Cobos, Francisco De Los (c. 1477–1547)

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COBOS, FRANCISCO DE LOS (c. 14771547), Holy Roman Emperor Charles V's most influential secretary. Born in Ubeda, Spain, descended from poor but noble stock, Cobos rose from humble bookkeeper to a position of remarkable wealth and preeminent power through his penchant for hard work, savvy clientage, and the unfailing trust of Charles V (ruled 15191556). In 1522 he married María de Mendoza, a member of the titled aristocracy, with whom he had two children, Diego and María.

In 1493 Cobos left Ubeda to assist an uncle who worked as an accountant for Queen Isabella (Castile, ruled 14741504). By 1503 he had entered the service of Hernando de Zafra, a secretary to the queen and chief accountant of Granada. At Zafra's death in 1507 Cobos inherited the Granada post and attached himself to the rising star of Lope Conchillos, secretary of the Indies. Conchillos's disgrace in 1518 again made Cobos heir to his patron's position. He would remain deeply involved in all issues pertaining to the Americas due to his one-percent share of the smelting of precious metals there. In 1510 Cobos took charge of all requests for royal grants, offices, and rewards, thus facilitating his creation of a network of loyal clients throughout the bureaucracy. He joined Charles's court in 1516 in Flanders, and by 1520 had been entrusted with the management of Castilian administration.

Cobos's influence permeated Charles's governmental reorganization (15231526), which shaped the Spanish bureaucracy in the early modern era. Cobos helped delimit the authority of many of the new governing councils as a personal secretary of the monarch and as secretary of the Council of Finance and the Council of the Indies. Prior to these reforms, the responsibilities of the Royal Council were divided between domestic affairs, primarily judicial, and a "private" council for advice on foreign affairs. The former now became the Council of Castile and the latter became the Council of State. Though Charles appointed the Italian Mercurino de Gattinara as grand chancellor, he refused Gattinara's demands that Cobos report to him about Castilian administration.

Initially, the secretary of the Council of State, the Burgundian Jean Lallemand, served directly under Chancellor Gattinara. A rift quickly developed between the two as Lallemand favored leniency with France and Gattinara pushed an anti-French policy centered on establishing Charles's hegemony over Italy. Cobos supported the Burgundian's faction, but Charles's favor enabled him to survive the dismissal of Lallemand, whom he succeeded as secretary of state in 1529. With Gattinara's death the next year, Charles abolished the position of grand chancellor and divided the responsibilities of the Council of State between Cobos, who managed the relations of Spain and Italy, and Nicholas Perrenot, lord of Granvelle, who did the same for the Low Countries and Germany. Both Cobos and Granvelle reported directly to Charles and accompanied the peripatetic emperor on his endless journeys. Cobos never subscribed fully to Charles's grand policies, which meant committing Spanish resources to protect the emperor's German and Italian territories. He preferred more limited, Castilian-centered objectives: a firm peace with France and the pacification of North Africa. Cobos's influence in foreign affairs peaked with his personal involvement in the negotiation of the 1538 Peace of Nice with France.

After 1539 Cobos remained in Castile, perhaps frustrated that he could not alter Charles's commitment to central Europe. He served in the regency governments of Prince Philip, but was most occupied with the difficult task of funding Charles's continued conflicts with the Turks, France, and the Lutheran princes in Germany. Cobos negotiated and renegotiated loans with the great banking houses of Europe, hawked government bonds, sold off lands of the military orders of Castile, and, when the king's share of American treasure proved insufficient, sequestered the gold and silver of transatlantic merchants. These Herculean efforts enabled Charles to achieve his last glorious victory (over the Schmalkaldic League) at the Battle of Mühlberg in April 1547. By then Cobos had returned to Ubeda, where he died the following month. His greatest accomplishment may have been his restructuring of unprecedented budget deficits to avoid state bankruptcy.

Cobos's biographer concludes that he instilled an esprit de corps in the Spanish bureaucracy based primarily on personal loyalty to their workaholic master. One must also add that loyalty to Cobos provided his servants with ample opportunities for self-enrichment at public expense. Only at the end of Cobos's life, when he insisted that Spanish resources had run dry, did he begin to lose favor with Charles. Though a long-overdue investigation would substantially reduce the Cobos fortune after his death, the magnificent Chapel of San Salvador in Ubeda still stands as a testimony to the poor local boy who made good.

See also Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Gattinara, Mercurino ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Spain .


Carande, Ramón. Carlos V y sus banqueros. 3 vols. Barcelona, 1987. Classic study of Charles V's financial affairs.

Escudero, José Antonio. Los secretarios de estado y del despacho, 14741724. 4 vols. Madrid, 1969. Includes a good analysis of the origins of the Council of State and Cobos's impact on it.

Keniston, Hayward. Francisco de los Cobos: Secretary of the Emperor Charles V. Pittsburgh, 1960. A thorough biography of Cobos.

Martínez Millán, José, ed. La corte de Carlos V. 5 vols. Madrid, 2000. Detailed study of Charles V's court, councils, and councillors.

Daniel A. Crews