As you may know already, Henry wasn’t too successful in his wars against France. He had to accept that England wasn’t going to be able to win glory through fighting. Henry’s clever adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, came up with the idea that England could become famous by making peace in Europe, not war. In 1518 he drew up the Treaty of London – a deal which meant lots of European countries agreed not to attack each other.
The Treaty of London was a big success when it was signed, but within a year it looked like it might fall apart. One of Wolsey’s ideas to help keep the peace was for Henry to meet Francis I, King of France, in a big celebration. This would show everyone that it wasn’t necessary to fight in order to impress other countries. In 1520, the two kings met in a place called Balinghem in France. At the time, England owned a small part of France around the city of Calais called the Pale of Calais. This is where the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel is now. Obviously, the Channel Tunnel was built a long time after Henry VIII died!
The Field of the Cloth of Gold got its name from the spectacular fabric, cloth of gold, which is woven with strands of real gold. Henry had a marquee made of cloth of gold, and both kings used the meeting as an opportunity to show off their grandeur and riches. Francis wore clothes with precious stones and pearls attached to them, and there were banquets and feasts during the two-week event. The strange thing about the Field of the Cloth of Gold is that everything was temporary – the wooden-framed tents were painted to look like they were made from brick and stone, but it was all for show.
Unfortunately for Henry, the hugely expensive and grand meeting didn’t make much difference. It had been a grand spectacle but, like its temporary wooden structures, it was quickly forgotten about. War in Europe broke out soon afterwards, and Henry had to try to make alliances (agreements) with other European countries to keep England safe.