Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) (1500–1558; Holy Roman Emperor, 1519–1556; King of Spain as Charles I, 1516–

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CHARLES V (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15001558; Holy Roman emperor, 15191556; king of Spain as Charles I, 15161556)

CHARLES V (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15001558; Holy Roman emperor, 15191556; king of Spain as Charles I, 15161556). Charles was born 24 February 1500 at Ghent, the son of Archduke Philip of Habsburg and Joanna I, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile. Philip's death in 1506 made Charles ruler of the Netherlands under the regency of his aunt, Margaret of Austria. Shortly thereafter, his mother succumbed to mental illness, making him king of Castile under another regency, which lasted until 1516. In that year his grandfather Ferdinand died, leaving him the kingdom of Aragon and its Italian possessions. By this time he had assumed rulership of the Netherlands in his own right. In 1519 the death of his paternal grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian I, brought him the Habsburg possessions in Austria and southwest Germany and made him a prime candidate for election as Holy Roman emperor. By year's end, Charles was unanimously elected emperor after a campaign involving large payments to the electors and veiled threats of force. In the next two decades, his Spanish subjects conquered Mexico and Peru, adding much of the New World to his already enormous inheritance.

The beneficiary of these deaths and conquests was a pale, unprepossessing youth who developed slowly into a conscientious ruler. His tutors, including Adrian of Utrecht (the future Pope Adrian VI), instilled in him a deep, if conventional, piety and a solid understanding of politics. His interests nevertheless remained practical rather than speculative, and though imperial propagandists at one point tried to develop a rationale for universal monarchy, Charles's goals were simpler. Throughout the reign his chief purpose was to preserve his family's patrimony and to protect the Catholic Church.

Even these modest goals faced three obstacles: the intractable hostility of Francis I of France (ruled 15151547), Ottoman expansion up the Danube valley and in the Mediterranean, and an ongoing crisis in Germany, which linked the religious Reformation begun by Martin Luther to the growth of princely autonomy. The causes of these problems differed, and each followed a different historical course, but the emperor and his advisors could rarely decide upon a policy in one area without considering its possible impact on the others. Moreover, his adversaries in each case were sometimes able to combine forces against him. Charles therefore spent most of his reign at war.

Charles achieved his greatest successes against Francis I, who disputed his claims in Italy and supported his enemies in the Netherlands. In the course of seven wars with France the emperor made good his claims to Naples, Sicily, and Milan, and consolidated his possessions in the Netherlands. But the French wars crippled his finances and distracted him from other causes that were closer to his heart. Among these was the war against the Turks. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the Danube valley brought Muslim armies to the gates of Vienna by 1529. In the Mediterranean, Muslim fleets sailing from the ports of North Africa raided his Spanish and Italian kingdoms, causing widespread suffering and loss. The crusading ideal appealed to Charles, but he had only partial success in turning back the Muslim threat. The Turks retreated from Vienna after Charles relieved the siege of 1532 largely because they had reached the limits of their logistics. In the Mediterranean, Charles captured Tunis in 1535, but failed in 1541 to seize Algiers. The raids continued, because the Christians could not in the long run control all of the North African towns or the hinterland that supported them.

The German problem proved even more difficult to resolve. As a devout Catholic, Charles believed that his duty as emperor compelled him to oppose the spread of Protestantism and to devise a program of imperial reform that would strengthen the empire's institutions, if necessary at the expense of princely independence. His condemnation of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521 accomplished nothing. In 1530 at Augsburg and again in 1540 at Regensburg he attempted to achieve peaceful solutions to the religious issue, but in each case negotiations broke down. He defeated the Protestant Schmalkaldic League in 15461547, but their cause revived in 1552 with French assistance. In 1555 Charles reluctantly agreed to the Religious Peace of Augsburg, which recognized the right of German princes to determine the religion of their own territories and ensured that the empire would remain as it had always been, a loose federation dominated by the princes rather than by the emperor.

The legacy of Charles V was shaped largely within the context of these struggles. As the reign progressed, he became more dependent upon Spanish wealth and the Spanish army that formed the core of his military system. The cost of never-ending warfare forced him to raise taxes, especially in Spain and the Netherlands, and to borrow heavily in the international money markets against his projected Spanish revenues. His son and successor as king of Spain, Philip II (ruled 15561598), was forced to restructure this debt in ways that increased borrowing costs in the future, thereby setting a disastrous precedent. Otherwise, Charles made serious efforts to improve administration in each of his realms. Basing his efforts wherever possible on existing institutions, he developed an improved conciliar system of government in Spain and its possessions that lasted until the eighteenth century. In America he supported Spain's leading advocate for the Indians, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and made a sincere if only partially successful effort to protect the native population from exploitation by the colonists. In Naples and Sicily his viceroys maintained order with minimal offense to local sensibilities while Charles personally created a system of patronage that coopted most of the princes and cities of the north, ensuring relative peace, if not prosperity, for years to come. Everywhere, he insisted on improved record keeping and the establishment of archives.

His impact on the Netherlands is more difficult to assess because the seventeen provinces rose in revolt under his successor. In the course of his reign Charles added Frisia, Utrecht, Gelderland, and a few smaller estates to his existing inheritance. His fiscal demands, perhaps ironically, led to a strengthening of provincial government that contributed to Dutch success in the eventual revolt. The provinces created an elaborate system of funded debt based primarily on new excise taxes, but those taxes caused widespread resentment. His religious policies, too, provoked widespread passive resistance. The emperor's determination to root out heresy at all costs led him to promulgate edicts or placards that, among other things, demanded the death penalty for Protestants. Local magistrates, who shared the more tolerant religious attitudes of their countrymen, often found ways to evade their provisions. Charles did not, however, provoke the Revolt of the Netherlands. When he died, heresy appeared to be under control and the monarchy retained the support of the Netherlandish elites, whose rights he had always been careful to protect. It was left to Philip II to squander whatever goodwill remained through policies that appeared to threaten the interests of nobles and townspeople alike. The resulting war of independence lasted more than eighty years (15681648) and resulted in the establishment of the Dutch Republic, though Spain recovered the ten southern provinces by 1585.

By 1550 the emperor's health began to fail, and he succumbed increasingly to paralyzing bouts of depression. He decided to abdicate his offices and retire, reopening the question of his succession. In 1531 he had secured the election of his younger brother Ferdinand as king of the Romans in return for his help in managing German affairs. Ferdinand could therefore expect to succeed his brother as emperor. Charles, who had always planned to leave his Spanish and Italian possessions to his son Philip, began to worry that without Spanish arms Ferdinand could not protect the Netherlands against France or maintain order in Germany. Already in 1548 he had separated the Netherlands from the empire with the intention of leaving them to Philip. Now he proposed that Philip should have the empire as well. After a protracted and bitter family quarrel, it was decided that Philip should have Spain and the Netherlands, but that Ferdinand would become emperor as planned. It had become obvious in any case that Philip could not be elected.

This division of Charles's inheritance had profound consequences. Tying the Netherlands to Spain led to the revolt that exhausted Spanish finances and resulted in the establishment of the Dutch Republic. Ferdinand and his heirs devoted their best efforts to the creation of a Habsburg empire in eastern Europe that lasted until 1918. The Habsburgs preserved and expanded their inheritance, but Charles failed in his efforts to reform the empire or slow the spread of Protestantism, largely because, vast though his resources may have been, they were insufficient to meet his goals. Instead he created a world empire based on Spain that Spain, in the end, could not preserve. Depressed and exhausted, the emperor abdicated his offices in 15551556, and in 1557 retired to a small villa built for him on the grounds of the remote Spanish monastery of Yuste. He died in the following year from a fever of unknown origins.

See also Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555) ; Dutch Republic ; Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Ferdinand of Aragón ; Habsburg Dynasty: Spain ; Holy Roman Empire ; Isabella of Castile ; Joanna I, "the Mad" (Spain) ; Netherlands, Southern ; Philip II (Spain) ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Spain .


Brandi, Karl. The Emperor Charles V: The Growth and Destiny of a Man and of a World-Empire. Translated by C. V. Wedgwood. London, 1939.

Fernández Alvarez, Manuel. Charles V: Elected Emperor and Hereditary Ruler. Translated by J. A. Lalaguna. London, 1975.

Maltby, William S. The Reign of Charles V. Basingstoke, U.K., 2001.

Soly, Hugo, et al., eds. Charles V, 15001558, and His Time. Antwerp, 1999.

Tracy, James D. Emperor Charles V, Impresario of War: Campaign Strategy, International Finance, and Domestic Politics. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

William S. Maltby

Charles V

views updated Jun 11 2018

Charles V

The Holy Roman emperor Charles V (1500-1558) inherited the thrones of the Netherlands, Spain, and the Hapsburg possessions but failed in his attempt to bring all of Europe under his imperial rule.

Born in Ghent on Feb. 24, 1500, Charles V was the oldest son of Philip the Fair of Hapsburg, Lord of the Netherlands, and Joanna the Mad of Aragon and Castile. When Philip died in 1506, Charles was in line for the rich inheritance of the Netherlands as well as Hapsburg Austria and possibly the office of emperor. Spain—the product of the rather recent union of Aragon and Castile under the Catholic Kings—fell to him because of a series of deaths in the Spanish family, which made his mother, Joanna, the legal successor to the Spanish throne.

Charles's maternal grandfather, Ferdinand of Aragon, who had long tried to block a Spanish-Hapsburg union, favored the succession of Charles's younger brother, Ferdinand, to the Spanish crown. But the grandfather died in 1516 before he was able to alter the succession. Charles, who in 1515 had already taken over the government of the Netherlands, became regent of Aragon and Castile for his mother, who was confined because of mental illness to the castle of Tordesillas. In 1517 Charles went to Spain, where he met his brother, Ferdinand, for the first time. The 17-year-old Charles acted with remarkable authority and self-confidence and firmly rejected the suggestions of his family that he give his brother either Spain or the Netherlands.

Although the medieval idea of universal empire captured Charles's imagination only later, he was already determined to play a major role in the European scene. When his paternal grandfather, the emperor Maximilian I, died in 1518, the elective imperial crown as well as the Hapsburg patrimonial lands (Austria) came within Charles's reach, and he again acted strongly. To suggestions that Ferdinand be elected emperor, Charles replied that the duties of emperor would be too much for his brother. But Charles had a dangerous rival for the imperial crown in the French king, Francis I, who had offered huge bribes to the seven electors. Charles, however, was able to outbid him, and on June 28, 1519, he was elected king of the Romans, or emperor designate. (His actual coronation as emperor by the Pope took place in 1530 in Bologna.)

Basic Problems

With each of his crowns Charles inherited enormous problems. Each country had a peculiar internal structure which gave rise to constitutional opposition to the ruler, and furthermore most of the countries had a tradition in foreign policy related to their specific interests and situation in Europe. As an Austrian prince, Charles inherited the continuous struggle against the Turks in Hungary and the Balkans. As emperor, he was directly involved in the preservation of imperial power against the German semi-independent princes; moreover, he had to defend the remnants of imperial suzerainty that were being challenged by France in northern Italy. As king of Aragon, he had to protect the commercial Mediterranean interests of his subjects and their traditional involvement in southern Italy. The Castilians wanted him to carry the conquest of the Moslems into North Africa; and the huge Castilian possessions in South America also made demands upon him. Traditionally, the Burgundian-Netherlands princes had been the foes of France, but now the majority of the Netherlands leaders wanted a policy of peace with both France and England, which would be advantageous to trade. Charles had to find a way to integrate all these interests, essentially an impossible task. Moreover, the jealously guarded privileges of his various lands did not allow him to create a universal imperial policy.

Wars with France

Charles V derived unparalleled power from his vast empire, "upon which the sun never set," but at the same time he was the victim of its conflicts. He spent most of his reign combating enemies in one section of his empire, thus allowing his enemies in other parts to organize. Among the foreign powers that opposed him, the most stubborn and dangerous was France under Francis I and later Henry II. Since the late 15th century France had tried to get a foothold in either Naples or Milan (which had been conquered by Francis I in 1515); later it attacked Alsace as well.

A series of French-Hapsburg wars (a continuation of the wars of Maximilian I) started in 1521. In that year the French king, Francis I, attacked Lombardy, but this conflict ended with a resounding Hapsburg victory. Francis was captured near Pavia and was forced to conclude a very unfavorable peace (Madrid, 1525). In 1526, however, he was back in the field, now supported by the Pope and other Italian powers. But again Charles's forces prevailed. In 1527 his predominantly Protestant armies sacked Rome, and in 1529 they recaptured Milan. Charles's domination of Italy was guaranteed by the treaty ending the war (Peace of Cambrai, 1529).

In 1526 Charles married Isabel of Portugal, and their son, Philip (later Philip II of Spain), was born in 1527. Before his marriage Charles had sired two illegitimate children: Margaretha, later Duchess of Pavia, and John of Austria, the future victor of Lepanto.

Conflict in Germany

The victory in Italy seemed to be convincing proof of Charles's power. During the same period, however, the deterioration of his position in Germany had all but offset this success. The main elements in the German situation were the continuous advance of the Turks in Hungary (in 1529 they even appeared before Vienna), the organization of the anti-Hapsburg princes, and the involvement of the forces of the Reformation with Charles's political opponents. Although Charles took literally his oath to protect the Church, he was a religious moderate and not averse to compromise with the Protestants. After the Diet of Worms (1521), when he had taken the unprecedented step of hearing Luther himself, he had continued a policy of moderation.

But Charles's continuous absence from Germany (1521-1529) gave the anti-Hapsburg princes the opportunity to consolidate their opposition to the Emperor. Although the princes were not in general concerned with theological subtleties, they used religious issues as a means of breaking with the Emperor. In 1526 Charles ordered Ferdinand to assert his authority in religious matters. But Ferdinand was constantly harassed by the Turks, and he left the settlement of disputes on religion to the discretion of the princes "until a general council" was convened.

In 1529 Charles V tightened his orthodox position (second Diet of Speyer), but the only result was the defiant "Protest," which gave the name to the dissenters. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 both the Emperor and the Protestants were in a mood for compromise, but attempts at reconciliation failed. Because of his plan to move against the Turks, however, Charles could not proceed with force against the Protestants. He tried instead to persuade the Pope to call a general council and meanwhile hoped to enlist the support of the German princes against Islam in Hungary and northern Africa. During the 1530s the situation did not improve. Charles lost the support of Henry VIII of England, who divorced Charles's aunt Catherine in 1533 and was subsequently driven into separation from Rome. In Germany the Protestant princes, led by Philip of Hesse, allied with France to wage a new war (1536-1538) against the Emperor. Charles's stubborn imperialism also alienated his brother. Charles had arranged for Ferdinand's election as emperor-designate (1531) but tried afterward to change the succession to his own son Philip, thus causing much resentment on Ferdinand's part.

Final Failures

The decade after the inconclusive 1530s showed more dramatic reversals. In Germany nothing had been solved, and the need for help against the Sultan had forced the Emperor to continue negotiations with the Protestants (Worms, 1541). Charles still hoped for a general council, but the Pope did not intend to convoke one unless he could control it himself. In 1542 Charles found himself opposed by the unlikely combination of France, Turkey, the Pope, and the Dutch Duke of Guelders. The Peace of Crépy (1544) ended this inconclusive war. The treaty, however, contained a secret clause in which Francis I promised support for the forceful eradication of German Protestantism, and in 1545 the Pope offered his support in this undertaking. Charles V also secured the support of the Protestant Duke Maurice of Saxony (the house rival of the electoral dukes of Saxony) by bribing him with the promise of the office of elector.

In 1547 the army of the Protestant Schmalkaldian League was beaten by Charles and his allies at the battle of Mühlberg. At last Charles appeared to have attained success; his plan for a new universal imperial authority, based on a unified Catholic Germany, seemed near fulfillment. But as before, fear of a universal empire under the Hapsburgs made his allies desert him. Henry II, who became king of France in 1547, pursued an anti-Hapsburg policy, and Pope Paul III again defected from the Hapsburg coalition. The Pope moved the general council from Trent to Bologna in order to escape the Emperor's influence. In Germany it soon became apparent that the victory had no real results; Charles's proposals of constitutional reform and of the creation of a more centralized German league were opposed by all the German powers, Protestant and Catholic alike. In religious matters Charles again had to be satisfied with compromise (Interim of Augsburg, 1548).

Charles's efforts to guarantee the unity of his empire after his death also ended in failure. He tried in vain to persuade Ferdinand to give up his right of succession to the imperial crown, and Charles's relations with Ferdinand and his son Maximilian grew strained. In 1551, however, a compromise was reached that established Charles's son Philip, rather than Maximilian, as the legal successor of Ferdinand. But neither Ferdinand nor his son felt bound by this agreement, and the Austrian lands and the imperial crown were lost for Charles's descendants.

At the beginning of the 1550s a formidable coalition— France and the German Protestant princes, including Maurice of Saxony, who had rejoined the party of the princes— rose against the Emperor. In early 1552 Maurice of Saxony penetrated into Austria, forcing Charles to flee. Ferdinand remained inactive, obviously sympathetic to the princes' party, and in 1552 Charles V was forced to sign the Treaty of Passau. This agreement, which was finalized by the Treaty of Augsburg (1555), gave Lutheranism equal status with Catholicism and left religious matters in the hands of the German princes, who were ultimately the victors in their long struggle with the Emperor.

The negotiations of Passau and Augsburg had been left mostly to Ferdinand, while Charles withdrew to his native Netherlands. In 1553, however, he achieved one last diplomatic success: the marriage of his son Philip to Queen Mary of England. This marriage created the possibility of a future union of England and Spain under one monarch. But Mary died childless in 1558, and thus England's independent existence under the Tudor monarchy was assured.

Abdication of Charles V

From October 1555 to January 1556, in the midst of another war with the French, Charles V abdicated his many crowns. He bequeathed the bankrupt states of the Netherlands and Spain to Philip and Austria and the empire to Ferdinand. He then left the Netherlands for Spain, where he lived near the monastery of Yuste until his death on Sept. 21, 1558. He had witnessed the total failure of his dream of a Catholic Europe united under his imperial rule. Charles's ideal was an anachronism, however, since Europe had become too complicated to be so governed. But the extraordinary willpower and dedication with which Charles pursued his impossible goal establish him as a man of impressive character.

Further Reading

The most useful recent survey of the empire of Charles V is the book by H. G. Koenigsberger, The Habsburgs and Europe, 1516-1660 (1971). Royall Tyler, The Emperor Charles the Fifth (1956), is a useful chronology of Charles's life and travels. Other biographical studies are Francisco López de Gómara, ed., Annals of the Emperor Charles V (trans. 1912); W. L. McElwee, The Reign of Charles V, 1516-1558 (1936); and Karl Brandi's classic study, The Emperor Charles V (1937; trans. 1939). For a scholarly, well-written account of the situation in Spain during the reign of Charles V consult the relevant chapters in J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (1963). Background information is also available in Leopold von Ranke, History of the Reformation in Germany (1905; trans. 1966); R. B. Merriman's masterful The Rise of the Spanish Empire, vol. 3 (1926); and Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, vol. 1 (1959). □

Charles V

views updated May 29 2018

Charles V (1500–58) Holy Roman Emperor (1519–56) and King of Spain, as Charles I (1516–56). He ruled the Spanish kingdoms, s Italy, the Netherlands, and the Austrian Habsburg lands by inheritance and, when elected Emperor in succession to his grandfather, Maximilian I, headed the largest European empire since Charlemagne. In addition, the Spanish conquistadors made him master of a New World empire. Charles' efforts to unify his possessions were unsuccessful, largely due to the hostility of Francis I of France, the Ottoman Turks in central Europe, and the conflicts arising from the advance of Lutheranism in Germany. The struggle with France was centred in Italy: by 1535 Spain had largely established control, but French hostility was never overcome. The Turks were held in check but not defeated, and Charles' attempt to capture Algiers failed (1541). In Germany, Charles, who saw himself as the defender of the Catholic Church, nevertheless recognized the need for reform, but other commitments prevented him following a consistent policy, and Lutheranism expanded. Charles increasingly delegated power in Germany to his brother Ferdinand I, his successor, and in 1554–56 surrendered his other titles to his son, Philip II of Spain.

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Charles V (Holy Roman Empire)

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Charles V (Holy Roman Empire)