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The Field of Cloth of Gold

Five hundred years ago, in a spirit of rivalry and cooperation, two young Renaissance monarchs asserted their power and authority at one of the last great demonstrations of the chivalric age.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, English, c.1545 © Getty Images.

Shortly after 5pm on the afternoon of Thursday 7 June 1520, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France met for the first time. Surrounded by an entourage of knights, gentlemen and troops, they greeted each other on horseback in a shallow vale between the town of Guînes (within the English territory of the Pale of Calais) and the French town of Ardres. That first meeting, and their time together over the following fortnight, became known to history as the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Henry, then 28 years of age, had been king since 1509. Francis was 24 and had ruled France since 1515. Ever since their accessions, Francis and Henry had enjoyed a keen personal rivalry as kings of Europe-wide significance. In this, the younger man had enjoyed the better success to date. For Francis, Henry’s coming to meet him was proof of this. For Henry, meeting Francis was proof that his French rival had reached the limits of this success and now acknowledged that he needed Henry’s support. 

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