Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King will bring the opulence and spectacle of the Field of Cloth of Gold – Henry VIII’s legendary encounter with his great rival François I - to life at Hampton Court Palace
Opens 10 April 2020
500 years ago, in the summer of 1520, Henry VIII of England met François I of France near Calais, for an astonishingly grand European festival, designed to improve relations between the two great rival kingdoms. The competing royal dynasties, along with thousands of their courtiers, enjoyed a lavish 18 days of feasts, tournaments, masquerades and religious services set amidst a sea of specially built - and incredibly elaborate - tents, banqueting houses and ‘portable palaces’. So magnificent was the occasion that it became known as ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’.
Now, from 10 April 2020, Historic Royal Palaces will be celebrating the anniversary of this legendary meeting of kings with a special exhibition at Hampton Court Palace exploring the drama, diplomacy and discord behind the dazzling spectacle. The exhibition will be situated at the heart of the Tudor palace, in the very rooms built for Cardinal Wolsey - Henry VIII’s chief minister and one of the principal organisers of the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Contrasting the regal pageantry with the story of those who toiled behind the scenes to make this grand vision a reality, the display will star a never-before-seen tapestry which sheds rare light on people of colour in the Tudor period.
Manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, the richly woven textile depicts a bout of wrestling at the Field of Cloth of Gold presided over by François I, and includes among the brace of royal musicians a black trumpeter. 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 provides a window into the largely unknown world of the black Tudors.
Records show that European courts regularly employed people of colour in this period, and another black trumpeter named John Blanke appeared on Henry VIII’s payroll during the early years of his reign, performing at a tournament held to mark the birth of a long-awaited – but ill-fated – son and heir. However, this tapestry is the only depiction of a black musician in attendance at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Believed to have been woven for one of François’s courtiers in memory of the event, the extraordinary tapestry will go on public display for the first time in its history.
The exhibition will also feature a treasure trove of precious objects from the rival courts of Tudor England and Valois France – renowned throughout Europe for their opulence and sophistication – and will unite priceless artworks, the finest armour, richly decorated textiles and surviving examples of the lavish gifts exchanged by the two courts. 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 – and another of only a handful of the remaining depictions of the meeting produced in the 16th century: a famous painting entitled The Field of the Cloth of Gold, on loan from the Royal Collection.
From 23 to 31 May 2020, Hampton Court Palace will also play host to Henry VIII vs. François I: The Rematch, a 9-day festival of jousting, wrestling and foot combat complete with feasting, drinking and courtly entertainment, as Henry VIII invites François I to visit his Thames-side pleasure palace. The palace’s famous wine fountain will be in full flow for the occasion, and a specially recreated ‘portable palace’ will take centre stage as history comes to life in the East Front gardens. Pitching the Tudor Court against its French counterpart, it promises to turn the delicate art of diplomacy into a fierce competition!
Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Dr Tracy Borman, said:
‘The Field of Cloth of Gold was a hugely important moment, not just in the history of our most famous king, Henry VIII, but in the shaping of our national identity and the making of modern Europe. In bringing together a host of treasures from the iconic meeting, this unique exhibition and exciting programme of events will reveal the fascinating story of the people and politics that lay behind it. This is Tudor history at its most dramatic, dazzling best.’
The Field of Cloth of Gold celebrations at Hampton Court Palace will be complemented by an AHRC research network focusing on the Tudors, in collaboration with the University of York. Led by Historic Royal Palaces’ Head of Research, Professor Anthony Musson, the project will examine the political and cultural significance of Henry VIII’s royal progresses on a national and international scale – including the impact of the Field of Cloth of Gold – and will culminate in major academic conference at Hampton Court Palace on 29-30 June 2020.
Notes to Editors
For more information and images, please contact Adam Budhram in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: [email protected]/ 0203 166 6307
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens. We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. With the exception of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, these palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Historic Royal Palaces cares for Hillsborough Castle and Gardens under a separate contract with the Northern Ireland Office. Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk
The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact. It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are regularly open to the public. The Royal Collection is held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by The Queen as a private individual.