Some Thoughts On The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold

Perhaps the most visually spectacular incident of the Northern Renaissance was the Field of the Cloth of God that demonstrated the sincere efforts of Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France between June 7 and 24, 1520 in the Pale of Calais in what was then English territory but is now a part of northern France. This particular incident, full of extremely lavish spending by both kings, who spent an astronomical sum on temporary architecture, tapestries, clothing, and the like to show off their wealth to each other, was also an effort to promote peace between the longtime rivals who had recently made a treaty in 1514. The event was also the source of a great deal of art that commemorated the event and made sure that it would long be remembered and celebrated as a creative act even if its effects were not necessarily very lasting as a political endeavor.

We might well wonder why this was the case. France and England have long had a complicated relationship with each other, though admittedly the relationship between the two nations only became fraught with difficulty after 1066, as before then the two kingdoms did not really interact in a negative sense, each being more connected with other areas. It was the successful conquest of England by William the Conquerer and its subsequent rule by French-based dynasties like the House of Blois and the Plantagenets of Anjou that made the relationships between the two countries more difficult, because French kings and English kings fought over the reality that the English kings were simultaneously vassals of the French king for their French lands, an intolerable state of affairs for any proud sovereign. Indeed, it was not until the reign of Elizabeth, who took power shortly after the English lost their last territory in France of Calais, that the French and English did not have more or less permanent tension over territory akin to how Spain and England feel about Gibraltar, and by then colonial rivalry was not long in developing between the two countries that would spur on conflict for centuries.

Peace is often an elusive goal in a world of immense competition, especially over prestige, which is viewed as a zero-sum game. Even if the Field of the Cloth of Gold was a financial boondoggle and a failed effort at promoting a lasting peace between two rivals, the fact that peace was seriously attempted and worked even for a while is demonstrative of the longing that people have for a cessation from conflict and the chance to avoid wasteful hostility with neighbors. For a while, at least, knights engaged in jousts and kings competed via art and fashion and songs and displays of wealth rather than bloody efforts on the battlefield. It did not hurt that both kings had a lot to focus on in other areas, with Francis in particular distracted by his efforts to increase his power in Italy, which required that he avoid deadly two-front wars, which encouraged him to seek peace with England at this time. And that peace, however temporary in nature, is still worth celebrating.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, International Relations, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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