Here we have three works representing the three leading powers in Western Europe in the early sixteenth century: The Society’s portrait of the young Francis I of France (we know he is young here as the portrait is based on a portrait type created when he was still beardless); an engraving of a miniature showing the young King Henry; and the arms of Charles of Habsburg- painted beside Henry’s on this garter roll.
These young, ambitious monarchs were now united by the Treaty of London, with the Field of Cloth of Gold summit having further strengthened alliances (Henry had held a successful meeting with Charles V days before meeting with Francis).
Henry had centred himself in the peace talks; he had showcased his military might and the magnificence of his Court; and Henry and Francis had used their meeting to satisfy their mutual curiosity and display their athleticism, strength, and power. However, England remained the smallest of the leading powers when compared to powerful, wealthy, and expanding France and Charles’ empire – the biggest in Europe in the last 700 years. Henry obsessed over how he compared to these other European monarchs. If he was going to prove his worth and continue to exercise power in European geo-politics, he needed something more. With Francis I known as Christianissimus (most Christian) and Charles V having recently been named Holy Roman Emperor, Henry needed a title.
Learn More / Did you Know
The portrait type on which the Society’s panel was based was evidently produced before September 1519, by which time Francis was wearing a beard, according to the Venetian ambassador to England. On hearing this, Henry VIII proceeded to grow his own beard although he shaved it off soon after, which alarmed the French, who saw it as a sign of disaffection.
The Order of the Garter is an English order of knighthood, founded by Edward III. Appointments are at the monarch’s discretion and are usually given in recognition of public or personal services to the monarch and to the nation.
Henry held several portraits of Francis I in his own personal collection, including one described – intriguingly with regard to the Society’s portrait – as a ‘little round picture of the French King when he was young’. Even so, the Society’s painting of Francis is more likely to be a copy of such a gift, rather than the original.
- Artist or workshop unknown
- Production Place
- Oil on oak panel
- C. 1515-19
- C. 1515-19
- H445mm W310mm
- Kerrich bequest of 1828