When Two Kings Threw the Most Epic Party of 1520

The Field of the Cloth of Gold was the place to be

Field of the Cloth of Gold
1520's hottest party was at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.
By Tobias Carroll / June 24, 2020 6:00 am

When reading about history, there’s no shortage of rivalries and royalty to be found. The clashes between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots have been immortalized in books, art and movies; the rival claimants to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor led to one of the most fascinating periods of English history. While some rivalries have led to war, executions or other bloodshed, there’s another historical rivalry that led to something a little less unsettling: a really good party.

At Smithsonian Magazine, Meilan Solly wrote about the epic event held in 1520 by Henry VIII and Francis I, the kings of England and France. This was the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and in modern currency, it would have cost about $19 million. And for those who attended, it sounds like a gathering for the ages:

From June 7 to 24, around 12,000 royals, nobles, attendants and servants gathered in fields on the northern tip of modern-day France, between English-held Guînes and French-held Ardres, where they enjoyed nights of revelry in enormous temporary palaces of brick, timber, canvas and glass. Guests dined on such delicacies as 29,000 fish, 98,000 eggs, 6,475 birds, 2,200 sheep and 216,000 gallons of wine; competed in jousts, wrestling matches and other tests of athletic prowess; and performed in elaborate masques.

The event was nominally held as a celebration of the two kings’ friendship — but as Solly notes, the lavish expenses were also about both men trying to one-up the other, albeit within the boundaries of the etiquette of the time. Diplomacy isn’t always about treaties and negotiations; sometimes it also involves throwing a party for the ages. One that’s still being talked about 500 years after it was held certainly qualifies.

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