groups of people in colourful clothes with a ship in the background

'The Meeting of Ursula and the Prince', 1497-1498, Vittore Carpaccio, Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice

a group of knights in battle

'The Battle of the Spurs' about 1513. Flemish School, 16th century.
Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

a group of knights in battle

The war that inspired peace

As recently as 1513 England and France had been at war. Despite this piece of Tudor propaganda, the Battle of the Spurs was little more than a skirmish and Henry was nowhere near the fighting. The mixed success of the campaign prompted peaceful discussions between England and France.

'The Battle of the Spurs' about 1513. Flemish School, 16th century.
Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

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Ambassador for Henry

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey wanted Henry VIII to become an indispensable leader in Europe. He persuaded Henry to meet Francis at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530), Royal Minister, Archbishop of York, about 1520, Unknown. © Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge.

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Ratification of the Field of Cloth of Gold by Henry VIII, 1520, English, Archives Nationales, Ratification par Henri VIII des dispositions prises par le cardinal Thomas Wolsey pour la rencontre avec François Ier, datée du 7 avril 1520 (J 920 n°30)

manuscript of treaty signed by Henry VIII

Ratification of the Field of Cloth of Gold by Francis I, 1520, French © The National Archives, UK, E 30/847

manuscript of treaty signed by Francis I

A royal agreement

These documents are signed by Henry VIII and Francis I. Their signatures confirm that they were both happy to meet to celebrate the peace between their countries. The documents are the result of years of negotiation and discussion.

manuscript of treaty signed by Francis I

Ratification of the Field of Cloth of Gold by Francis I, 1520, French, © The National Archives, UK, E 30/847

manuscript of treaty signed by Henry VIII

Ratification of the Field of Cloth of Gold by Henry VIII, 1520, English, Archives Nationales, Ratification par Henri VIII des dispositions prises par le cardinal Thomas Wolsey pour la rencontre avec François Ier, datée du 7 avril 1520
(J 920 n°30)

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A balancing act

The deliberate theatre and excess at the Field of Cloth of Gold created an environment of ‘competitive hospitality’. The tournament and diplomatic displays were used to demonstrate the strengths and hopes of both kings and their nations.

The carefully choreographed spectacle ensured that no side outshone the other. Despite this there was a sense of unease, as many participants had faced each other on the battlefield just a few years earlier.

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An unwelcome reminder

When rain interrupted the jousting on the 13 June, Henry’s guard provided an archery display using bows like this one, recovered from the Mary Rose.

Probably irritated at this reminder of past English victories over the French, Francis was said to have been dismissive of the display, making ‘but small countenance at that pastime’.

Bow stave, about 1545, English, XI.1

A longbow
Henry VIII and Francis I meet, attended by finely clad retinue Detail from an illuminated treaty showing Yeomen of the Guard, 1527, National Archives E30/1114 Henry VIII and Francis I meet, attended by finely clad retinue Detail from an illuminated treaty showing Yeomen of the Guard, 1527, National Archives E30/1114

The objects on the next three pages were probably made for Henry’s Yeomen of the Guard.

Henry had commanded the captain of the Guard to bring only ‘the tallest and most elect persons’ to the Field of Cloth of Gold. The 200 men and the weapons they carried were a show of Henry’s wealth and military power.

Established by Henry VII following the battle of Bosworth in 1485, the Yeomen of the Guard were an elite fighting force. Two Yeomen are seen here on the right wearing green and white Tudor livery.

A show of power

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Only the best

Keen to equip his guard with the best quality weapons, Henry bought lots of military equipment from Italy.

This bill has been partly gilded, originally it probably had an expensive brazil wood stave, or shaft, and was decorated with velvet and silk in the Tudor colours of white and green.

Bill, about 1510, Italian, VII.1341

A five pronged staff weapon
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Designed to impress

This winged spear or corseque was designed to impress. It has etched and gilt decoration with fashionable Renaissance motifs. To make it look even more spectacular, the stave, or shaft might have also been covered in crimson velvet.

Corseque, about 1510, Italian, VII.1340

three pronged staff weapon decorated with gold
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Henry’s buckler?

We think this shield, or buckler was made for King Henry VIII, or a member of his guard.

Now held at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, it is decorated with Tudor badges and the pomegranate of Queen Katherine.

Gilt buckler with coat of arms of Henry VIII, about 1520, Welsh
© the Musée de L’Armée

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The impact of the Field of Cloth of Gold

By 1522 England and France were at war, but the Field of Cloth of Gold was far from a failure. It had established Henry VIII and England upon the European stage.

The enormous expense and huge efforts put into the event suggests that both nations genuinely wanted long-lasting peace and friendship.

However, tension between Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (1519 – 1558) and Francis I ultimately led to war. Henry was forced to choose a side or find himself excluded again from European politics.

Charles V, about 1519, Bernard Van Orley, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Renaissance prince with prominent jaw wearing fine clothes
a group of knights in battle

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