Textile History: Henry VIII and Cloth of Gold

Cloth of gold – today we are blase about lame, but 500 years ago, it was the stuff of royalty. Extremely fine strips of gold or silver were cut from thin sheets of metal. In most cases, the core yarn is silk wrapped with a band or strip of the silver or gold filé. Though the resulting fabric was rather stiff and heavy, it was worn whenever “glam” was the order of the day.


Henry VIII, of course, is famed for his extravagance and his insistence on luxury. In June of 1520, he travelled to France to negotiate an alliance with King Francois I, against the Holy Roman Empire. The two kings were both regarded as paragons of manliness, kingliness, handsomeness, courtliness, and all the other  positive -nesses any man would want to be. They were also arch-rivals. Henry and Francois decided to meet near Calais, each arriving with huge retinues of courtiers and household necessities. They promptly set about showing each other up, sparing no expense in setting up grand temporary cities, with most of their clothing and huge pavilions covered in cloth of gold. They jousted, banqueted, strutted about, partied……the world had never seen the like, and the extravaganza became known as The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Apparently they left little time apart from their revelry, because an alliance was never accomplished. The Field of Gold was a political fiasco, virtually bankrupting both governments. But it must have been tons of fun…..

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2 thoughts on “Textile History: Henry VIII and Cloth of Gold

  1. I listened to a long BBC podcast about this recently – fun to see the painting they were describing. I kept forgetting to look for it online.

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