Henry VIII’s summit turns into a drunk wrestling match
As most of us know, King Henry VIII of England had a huge appetite, and not just for food and women. The monarch was also a big drinker, downing huge amounts of wine and regularly enjoying to excess at his lavish banquets. According to the history books, on many occasions, such drink-fueled festivities descended into farce or pure debauchery. So, when Henry VIII arranged a summit with king Francis I of France, it was inevitable that wine would play a big part in fueling the efforts of international diplomacy.
The summit took place in a field outside of Balinghen, close to modern-day Calais in northern France, for two weeks in June 1520. Both kings brought huge parties with them for event, which was planned with the goal of improving relations between England and France. Indeed, it was even hoped that the two kings could find a way of making law between Christian nations completely illegal.
Hundreds of people attended. And, while the summit was supposed to be a serious affair, it soon became one giant party. It was this decadence that gave the event its name – large tents were erected, many of them fashioned out of golden silks, and in these, the kings and their courtiers really let their hair down. The accounts from the time reveal that wine foundations were built and flowed most days and nights. Archery contests and jousting were held. Perhaps wisely, the rules of the summit dictated that the two kings would not compete directly against one another in any of the sports.
Suddenly, however, fueled by drunken bravado, King Henry VIII challenged his French counterpart to a wrestling match. Though accounts differ – largely due to political bias – it’s safe to say that, despite his huge frame, Henry was not the greatest of wrestlers. Francis won the rumble. Henry was a very bad loser. The summit, which had started in such good spirits and with high hopes, soon turned sour. Both kings packed up. The party was over.
What effect that drunken decision to have a booze-fueled wrestling match had on history is open to debate. But the summit never did ensure peace for Europe. Instead, within weeks of returning to England, Henry’s main man, Cardinal Wolsey, forged an alliance with Charles V, King of Spain, head of the Holy Roman Empire and avowed enemy of Francis I and France. Later that same year, Charles declared war on France, starting a conflict that would last five years and leave thousands of men dead.