The Field of Cloth of Gold was first and foremost a feat of arms, a show of power and strength. It allowed the French and English to demonstrate their readiness for war within a controlled environment and with the aim of peace between the nations.
There were eight days of jousting, two days of fighting on horseback or tourney, and two days of foot combat. The monarchs fought on the same side. Although Henry and Francis performed well, the overall standard of jousting was poor due to bad weather.
By the time of the Field of Cloth of Gold, tournaments had become theatrical events, although the combat was real. They were an important part of major diplomatic and political activities.
When Henry and Francis fought on foot at the Field of Cloth of Gold, it was said that ‘fyre sprang out of the armure’. Sparks flew. Both kings wanted to show off their fighting skills and the foot combat, controlled by rules and specialised equipment, allowed them to do so without risking their lives.
Instead of pollaxes they used blunted darts, spears and swords and a new style of barrier was used to push the fighters apart if they got too close.
Henry favoured the two-handed sword as it allowed him to show off his strength and skill.
Francis was concerned that they would cause too much damage to the competitors’ gauntlets. Eventually a compromise was reached.
An optional round of foot combat was added in which two-handed swords were allowed.
Two-handed sword, about 1500, English, IX.633
Blunted two-handed swords, like this slightly later edged example, were used for the combat at the barriers to ensure the safety of the participants.
Some 600 two-handed swords were bought by the Crown for the foot combat at a cost of 7s. 6d each (about £200 today).
Two-handed sword, 1529, German, IX.991
Tudor historian Edward Hall described fighters at the barriers using ‘casting darts’ and ‘puncheon spears’.
We know that casting darts were thrown, and puncheon spears were thrust.
The spears probably looked like this example from the same period. This is sharp, however, the spears at the Field of Cloth of Gold were blunted for safety.
Spear, early 16th century, probably Italian, VII.85
These are mitten gauntlets. They were very good at protecting the hands because of the single lame, or piece of metal that covered all the fingers.
Hands were very vulnerable to injury when wielding a weapon during foot combat.
Mitten gauntlets, about 1510, Flemish, III.778 and III.779
Everyone at the Field of Cloth of Gold used their clothes and armour to say something about themselves. Rich, costly textiles added to the overall theatre of the event. For Henry and Francis in particular, their clothing helped them to appear magnificent, a quality expected from royalty.
Sometimes featuring complicated decoration, their clothes expressed carefully considered messages. While Henry often chose symbols associated with England, Francis presented himself as a ruler who balanced action with intellect.
This tapestry gives us an idea as to the kind of the textiles worn over armour at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
David and Bethsheba Tapestries 'La ressemblement des chevaliers', about 1525, RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de la Renaissance, Château d'Ecouen) / Gérard Blot
Henry VIII's tonlet armour how it might have appeared at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
© Michael Perry, 2019
Not only did the tonlet armour look magnificent, but also it moved smoothly and easily, allowing Henry to show off his martial skills to best effect.
As well as the foot combat the Field of Cloth of Gold also included a joust and tourney. The joust was the most important event at any tournament. A pair of contestants charged at one another on horses with lances; it was the perfect stage for heroic acts.
The tourney simulated mounted battlefield combat with lances and swords. Both provided an opportunity for competitors to display their horsemanship, bravery and skill-at-arms. Henry and Francis took part in three days of jousting and one day of the tourney.
Jacques de Lalaing and the Sicilian Knight jousting, about 1530, Master of the Getty Lalaing c.1530 Ms. 114 (2016.7), fol. 48v Getty Museum
Apart from the shields, this gives a good impression of the style of armour and jousting at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
During the joust and tourney at the Field of Cloth of Gold, horses wore a steel shaffron like this one to protect the head and also a leather bard for the body. The rules for the event, created by the French, don’t mention horse armour at all.
Shaffron, about 1520, Flemish, VI.68
Although the joust at the Field of Cloth of Gold was a joust of peace, competitors wore armour for war rather than sport. This was the fashion at the French court.
As the Field of Cloth of Gold was held on English soil, it was agreed that the French would set the rules. The helmets shown on the following three slides illustrate the difference between armour for war and armour for sport.
This helmet would have been disallowed. It was designed for a joust of peace. The angled visor directed lance strikes away from the face. To protect the neck from being violently jolted, the helmet was firmly attached to the breastplate.
Helm for the joust of peace, about 1500, English, IV.1
This helmet would have been allowed. It was designed for the battlefield.
The helmet has a similar angled visor to the helm for peace shown on the previous image. It is not as protective and so extra plates would have been worn including over the lower face and neck.
Allowing war armour at the Field of
Cloth of Gold meant more people could compete, not just those who could afford jousting armour.
Armet, about 1510, Flemish, IV.576
We are not sure whether this helmet would have been allowed or not. Although it looks like a helmet for war, it has been made safer for jousting, which probably broke the rules. It has a spring stud that kept the visor closed and its narrow slit for vision would protect against lance splinters.
Close-helmet for the joust, about 1520, Flemish or English, IV.413
This image depicts complete armours for war as would have been worn at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Battle at Lokeren, about 1530, Master of the Getty Lalaing c.1530 Ms. 114 (2016.7), fol. 151 Getty Museum
Jousting cheque from the Field of Cloth of Gold, 1520,
Society of Antiquaries, London SAL/MS/136/2
This jousting cheque, or score sheet, is from the Field of Cloth of Gold itself.
It includes the names of the challengers and answerers and their heraldry, including that of Henry and Francis. Hits to the head and body, and points for broken lances were recorded in the boxes.
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