Object of the Week | 01/07/2021

A new exhibition at Hampton Court Palace opens to the public on May 20th 2021 and runs until September 5th. ‘Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King’ commemorates the 500th anniversary of the fabulous political event known as the Field of Cloth of Gold. One of its star exhibits is a unique Cope, made from cloth of gold and red silk damask, taken to the Field of Cloth of Gold, and which belongs to the British Jesuit Province.

The Field of Cloth of Gold, an 18-day meeting between Henry VIII and François I in 1520, was unparalleled in its lavish demonstration of wealth and power. Inside huge temporary palaces, under tents made of luxurious cloth of gold or on the specially constructed tiltyard, the two competitive kings and their courtiers jousted and wrestled, hosted great banquets and exchanged expensive gifts. Wine flowed from the fountains and a 'dragon' flew above the festivities. ‘Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King’ will combine significant artefacts from the Field of Cloth of Gold with dazzling treasures from Henry's Tudor court and François' Valois court.

The Field of Cloth of Gold was the brainchild of Cardinal Wolsey, who deemed the celebration necessary in cultivating good relations between the two nations, with the prevention of war as the ultimate goal. This exhibition will take place in the significant location of the rooms of Hampton Court Palace that were used by Cardinal Wolsey. It will also feature the Cardinal’s Book of Hours, a beautifully illuminated manuscript gifted to him by a fellow Cardinal, Lorenzo Campeggio and now belonging to Stonyhurst College.

Other key items include the Henry VII Cope, belonging to the British Jesuit Province, which is the sole survivor from a set of twenty-nine extremely prestigious cloth-of-gold and red silk damask velvet copes commissioned by Henry VII for Westminster Abbey in the late 15th century. The complete set was borrowed by Henry VIII in 1520 to take to the Field of Cloth of Gold. By 1608, only eleven of the twenty-nine were still in the Abbey, and these were burned in 1643.

This Cope is the first recorded example illustrating the Jesuits’ long history as ‘keepers of memory’ of British Catholic material and spiritual culture. its presence at St Omers was first mentioned in October 1609, where it was ‘preserved as a rich and rare memorial’. Its route to St Omers came via the recusant Cotton family, who were supporters of Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell. Somehow, the Cottons managed to acquire some of the Henry VII vestments, including this Cope, and gave them to Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Provincial. By 1609 the Cope and an associated chasuble were safely at St Omers

The Cope is an illustration of the much-overlooked history of the Jesuits as the primary conduits, recorders and re-interpreters of an extraordinary wealth of English and Welsh pre-Reformation and recusant material culture. Many other artefacts owned by the Province which are on loan to Stonyhurst are displayed in the museum in their specific Jesuit context which actively reinterprets these rescued objects as historic symbols of Catholic affirmation which underpinned (and continue to underpin) the cultural, educational and spiritual mission of the College and the Province.

Jan Graffius and Hatty Magill, Stonyhurst College Collections