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Field of Cloth of Gold

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

In June 1520, the rulers of France and England declared their friendship with an over-the-top display of wealth and power. Known as the Field of Cloth of Gold, the two-and-a-half-week summit featured feasts, jousts, wrestling matches, masques and an endless stream of entertainment. Neither France’s Francis I nor England’s Henry VIII spared any expense on the celebration, which cost the equivalent of around $19 million today.


The event took place between 7 to 24 June 1520 in a valley subsequently called the Val d'Or, near Guisnes to the south of Calais in France. Historian Tracy Borman told Smithsonian magazine that the kings’ personal “rivalry … was so intense that it almost blinded them to the expense involved,” she said. “They were desperate to prove their superiority over each other, no matter the cost.”


Few traces of the summit survive today. Designed to be ephemeral, the traveling courts’ temporary palaces were disassembled as quickly as they’d been constructed. But a rare find recently made in England’s West Midlands may offer a glimpse into the Field of Cloth of Gold.


Charlie Clarke, a 34-year-old café owner who had recently taken up metal detecting as a hobby, discovered a gold pendant and chain in a field in Warwickshire. The heart-shaped pendant was emblazoned with the intertwined initials “H” and “K,” as well as a red-and-white Tudor rose and pomegranate bush - imagery associated with Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (also known as Katherine).


Gold chain with pendant associated with Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, circa 1521
Gold chain with pendant associated with Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, circa 1521 | Trustees of the British Museum

Initially, experts thought it was a fake as it was "too good to be true." However, careful analysis of the pendant’s iconography soon dispelled any doubts about its authenticity, and it likely dates to between 1509, when Henry and Catherine married, and 1533, when their marriage was annulled.


“At the British Museum, we have the largest collection of objects in precious metal from the early Tudor period. None of them are anything like this - they tend to be smaller. Things like this haven’t really survived,” says the Museum's curator Rachel King. The pendant measures almost 2 and a half inches in length, while the chain stretches to just over 17 inches.


The British Museum team has found no evidence that the pendant personally belonged to either Henry or Catherine. But Rachel King says that “its quality is such that it was certainly either commissioned by or somehow related to a member of the higher nobility or a high-ranking courtier.” How the accessory eventually landed in a field in Warwickshire is unclear, but it will likely end up in a museum collection.

 

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