The Field of Cloth of Gold:
I do not often these days get the chance to review books. This therefore makes a delightful exception. This book also makes a delightful read.
Richardson’s account not only updates Stephen Anglo’s scholarly and beautifully illustrated work on this staggering event of sixteenth century diplomacy. It also enlarges on and supplements its detail. Richardson takes us into the heart and head of renaissance kingship. He unpacks the vast baggage trains that crossed France and the English channel to makes this event possible. He gives a sense of the scale of this undertaking – rather akin to two armies meeting in northern France. He catches something of the vanity and foolishness of the diplomatic boasts and the gamesmanship within the heavily staged games being played on the field.
Yet here we are also introduced to a world where this is more than just spectacle and showmanship for their own sake. This means something profound. Admittedly the Field talks to a Europe of Humanist hopefulness and Renaissance ideals that is already over-shadowed by the first stirrings of Luther’s Reformation. Bitter religious division will dissolve these dreams of chivalric monarchy and a Universal Peace in the blood of faith. dungeon, fire and sword will extinguish the grandiloquent hopes foreshadowed in the field and Europe will not really see its like again until the Congress of Vienna. And this is also a moment where one man, born low and raised high, stands equal with Europe’s three greatest monarchs: Emperor charles V; Francis I and Henry VIII. The Field of Cloth of Gold expresses above all the ideas and ideals of the Cardinal of York, Thomas Wolsey.
Richardson’s book takes from the background of the Universal Peace through the nuts and bolts of the on-off meeting; through the grand schemes and the provisioning of these two courts assembled in tents and finally through the events themselves with their gift exchanges and all the other panoply of nonsense we now take for granted at State Visits and on grand diplomatic occasions. He rightly observes the Field of Cloth of Gold gives us the language of the modern summit. The man responsible for that is Wolsey – more than the kings themselves.
There are lists of officers and many details of the hows and whys and wheres of things supplied for the occasion. This book will remain a handbook for scholar and a reference work in addition to just being a jolly good read. One cannot help but feel in the conclusion Dr Richardson is teasing us about another book he has in mind…..