Hampton Court Palace re-opened with a new exhibition and a dazzling display of Tudor treasures
In May 2021, it will be 501 years since King Henry VIII of England met King Francis I of France near Calais, France, for an astonishingly grand European Renaissance festival, designed to improve relations between the two great rival kingdoms.
The competing royal dynasties, along with thousands of their courtiers and knights, enjoyed a splendid fortnight of feasts, tournaments, masquerades and religious services amidst specially built, and incredibly elaborate, temporary tent palaces.
So magnificent was the affair that it became known as ‘The Field of Cloth of Gold’.
From 20th May - 5th September 2021, Historic Royal Palaces celebrates the anniversary with a special exhibition, focusing on the events of 1520, and revealing the characters, opulence, spectacle and stories behind the organisation and festivities.
Visitors will be able to explore fascinating paintings from The Royal Collection, commissioned to commemorate the event at the end of Henry VIII’s reign alongside surviving artworks, objects and documents from the occasion itself, and from the rival courts of Tudor and Valois.
The exhibition - with a host of measures including hand sanitiser dispensers and social distancing signage - will be held at the heart of the Tudor palace of Hampton Court, in rooms built for Thomas Wolsey - Henry VIII’s chief minister, Cardinal to the Pope and one of the principal organisers of the Field of Cloth of Gold.
An absolute must for group, coach and MICE tour operators planning 're-opening' itineraries!
All activities will be included in admission to Hampton Court Palace.
Further information for Visitor Groups & Travel Trade
The display will star a never-before-seen tapestry which sheds rare light on people of colour in Tudor times.
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 European royal courts and provides a window into the largely unknown world of 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 extraordinary tapestry will go on public display for the first timein its history.
The exhibition will also feature a treasure trove of precious objects showcasing the opulence and sophistication of Tudor England and Valois France and will unite priceless artworks, richly decorated textiles and finely crafted metalwork. Key items will include the spectacular Stonyhurst vestments – woven from luxurious cloth of gold and selected by Henry for use at the religious services held near Calais – and another of only a handful of the remaining depictions of the meeting produced in the 16th century: a famous painting entitled The Field of the Cloth of Gold, on loan from the Royal Collection.
Meanwhile, outside in the palace’s 60 acres of formal gardens, visitors can enjoy the same sense of space and tranquillity which made Hampton Court Palace one of Henry VIII’s favourite places to escape from London. For the summer season, a series of handmade wicker sculptures help bring the estate’s Tudor history to life, with jousters,gardeners and even a royal dog walker all waiting to be discovered!
Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Dr Tracy Borman:
‘The Field of Cloth of Gold was a hugely important moment, not just in the history of our most famous king, Henry VIII, but in the shaping of our national identity and the making of modern Europe. In bringing together a host of treasures relating to this iconic meeting, this unique exhibition will reveal the fascinating story of the people and politics that lay behind it. This is Tudor history at its most dramatic, dazzling best.’
The exhibition will be included in admission to Hampton Court Palace. Advance booking will be required to help Historic Royal Palaces manage capacity and to allow everyone to enjoy their visit. Group organisers can book timed tickets via the Historic Royal Palaces website. If you have a Travel Trade account, you can book your time slot via the B2B portal.
Man & Monarch HENRY VIII by Susan Doran and David Starkey, The British Library 2009, P. 93 - 97
Historic Royal Palaces
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens. HRP helps everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built.
Historic Royal Palaces receives no funding from the Government or from the Crown, but depends on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.
The palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and Historic Royal Palaces manages them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
Historic Royal Palaces believes in four key principles:
Guardianship: giving the palaces a future as long and valuable as their past
Discovery: encouraging people to make links with their own lives and today’s world
Showmanship: doing everything with panache
Independence: having their own point of view and finding new ways to do their work
All photos © Historic Royal Palaces 2021