Charles I of Spain (1500–1558)

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Charles I of Spain (1500–1558)

Charles I of Spain, born on February 24, 1500, was king of Spain from 1516 to 1556 and Holy Roman emperor, as Charles V, from 1519 to 1558. The grandson of Ferdinand II and Isabella I as well as the emperor Maximilian I, Charles inherited an empire that stretched from Germany to the Americas. Throughout his reign he struggled to keep his inheritance intact in the face of Protestant threats in Germany, French threats in Italy, and Turkish threats on the Mediterranean coast. Despite tremendous military expenditures, Charles was unable to check all three forces simultaneously. The war against France kept him, for instance, from giving the necessary attention to the spread of Lutheran doctrine in Germany. Charles's solution there was to delegate authority to his brother, Ferdinand (king of Bohemia and Hungary), who ultimately negotiated a religious settlement in the Peace of Augsburg (1555). Toward the end of his reign Charles began a division of the Hapsburg inheritance by giving to his son Philip II the territories of Naples, Milan, the Netherlands, and Spain (1554–1556) and relinquishing his imperial title (1556–1558) to his brother, who reigned as Emperor Ferdinand I.

Because of his Burgundian origins, Charles I was initially not well received in Spain. He faced his first political crisis in 1519 with the revolt of the comuneros (Castilian rebels) who demanded that he exclude foreigners from high positions at court and give the Cortes a greater role in government. When Charles granted the participating cities a general pardon, he inaugurated a more favorable relationship with his Spanish subjects.

Charles respected the autonomy of his widespread domains and ruled through a system of viceroys or regents (often family members) to preserve his personal rule. The viceroys acted as liaisons with his various councils. The central governing institution and highest administrative body was the Council of Castile, staffed largely by non-aristocratic jurists. Grandees served on an advisory council of state. To these bodies were added councils of finance (1523) and the Indies (1524). Charles's main sources of royal revenue were Castile, Aragon, the Church, and America, although he also drew upon resources in the Netherlands and Italy.

One of Charles's most important partnerships was with Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), who would become conquistador of the Aztec empire of Montezuma. All of Cortés's actions in New Spain were in the name of his monarch, Charles V. For his part, Cortés suggested that Charles add the designation of Emperor of the Indies to his lengthy list of titles, but he declined. Charles maintained a eurocentric attitude toward his New World possessions and for most of his reign European mines produced greater quantities of silver than those in the colonies. However, he capitalized on the influx of American silver to secure monetary loans from European financiers.

See alsoCortés, Hernán; Ferdinand II of Aragon; Isabella I of Castile; Spanish Empire; Viceroyalty, Viceroy.


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                        Suzanne Hiles Burkholder

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Charles I of Spain (1500–1558)

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