The year was 1544, and, after many gruelling months, the Frenchmen in the coastal town of Boulogne had surrendered to the English. When he heard news of the surrender, a victorious King Henry VIII triumphantly flung his hat into the air.
The hat was caught by Nicholas Bristowe, Henry’s Clerk of the Wardrobe, who kept it as a souvenir of the siege. Today, that hat is set to go on display at Hampton Court Palace, a favourite Royal residence of King Henry. The hat is a magnificent piece of Tudor costume made of luxurious silk and silver, with an ostrich feather and a row of holes meant for carrying a jewelled hatband.
In 1543, King Henry allied with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and together, they meant to invade and subdue France. The plan was that both rulers would march to Paris – Henry through Picardy and Charles through Champagne – where they would combine forces to overthrow the French monarchy. However, while a large English army set out from Calais, not all of it reached the French capital. Somewhere along the way, the army was split into two, and one half, led by The Duke of Suffolk, headed to Boulogne.
Arriving in Bolougne on the 19th of July, the English forces began to lay siege upon the small coastal town. King Henry was determined to capture the territory, as retribution for the French helping England’s enemies in Scotland. But although the town was lacking in fortification, its garrison fought fiercely to defend their homeland. A few weeks after the siege began, The King himself arrived to take control, and by September, the town had all but been taken, and only the central castle remained standing. The French garrison prevented the English soldiers from approaching the castle on foot, forcing them to tunnel under the walls in an attempt to seize the castle. Their endeavour was successful, and the French surrendered on the 19th of September.
It was probably at this point that King Henry threw his hat up in the air in jubilation.
Nicholas Bristowe was an important courtier in the Tudor courts, serving not only King Henry VIII, but also all three of his children. Apart from his roles as Clerk of the Wardrobe and Beds, he was also the Clerk of the Jewels to King Edward VI and Mary I and Elizabeth I. In addition, his brother Robert served as Purse Bearer to Queen Elizabeth in the later years of her reign, the latter half of the 16th century.
But while the hat is thought to have belonged to King Henry VIII, historians believe that the hat had a foreign origin, and perhaps a less than noble one. It is possible that Nicholas Bristowe got the hat from a prisoner in the Tower of London, as a reward for his Royal service. This claim is bolstered by the fact that Bristowe had also acquired some clothes belong to Thomas Cromwell, following his execution.
The hat was acquired by Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which runs and maintains Hampton Court Palace, directly from Bristowe’s descendants. The hat has been kept in exceptionally good shape, and will feature among over 10,000 objects that comprise the costume collection at Hampton Court, following some restoration work.
Photo courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces