Next year marks the 500th anniversary of one of the more important, and visually impressive diplomatic missions between the British and French monarchies, the Field of Cloth of Gold.
In the summer of 1520, Henry VIII of England met François I of France near Calais, for a meeting designed to improve relations between the two great rival kingdoms. The competing royal dynasties, along with thousands of their courtiers, enjoyed a 18 days of feasts, tournaments, masquerades and religious services set amidst a sea of specially built – and famously elaborate – tents, banqueting houses and ‘portable palaces’.
So magnificent was the occasion that it became known as ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’.
Now, Hampton Court Palace has announced that it will open an exhibition next year exploring the drama, diplomacy and discord behind the spectacle.
Contrasting the regal pageantry with the story of those who toiled behind the scenes, the display will star a never-before-seen tapestry which sheds rare light on people of colour in the Tudor period. Manufactured in Tournai in the 1520s, the richly woven textile depicts a bout of wrestling at the Field of Cloth of Gold presided over by François I, and includes among the brace of royal musicians a black trumpeter.
This incredible object is one of only a handful of surviving early 16th century visual representations of people of colour at the European royal courts and provides a window into the largely unknown world of the black Tudors.
Records show that European courts regularly employed people of colour in this period, and another black trumpeter named John Blanke appeared on Henry VIII’s payroll during the early years of his reign, performing at a tournament held to mark the birth of a long-awaited – but ill-fated – son and heir. However, this tapestry is the only depiction of a black musician in attendance at the Field of Cloth of Gold.
Believed to have been woven for one of François’s courtiers in memory of the event, the tapestry will go on public display for the first time in its history.
The exhibition opens next April.