User:Ohnogodnotagain/Field of Cloth of Gold
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Europe in the 16th century was a turbulent period. A time of revolt, a time of reformation, of discovery and excessive drinking. Wars were waged constantly throughout the Middle Ages in a struggle to wrest power from more superior countries. The dominant powers in Europe at this time were France, ruled by Francis I and the Holy Roman Empire, led by Charles V.
As a minor sovereign state, England desperately needed to forge an alliance with one of these powers. France was elected and a much more subtle approach was decided upon in the form of 'The Field of the Cloth of Gold' - a remarkable event in the struggle for power, marked in the main by England's attempt to woo a superior force by means of a show of pomp, wealth and overall jollity.
Early in 1517 King Henry began reflecting upon previous, invariably hostile meetings with King Francis. It was irksome to think that a King whos country produced the finest couteur and some of the best cuisine in Europe,
Despite his country producing the highest quality champagne and over 48 different delicious cheeses, why was it always the bowl of snails and a beret?
Besides the nasty taste it left in the mouth, he also found them exceptionally boring. Henry decided that a much lighter, more amusing take on things may be more successful - something frivolous; thereby killing two wives with one guillotine. And why didn't I think of that?
Boredom regularly affected King Henry (often resulting in the king flailing around uncontrollably wielding his enormous sword in empty rooms or failing that, rooms that were full). He found life at court tiresome, with its daily round of sycophantic courtiers, jesters, embroidering and singing women. He had developed a craving for adventure and excitement very early, exhibiting a penchant for gambling at the age of three and being gripped by a love of bear-bating in fancy dress at age six (though this was curtailed shortly after his seventh birthday by his nanny after an unfortunate incident with the double-sprung bear-proddler at an all-nighter in the nursery). By the age of ten Henry had mastered extreme falconry and at fifteen years was amongst the most adept participants in his whole court at naked surf-wrangling, bloodless donkey-boweling and in-armour bubo-bursting which he enjoyed enormously and, due to his ox-like constitution, managed never to become infected to a life-threatening degree.
Always on the look-out for a stimulating opportunity to exhibit his prowess as a gamester, a note was duly dispatched to Cardinal Wolsey with instructions to arrange an event on a spectacular level and carrying the post script: “.....and verily, invite that tart Frank (Francis I, King of France), codpiece the size of a cow and ego to match - we’ll have a bloody good time and show that poncy Frenchman how it's done”.
Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, as King Henry's trusted advisor and organizer of all things, was solely entrusted with the arrangements for the meeting. He duly sent the French King his invitation, and received by return of post his acceptance and a generous offer to hold the event at a very beautiful private location at the Val d’or.
edit Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey (circa 1471 or 1475? - 29 November 1530)
Son of an Ipswich butcher and cattle dealer, Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey (sometimes spelled Woolsey) ingratiated himself into the Kings service early in 1509 by the usual methods: deception and subterfuge. His ability to lie, cheat and steal meant that he rose quickly to immense power and wealth. Despite an Oxford University education, Wolsey let his hang-ups about his lowborn status get in the way, effectively hobbling his self-confidence and forcing him to revert to animal cunning. As often happens to people with emotional baggage, he soon developed an aura of great charisma, exuded bags of charm and learned to hypnotize people.
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Wolsey never had much trouble in convincing anyone of anything, and soon got the hang of pushing Henry’s buttons (flattery, gifts, flattery, money, flattery, virgins). For example, in January 1507, Cardinal Wolsey commissioned an oil painting by Holbein of the King, instructing him to increase the size of the codpiece by a factor of 10. Shortly thereafter, the Royal Chaplain was decapitated after slipping on an icy patch and falling into a lake; and Wolsey was appointed to succeed him. In 1518, he sent Henry a magnificent doublet and hose (deluxe set), 200 gold sovereigns and a chocolate bunny. Henry appointed him Papal Legate later that same year.
The construction of the royal camps began in the spring of 1518, the two kings deciding they should get ready in secret, so they could each make a big entrance and so astound the other with their largesse. An outbreak of cholera and dysentery in the winter of 1519 cost the lives of approximately 1,900 peasants working on the projects and held things up slightly, but by 1520, all was ready. King Henry issued a Royal Proclamation: the theme would be 'gold,' - 'verily, the meeting ground shalt be adornedeth lavishlie in as costlie gold cloths as can be had; statues, awnings and such as can be hung with the gold shall be hung with the gold and each guest shalt weareth the gold vestments. All the steeds shall be flung over with gold. And their riders. And the roads shall be vested with the gold paint and paint the trees and the very hedgerows with the goldest goldest paint and paint the peasants and the lepers and all the poxy ones so that, verily, everything will be all shiny with gold, gold, gold!!" (etc.). Hence the epithet 'The Field of the Cloth of Gold'. Listing the 5,000 invites, which included the greatest nobles of the realms, it outlined an itinerary of banquets, jousting, pageantry and dancing, pig-poking and peasant-baiting, ending with a high Mass al fresco to be conducted by Cardinal Wolsey himself.
Shortly after arriving in France, Henry started out for Val d’Or on 7 June. He and his huge retinue were cheered along by a three-mile long spontaneous gathering of flag-waving peasants, all in suitably attractive stages of starvation. On arrival at Val d’Or, the two kings accompanied by the greatest nobles of their realms galloped around to a trumpet fanfare before meeting in the middle of the field. Still mounted they kissed each other three times before being seated, unmounted, at the top table.
King Francis, making his speech, announced that a treaty would be signed at the conclusion of the festivities which proposed marriage the between the infant Mary Tudor and the Dauphin; at which Catherine of Aragon promptly threw up, believing her daughter to be engaged to a sort of porpoise. After reassurances to the contrary, and having changed her dress, Queen Catherine composed herself and King Francis concluded that this treaty was intended to end French interference in the affairs of Scotland; the French (mainly from Marseilles), causing horrendous port congestions by chartering private galleons and sailing over in boatloads to try to establish ménages a trios with adulterous Highlanders.
The three-and-a-half day festivities were then opened with a jousting match between the two dashingly handsome kings, 'they making their steeds to bound and curvet as valiantly as men could do' and impressing the guests no end with their stylish thrustings. They entertained each other’s queens frequently and partook in the main events with unbridled enthusiasm taking second and third prizes in the 'Have at Thee, Thou Saucy Varlet' competition.
The French Royal Chapel laid on one of the finest choirs in Europe and, aside from a worrying outbreak of pustulous buboes amongst a syphilitic wandering minstrel troupe from the Ardennes and a few dozen accidental deaths, was lauded by all present as a great success.
Things began to take a decidedly downward turn when, conducting his mass, Wolsey failed to keep to schedule and after a four and a half hour overrun, Henry's boredom began to re-assert itself and turning to King Francis, suggested a friendly wrestle to pass on the time. Things quickly got out of hand when King Francis, proving himself by far the much stronger, more agile opponent, locked Henry in a half-nelson and laughing manically and gesturing towards his enormous codpiece, almost choked Henry to death. The greatest nobles of the realms and other guests stood by horrified, unable to intervene on pain of death and when Francis finally relinquished his grip on the embarrassed monarch Henry was actually unconscious. The king's Physician/Boil-Sucker-by-Appointment eventually managed to revive King Henry after administering twenty minutes of cardiac massage and a hot mustard poultice. Henry was stretchered away groaning to his tent, bringing the event to an abruptly premature end; the guests dispursed and Francis was left to clean up the mess.
edit Wolsey: the Aftermath
Upon disembarkation at Portsmouth, Henry immediately declared war on France and blamed Cardinal Wolsey for 'the whole bloody fracas.' A Royal Proclamation was issued and nailed to every church door in the Borough of London, proclaiming the Cardinal to have made ‘A Proper Cock’ of things. Wolsey (in fear of his life and anxious to win back his irate monarch's favour) being in possession at the time of the magnificent Hampton Court Palace, invited King Henry to a sumptuous banquet there in his honour, entertaining Henry with a masqued whore-pummelling contest, a costumed re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, and a band of bald mummers who, after an hour and a half of idiotic pantomime, were customarily stoned off stage with the complementary bag of large pebbles issued to each guest. The following Tuesday afternoon, Henry confiscated Hampton Court Palace to the Crown “because I like it. And because Wolsey is a cock”.
Wolsey was sentenced to death in November of 1530 on trumped-up charges of shoplifting, donkey-shagging and shit-throwing at a hag race but deftly avoided decapitation on the eve of his execution by means of a cardiac infarction in the Tower of London.
Despite almost bankrupting both kingdoms, the Field of Cloth of Gold achieved precisely nothing, serving only to further damage relations between the two countries. Furthermore King Henry, embarrassed and feeling vengeful, changed the whole complexion of England's religious / monarchical institution; launching himself into a frenzied church-bashing / monk-murdering spree, or Reformation, he declared the Pope a whore, dissolved the monasteries, made up his own religion with matching bible, dressed in women’s clothing, and generally made a complete dick of himself.