Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: Field Of The Cloth Of Gold

Susan Smith Columnist
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When the Larry, Moe and Curly of the current Administration (that would be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry, of course) announced in their typically humble fashion that they were going to conduct American’s foreign policy by “smart power,” one couldn’t help but wonder exactly what that meant, especially coming from such ignorant, arrogant and clueless individuals.

We can see this vaunted “smart power” being played out as we speak in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Yemen, Tunisia, Belgium, Russia, France, Brazil, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Turkey – in fact, wherever this triumvirate of idiocy has practiced its misguided principles, disaster has resulted.  It is infrequent in world history that such hubris has not only been allowed to continue for eight years, but has been done in light of the fact that it hasn’t worked – anywhere, with any nation, with any leader.

There is one time in history that comes to mind, however, not just for its similar hubris and in its somewhat naïve utopianism, but also for it resemblance to Obama & Co.’s pathetic attempts to stage international events as occasions of great historic significance.  This would be for no other reason, of course, than they are involved with them.

At least this event, though, in 16th century France/England, known rather dashingly as the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold,’ was much more elegant and fun than anything our dreary trio could ever have come up with.

In 1520, the three most powerful leaders in the Western world were King Francis 1 of France, the Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and King Henry VIII of England.  Each one was supremely powerful in his own right, and each one was young, attractive, charismatic, and beloved by his people.

Each one was also willing to do anything to achieve power over the other.

Henry VIII had a brilliant advisor at the time in Cardinal Wolsey, who, while he was advising Henry to communicate with Charles regarding a treaty and/or binding agreement to avert war, or at least bring war only to France, the clergyman was also working to organize a significant meeting with Francis to achieve a similar rapprochement with France.  The arrangements were made for Henry and Francis to meet just outside of Calais, which though in the nation of France, was English property at the time.

One of the most extraordinary, and unlikely, meetings in history was thus scheduled for June 7th to June 24, 1520, between the two monarchs.  Henry and Francis camped out, though not in any ordinary sense: the surrounding chateaux were not thought to be magnificent enough for the participants, so huge pavilions were erected to serve as halls and chapels, along with great silken tents decorated with gems and cloth of gold.  Cloth of gold, in the 16th century, was “a fabric woven with thin strands of gold interspersed with more traditional materials, often silk.”   It was a very expensive and rare commodity.

Thus this meeting was to be the ultimate opportunity for each king to display the grandeur and wealth of his court.

Henry brought almost 5000 knights, courtiers, servants, officers at arms, etc., along with his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and all her ladies and courtiers; Francis brought a similar number with him.  Everyone, from the monarchs to the servants, attired themselves in as a grand a style as possible to enhance the grandeur of their court.  Henry, for example, entering the field of the first tournament of the gathering, appeared with an “armour-skirt and horse-trapper …decorated with 2,000 ounces of gold and 1,100 huge pearls.”  He was followed by the Earl of Devonshire, who “appeared that day wearing cloth of silver, all elaborately embroidered, with his entire retinue wearing the same uniform.”

One of the most spectacular aspects of the meeting was a temporary palace of timber and canvas constructed by the English court to accompany the pavilions and tents.  It was said that the palace “was built so quickly that it seemed like a magic thing.”  The palace “was only made of wood, but was so painted and gilded that it shone and glittered in the sunshine like a fairy palace.  Great golden gates opened into a courtyard where two fountains, sparkling with gold and gems, flowed all day with red and white wine instead of water.”

Inside the structure, “the palace walls were hung…with cloth of gold and silver, everything was rich with embroidery and sparkling with gems.  Wherever possible, gold and jewels shone.”  Real glass had been installed in the structure for windows, and the facades adorned with sculptures.  From looking at the front of this faux palace, it looked as real as any grand, solid, structure, but it was only canvas for walls inside, albeit vastly and expensively decorated.

Not to be outdone, when Francis saw this Potemkin Village edifice, he erected a grand tent, the “center pole of which was a gilded mast.”  The inner lining of the tent was blue velvet, and the “roof was spangled with golden stars, and a golden sun and moon shone night and day.”  The exterior of the tent was “covered with cloth of gold, and the ropes which held it up were of blue silk and gold.”

Sadly, though the tent was completed on schedule, and looked very grand indeed, shortly afterwards a very strong wind arose which “snapped the ropes of silk and gold, broke the mast and brought the blue velvet sky, the glittering stars, and golden walls to the ground.”  Francis had to content himself with moving into an old castle nearby.

For the almost three weeks of the confab, there were grand tournaments, in which the kings fought and jousted with the knights, (the kings always won), balls, feasts, masques, fireworks, ‘running at the tilt, sword battles, and many different kinds of sporting events.  The meeting almost came to a screeching halt during one of these, in fact, when Henry got a bit carried away and challenged Francis to a wrestling match, (Henry had a tendency to get carried away, which was demonstrated more and more as he progressed in his kingship; i.e., beheadings of wives, obliteration of the Catholic church in Britain, destruction of the monasteries in England, etc.), but in this case it almost destroyed the gathering.  Francis, who was 6’ 6 ½” and lean and wiry, easily bested the English king, who was 6’2” and just beginning to put on weight, in the wrestling match, and Henry, who did not handle defeat well, was humiliated and incensed.  Saner heads prevailed, however, and the meeting continued.

The elaborate societal rules of the time were followed religiously.  One evening, for example, the French king went to the English camp to dine with the Queen of England, as was done at this time, and was “graciously received.”   Her Majesty and a group of noblemen, “together with a large number of ladies and gentlemen all richly dressed in cloth of gold, velvet and silks then took some time dancing in the banqueting hall, and before he started to dance, the French king went from one end of the room to the other, carrying his hat in his hand and kissing all the ladies on both sides – except for four or five who were too old and ugly.”  During this interval, the king of England was similarly occupied with the Queen of France and her retinue in the opposing camp.

And a grand time was had by all, except for all the many notables who were totally bankrupted by their participation in this extraordinary folly.  And folly it was, for despite all the planning, the grandeur, the expense, the effort, the jewels, the plotting, the ostentation, the comraderie both false and true, the meeting resulted in… nothing.

Three weeks after the occurrence of the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold,’ where Henry and Francis agreed “in principle” to an alliance, Henry met with the Emperor Charles V.  At this subsequent meeting, Henry and Charles signed an actual “treaty of alliance,” resulting in Charles declaring war on France within a month of that time, and England was forced to participate.  England and France, as they had been for most of their histories together, thus were at war again.

This really does bring to mind the idiocy of the Clinton, Kerry, Obama foreign policy.

No doubt their equivalent of the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ was Kerry’s hosting of James Taylor singing “You’ve Got A Friend” at the American Ambassador’s residence in Paris into a non-functioning microphone at what they considered to be an effective method of “outreach” to Muslim terrorists.

The style and fun were all with Henry and Francis in the 16th century, though.

Click on the link to read Susan’s Guns & Politics column.

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Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects.. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.