For the last 24 hours I have been stuffing clothes into suitcases.
I am doing my best to prime the dog, but am hampered because he doesn’t speak English. He looks at me as I try to explain that his forest will be soon exchanged for a beach, and in best Far side tradition hears:”Blahblahblahblahblah”.
He wags his tail. His whole life is, “Bring it on.”
The children have put together a capsule toy collection and every one of my precious gadgets and their chargers is about to be packed up and shipped out.
These days we have cars and wheelie vinyl suitcases. I look at the travelling trunks of old, and I pale. To haul such huge wooden boxes around must have made travelling such a huge undertaking.
Unless you were a king, of course.
In May of 1520, Henry VIII and his entourage packed up their trunks and set out from his palace at Greenwich to travel down to Dover. Henry’s destination: Guisnes. Parley with the French King. Field of The Cloth of Gold.
Travelling was not simple. Royal officers would ride ahead to great houses on the route to check provisions and find billets for the less fortunate ‘outer entourage’ in local inns and houses; and then the officers of the Wardrobes and Beds would move in, packing plate, beds, tapestries and clothes.
And as they travelled, the King’s business must continue.
The flurry of letters winging their way back and forth as Henry’s people made their way towards Dover is just fabulous. These are voices from 1520, talking about the stuff we read in history books from a ringside seat. You can read them here: gems from the bustle already going on in France.
The Earl of Worcester writes a disgruntled letter saying Wolsey has put the Queen’s stand too far away from the jousting action. Accounts of accounts. Intelligence sent to Wolsey that the French King has gathered all his courtiers about him and informed them of Henry’s impending arrival, vowing he should be treated as “the prince of the world whom he esteemed, loved and trusted most.”
The bill for the gold cloth alone is compulsive reading.
Dover Castle was their last stop before getting on the boats for France. And hanging in Hampton Court Palace is the most stunning document of the superhuman effort it must have taken to get the English Court across the sea.
It’s called “The Embarcation at Dover”. The name of the artist is lost in time, which is a shame, because if you stand in front of it you can feel the brine in the air and the wind tugging at your clothes. Internet representations do it scant justice. The choppy sea, those great ships prepared to carry the king and his court across the sea, details where courtiers hob-nob, people scrambling onto the ships from smaller craft: I can almost hear it, it is so very vivid.
It was painted 24 years later, with licence: ships this big could never have got into this harbour at this time.
But it captures the excitement of setting out. Behind them, Henry’s Dover stronghold on the hill. In front of them: adventure.
Which is what we Shrewsdays always find, when we travel down to the same place for our holidays. We’ll see the castle and stand on the harbour with the wind in our hair. Those great Tudor ships will be exchanged for huge white ferries and all the other craft which use this incredible marine gateway.
Of course, Henry would turn in his capacious vault if he saw the proposals to sell the harbour to the French.
But that’s another story for another day.
Many thanks to On The Tudor Trail for details about Henry’s travel arrangements