Cloth of Gold, Fountains of Red
Never underestimate the ability of King’s to impress, intimidate and above all – drink.
On the 7th of June, 1520 two of Europe’s, and indeed history’s, ‘superstar’ monarchs met in a carefully orchestrated and utterly extravagant occasion. “The Field of the Cloth of Gold” was one of those occasions which history authors and film makers dream of. Here was Late Medieval society at its most ostentatious, bare chested and vibrant. Their diplomats and advisor’s wrestled over treaties and diktats, whilst the two impressive princes of Christendom wrestled in a more literal sense. No expense was spared. The meeting of Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England was a drama in itself.
At its very epicentre was an artefact truly worthy of such an occasion. A twelve-foot tall fountain spewing red wine freely to one and all. It’s a wonder the meeting was remembered by any who attended, yet alone be regarded as one of history’s great ‘moments’. One French guest observed that the fountains ‘continually spouted white wine and claret, the best that could be found, with large silver cups for any one to drink – which was a remarkable thing!’. To this day, we still do not know how it worked.
Because to the Tudor mind, no occasion could go unmarked without a few red wine stains. The trick of feeding wine into a fountain was replicated to mark special occasions, allowing the low-born churls to try this impossibly decadent liquid as a marked contrast to the usual drudgery of ale. Such was the case for the coronation of Anne Boleyn. I personally believe that this is fantastic ancient tradition that needs reviving for a modern audience to… enjoy.
Even the choice of wine was politically loaded. Henry favoured the regal, red and rich taste of Claret. Why was this a controversial choice? Well Claret, or Bordeaux as it is more internationally known, is as close as you get to a great English wine province, albeit in the heartland of France. Indeed from the twelfth century to the mid fifteenth, Bordeaux and much of Aquitane was under the rule of England. What could be more provocative then to serve the King of France his own wine, but with a dangerous glint in the eye? The relationship between the two doesn’t end their – as England continued to be the principle market for Bordeaux wines up until Napoleon closed the European borders to Anglo-Trade.
Then perhaps it’s no surprise that the great English favourite – ‘The roast Beef Sunday dinner’ is ideal fodder to be eaten alongside a good bottle of Claret, they match perfectly. After all, a country’s wine and it’s food are inseparable, a product of an evolutionary co-existence. But is it any wonder, with such a rich pairing, that gout struck down that great Prince who was so young and athletic at the Field of the Cloth of Gold?
It is after all, known as the King’s disease.
Phew – did I get through that without mentioning Wolf Hall? Oh blast.