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Power and Pageantry

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Power and Pageantry; Magnificence and Munificence

Henry was the father of the English navy and, by the time of his death in 1547, the fleet had grown to fifty-eight ships. The extravagant ship “Great Harry” conveyed him and part of his retinue to France for his meeting with Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In England, Henry also made a point of putting on display his vast wealth and his indulgent lifestyle. In 1546, Henry combined Cambridge’s King’s Hall and Michaelhouse Colleges to found Trinity College with the goal of producing future leaders of the Church of England.  He also completed the hugely expensive construction of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, which was begun a century earlier. Despite these grand gestures, one might conclude that his goal was less to further education than to demonstrate his wealth and power.

Unknown Artist. The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Painting, ca. 1545

The image above depicts The Field of the Cloth of Gold—the name given to the site of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France. Henry and Francis tried to impress and outshine each other, and neither spared any expense. Huge temporary pavilions were erected to serve as halls and chapels, and great silken tents were decorated with gems and cloth of gold. Organized jousts and tilts, other competitions of skill and strength, masked balls, and lavish banquets filled the days and evenings. Henry challenged the French king to a wrestling match. Francis won.


At right are two images of further shows of power and wealth: King's College and a manuscript listing the gifts given by Henry for New Years Day, 1539.


King’s College was first founded by Henry VI in 1441, but it was only under the first two Tudor kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII, that its spectacular chapel was completed. The majority of construction and glazing of the windows was completed during the reign of Henry VIII, who was also responsible for the chancel screen, which bears the carved initials of Henry and Anne Boleyn, and much of the chapel woodwork. When Henry died in 1547, King’s College Chapel was recognized as one of Europe’s finest buildings.


The New Year's gift roll is eight and one-half feet long and signed on both sides by the king. It lists the gifts given by Henry to various recipients, arranged in descending order of precedence. Listed are “the Lorde Prince (Edward),” “the Lady Mariee,” “the Lady Elizabeth,” and “the Lady Margret Doughtles,” followed by “Bisshops,” “Dukes and Erles,” and lesser “Lordes.” The value of each gift is listed in the right-hand column. On the back of the document are some of the gifts received by the king, also in descending order of precedence. In the section headed “Gentelmen,” the gifts presented to Henry include “a brase of greyhoundes” from the marquis of Dorset, “a boke covered with grene velvet” from Lord Morley, “a night cap with cheynes & buttons of golde” from the Countess of Hampton, and “a shirte of camericke wrought in silke” from Lord Richard Grey. Learn more about the gift roll by listening to the curator's audio tour remarks, at right.


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Rudolph Ackerman. A History of the University of Cambridge. London, 1815


Gifts Fit for a King

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