In 1518 the English Cardinal Wolsey had negotiated the Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact that was signed by the twenty major European powers of the time. However, peace held for barely a year before two of the signatories went to war and Wolsey began to arrange meetings between Henry VIII and the other monarchs to salvage the agreement.
Francis I of France was barely three years younger than Henry and, like his English counterpart, was keen to display the grandeur of his court. Consequently both men approached their forthcoming meeting as an opportunity to outshine the other, resulting in a more than two week long festival of riches and entertainment.
The meeting took place between the communes of Ardres in France and Guîne, which at the time was under English rule. Both rulers erected lavish temporary palaces and pavilions due to the castles in the nearby communes being in a poor state of repair. The extensive use of cloth of gold, which was woven with real gold thread and silk, would later give the site of the meeting its name. The extravagance of the two kings knew no bounds, with Henry’s encampment featuring a gilt fountain that ran with wine and claret.
The event also featured such competitions as jousting and wrestling, with Henry being defeated by Francis in the latter. Yet despite the joviality provided by these games and other entertainment including banquets and exotic animals, the meeting ended on 24 June with little political progress. Less than three weeks later Henry signed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Francis’ main rival on the continent.