A very big thank you to Susan for hosting me today! I wanted to share an excerpt from my new book ‘La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor a Life in Letters’, focusing on Mary’s participation in the magnificent Field of Cloth of Gold. This event was a meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francis I, but as the Dowager Queen of France, Mary was an important connection between the two countries and played a significant role in the events.
Excerpt: Mary Tudor and the Field of Cloth of Gold
The Field of Cloth of Gold was a spectacular event held from 7 to 24 June 1520, on a piece of land between the English-held town of Guisnes and the French town of Ardres. The land was dubbed the Field of Cloth of Gold because of the cloth the English had commissioned for the main tent. The event was organised to celebrate the ratification of the Treaty of London between England and France.
Henry was determined to show the French the riches and greatness of England. To do so he ordered ornate clothing to be designed and made, expensive furnishings to be collected and a magnificent pavilion to be created in which the royal family would reside. While the royal coffers paid for many of these items, other members of the nobility were forced to pay their own expenses. These included furnishings, clothing, horses, and weapons and armour for those participating in the jousts. Such was the expense that many noblemen had to mortgage their houses, sell property and take out loans in order to take part in this extraordinary event.
On 31 May 1520 Henry and his entourage, including Mary and her husband, set sail from Dover accompanied by approximately 5,000 men and women, together with some 3,000 horses. They landed at Calais and rested a time before travelling to Guisnes on 5 June. On 7 June the French and English kings finally met in a valley between Guines and Ardres. Henry wore cloth of silver decorated with jewels and a hat with white plumes and Francis wore cloth of gold frieze and jewels. The kings rode towards one another and when they met they removed their bonnets, dismounted and embraced one another warmly. They were led to an English pavilion where they could talk.
A spectacular pavilion had been set up for the king and Katherine to stay in during the event. The pavilion apparently covered four acres and was made up of wood and canvas tents that could be joined together or separated by hangings to form rooms. Within the pavilion there were private apartments and a chapel. Sketches of the pavilion show that it was made from red cloth decorated with Tudor roses and fleur-de-lis and fringed with gold. The mottos ‘Dieu et mon droit’ and ‘semper vavat in eterno’ were embroidered on the eaves. On the top of each pavilion pole were models of beasts including greyhounds, dragons, antelope and lions. It is estimated that 6,000 people were hired to build the pavilion and the other tents. Mary and her husband Charles Brandon had the honour of residing in one wing.
The Field of Cloth of Gold event lasted seventeen days and included a range of entertainments including archery, wrestling, jousting, magnificent feasts and of course the exchanging of expensive gifts. Although an outward display of friendship and unity, the events were a chance for each country to try and outdo the other in strength, skill and a show of wealth.
The Duke of Suffolk was one of the stars of the jousts. On Thursday 14 June he ran twenty-four courses, broke eighteen staves and scored three hits. This was a tremendous display of strength, skill and stamina and for his efforts he was rewarded with great prizes. Mary was the star of the grand meeting. As Dowager Queen of France and a princess of England she was the connection between both countries. Mary had a good understanding of the French ways. On 11 June Mary proceeded to the tiltyard, carried in a litter of cloth of gold embroidered with lilies and monograms of L and M, signifying Mary’s marriage to the late King Louis XII. It is reported that the French were delighted by Mary’s beauty, which had not faded despite childbirth and illness.
One evening King Francis dined in the English camp where he was entertained by Queen Katherine. Katherine and Francis sat opposite one another at the head table, each under a cloth of estate. Mary sat at a table by herself, a few yards from the French king. By having a table to herself, Mary was allowed to shine in her beauty and grace and this isolation underscored her position as the Dowager Queen of France. On the 17th Mary accompanied her brother and dined at the French camp with Queen Claude. On another occasion Mary and Henry entered the French camp accompanied by a party of masqueraders.
When the whole extravaganza finished on 24 June, Francis returned to Abbeville. Instead of returning to England immediately, Henry and his court went to Gravelines where they met Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Once more, a possible alliance between England and Spain was discussed. More discussions were held in which Henry’s daughter was offered as a bride for her cousin Charles V, but a formal treaty of friendship was not finally agreed until 25 August 1521, more than two years later.
About the Author
Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and ‘QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.