Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

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Heritage and early life


You, noble prince Charles, are more blessed than Alexander the Great. He for his part had seized an immense empire, but not without bloodshed nor was it destined to endure ... you were born to a splendid empire ... you owe it to heaven that your empire came to you without the shedding of blood, and no one suffered for it. [18]

The entrance gate to the Prinsenhof (Dutch; literally "Princes' court") in Ghent, where Charles was born. Hoftenwalle.JPG
The entrance gate to the Prinsenhof (Dutch; literally "Princes' court") in Ghent, where Charles was born.

Charles of Habsburg was born on 24 February 1500 in the Prinsenhof of Ghent, a Flemish city of the Burgundian Low Countries, to Philip of Habsburg and Joanna of Trastámara. [19] His father Philip, nicknamed Philip the Handsome, was the firstborn son of Maximilian I of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria as well as Holy Roman Emperor, and Mary the Rich, Burgundian duchess of the Low Countries. His mother Joanna, known as Joanna the Mad for the mental disorders afflicting her, was a daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain from the House of Trastámara. The political marriage of Philip and Joanna was first conceived in a letter sent by Maximilian to Ferdinand in order to seal an Austro-Spanish alliance, established as part of the League of Venice directed against the Kingdom of France during the Italian Wars. [20]

The organization of ambitious political marriages reflected Maximilian's practice to expand the House of Habsburg with dynastic links rather than conquest, as exemplified by his saying "Let others wage war, you, happy Austria, marry". The marriage contract between Philip and Joanna was signed in 1495, and celebrations were held in 1496. Philip was already Duke of Burgundy, given Mary's death in 1482, and also heir apparent of Austria as honorific Archduke. Joanna, in contrast, was only third in the Spanish line of succession, preceded by her older brother John of Castile and older sister Isabella of Aragon. Although both John and Isabella died in 1498, the Catholic Monarchs desired to keep the Spanish kingdoms in Iberian hands and designated their Portuguese grandson Miguel da Paz as heir presumptive of Spain by naming him Prince of the Asturias. Only a series of dynastic accidents eventually favoured Maximilian's project. [21]

Charles was born in a bathroom of the Prinsenhof at 3:00 AM by Joanna not long after she attended a ball despite symptoms of labor pains, and his name was chosen by Philip in honour of Charles I of Burgundy. According to a poet at the court, the people of Ghent "shouted Austria and Burgundy throughout the whole city for three hours" to celebrate his birth. [20] Given the dynastic situation, the newborn was originally heir apparent only of the Burgundian Low Countries as the honorific Duke of Luxembourg and became known in his early years simply as Charles of Ghent. He was baptized at the Church of Saint John by the Bishop of Tournai: Charles I de Croÿ and John III of Glymes were his godfathers; Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria his godmothers. Charles's baptism gifts were a sword and a helmet, objects of Burgundian chivalric tradition representing, respectively, the instrument of war and the symbol of peace. [22]

A painting by Bernhard Strigel representing the extended Habsburg family, with a young Charles in the middle. Bernhard Strigel 003b.jpg
A painting by Bernhard Strigel representing the extended Habsburg family, with a young Charles in the middle.

In 1501, Philip and Joanna left Charles to the custody of his aunt Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy and went to Spain. They returned to visit their son very rarely, and thus Charles grew up parentless in Mechelen together with his sisters Eleanora, Maria and Isabella at the Duchess's court. He received education from Willem II of Croÿ and Adrian of Utrecht. The main goal of their Spanish mission was the recognition of Joanna as Princess of Asturias, given prince Miguel's death a year earlier. They succeeded despite facing some opposition from the Spanish Cortes, reluctant to create the premises for Habsburg succession. In 1504, as Isabella died, Joanna became Queen of Castile. [23] Philip was recognized King in 1506. He died shortly after, an event that drove the mentally unstable Joanna into complete insanity. She retired in isolation into a tower of Tordesillas. Ferdinand took control of all the Spanish kingdoms, under the pretext of protecting Charles's rights, which in reality he wanted to elude, but his new marriage with Germaine de Foix failed to produce a surviving Trastámara heir to the throne. With his father dead and his mother confined, Charles became Duke of Burgundy and was recognized as prince of Asturias (heir presumptive of Spain) and honorific archduke (heir apparent of Austria). [24]


A portrait by Bernard van Orley, 1519. The insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece are prominently displayed. Barend van Orley - Portrait of Charles V - Google Art Project.jpg
A portrait by Bernard van Orley, 1519. The insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece are prominently displayed.

The Burgundian inheritance included the Habsburg Netherlands, which consisted of a large number of the lordships that formed the Low Countries and covered modern-day Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. It excluded Burgundy proper, annexed by France in 1477, with the exception of Franche-Comté. At the death of Philip in 1506, Charles was recognized Lord of the Netherlands with the title of Charles II of Burgundy. During Charles's childhood and teen years, William de Croÿ (later prime minister) and Adrian of Utrecht (later Pope Adrian VI) served as his tutors. The culture and courtly life of the Low Countries played an important part in the development of Charles's beliefs. As a member of the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece in his infancy, and later its grandmaster, Charles was educated to the ideals of the medieval knights and the desire for Christian unity to fight the infidel. [25] The Low Countries were very rich during his reign, both economically and culturally. Charles was very attached to his homeland and spent much of his life in Brussels.

A Portrait of Charles V with a Dog by Jakob Seisenegger, 1532 Jakob Seisenegger 001.jpg
A Portrait of Charles V with a Dog by Jakob Seisenegger, 1532

The Spanish inheritance, resulting from a dynastic union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon, included Spain as well as the Castilian West Indies and the Aragonese kingdoms of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Joanna inherited these territories in 1516 in a condition of mental illness. Charles, therefore, claimed the crowns for himself jure matris , thus becoming co-monarch of Joanna with the title of Charles I of Castile and Aragon or Charles I of Spain. Castile and Aragon together formed the largest of Charles's personal possessions, and they also provided a great number of generals and tercios (the formidable Spanish infantry of the time). However, at his accession to the throne, Charles was viewed as a foreign prince. [26]

Two rebellions, the revolt of the Germanies and the revolt of the comuneros, contested Charles's rule in the 1520s. Following these revolts, Charles placed Spanish counselors in a position of power and spent a considerable part of his life in Castile, including his final years in a monastery. Indeed, Charles's motto "Plus Oultre" (Further Beyond), rendered as Plus Ultra from the original French, became the national motto of Spain and his heir, later Philip II, was born and raised in Castile. Nonetheless, many Spaniards believed that their resources (largely consisting of flows of silver from the Americas) were being used to sustain Imperial-Habsburg policies that were not in the country's interest. [26]

Charles inherited the Austrian hereditary lands in 1519, as Charles I of Austria, and obtained the election as Holy Roman Emperor against the candidacy of the French King. Since the Imperial election, he was known as Emperor Charles V even outside of Germany and the Habsburg motto A.E.I.O.U. ("Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universo"; "it is Austria's destiny to rule the world") acquired political significance. Despite the fact that he was elected as a German prince, Charles's staunch Catholicism in contrast to the growth of Lutheranism alienated him from various German princes who finally fought against him. Charles's presence in Germany was often marked by the organization of imperial diets to maintain religious and political unity. [27] [28]

He was frequently in Northern Italy, often taking part in complicated negotiations with the Popes to address the rise of Protestantism. It is important to note, though, that the German Catholics supported the Emperor. Charles had a close relationship with important German families, like the House of Nassau, many of which were represented at his Imperial court. Several German princes or noblemen accompanied him in his military campaigns against France or the Ottomans, and the bulk of his army was generally composed of German troops, especially the Imperial Landsknechte. [27] [28]

It is said that Charles spoke several languages. He was fluent in French and Dutch, his native languages. He later added an acceptable Castilian Spanish, which he was required to learn by the Castilian Cortes Generales . He could also speak some Basque, acquired by the influence of the Basque secretaries serving in the royal court. [29] He gained a decent command of German following the Imperial election, though he never spoke it as well as French. [30] By 1532, Charles was proficient in Portuguese, to the amazement of diplomats. [31] A witticism sometimes attributed to Charles is: "I speak Spanish/Latin (depending on the source) to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." [32] A variant of the quote is attributed to him by Swift in his 1726 Gulliver's Travels , but there are no contemporary accounts referencing the quotation (which has many other variants) and it is often attributed instead to Frederick the Great. [33] [34]


The Dominions of the Habsburgs at the time of the abdication of Charles V in 1556 Dominions House Habsburg abdication Charles V.jpg
The Dominions of the Habsburgs at the time of the abdication of Charles V in 1556

Given the vast dominions of the House of Habsburg, Charles was often on the road and needed deputies to govern his realms for the times he was absent from his territories. His first Governor of the Netherlands was Margaret of Austria (succeeded by Mary of Hungary and Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy). His first Regent of Spain was Adrian of Utrecht (succeeded by Isabella of Portugal and Philip II of Spain). For the regency and governorship of the Austrian hereditary lands, Charles named his brother Ferdinand Archduke in the Austrian lands under his authority at the Diet of Worms (1521). Charles also agreed to favor the election of Ferdinand as King of the Romans in Germany, which took place in 1531. Therefore, it is by virtue of the Worms agreement that Ferdinand became Holy Roman Emperor and obtained hereditary rights over Austria at the abdication of Charles in 1556. [15] [35] Charles de Lannoy, Carafa and Antonio Folc de Cardona y Enriquez were the viceroys of the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, respectively.

Charles V travelled ten times to the Low Countries, nine to Germany, [36] seven to Spain, [37] seven to Italy, [38] four to France, two to England, and two to North Africa. [39] During all his travels, the Emperor left a documentary trail in almost every place he went, allowing historians to surmise that he spent 10,000 days in the Low Countries, 6,500 days in Spain, 3,000 days in Germany, and 1,000 days in Italy. He further spent 195 days in France, 99 in North Africa and 44 days in England. For only 260 days his exact location is unrecorded, all of them being days spent at sea travelling between his dominions. [40] As he put it in his last public speech: "my life has been one long journey". [41]

Burgundy and the Low Countries

The Palace of Coudenberg from a 17th-century painting, before it burnt down in 1731. Brussels served as the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in the Low Countries. Paleis op de Koudenberg.jpg
The Palace of Coudenberg from a 17th-century painting, before it burnt down in 1731. Brussels served as the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in the Low Countries.

In 1506, Charles inherited his father's Burgundian territories that included Franche-Comté and, most notably, the Low Countries. The latter territories lay within the Holy Roman Empire and its borders, but were formally divided between fiefs of the German kingdom and French fiefs such as Charles's birthplace of Flanders, a last remnant of what had been a powerful player in the Hundred Years' War. As he was a minor, his aunt Margaret of Austria (born as Archduchess of Austria and in both her marriages as the Dowager Princess of Asturias and Dowager Duchess of Savoy) acted as regent, as appointed by Emperor Maximilian until 1515. She soon found herself at war with France over Charles's requirement to pay homage to the French king for Flanders, as his father had done. The outcome was that France relinquished its ancient claim on Flanders in 1528.

From 1515 to 1523, Charles's government in the Netherlands also had to contend with the rebellion of Frisian peasants (led by Pier Gerlofs Donia and Wijard Jelckama). The rebels were initially successful but after a series of defeats, the remaining leaders were captured and decapitated in 1523.

Charles extended the Burgundian territory with the annexation of Tournai, Artois, Utrecht, Groningen, and Guelders. The Seventeen Provinces had been unified by Charles's Burgundian ancestors, but nominally were fiefs of either France or the Holy Roman Empire. In 1549, Charles issued a Pragmatic Sanction, declaring the Low Countries to be a unified entity of which his family would be the heirs. [44]

The Low Countries held an essential place in the Empire. For Charles V, they were his home, the region where he was born and spent his childhood. Because of trade and industry and the wealth of the region's cities, the Low Countries also represented a significant income for the Imperial treasury.

The Burgundian territories were generally loyal to Charles throughout his reign. The important city of Ghent rebelled in 1539 due to heavy tax payments demanded by Charles. The rebellion did not last long, however, as Charles's military response, with reinforcement from the Duke of Alba, [44] was swift and humiliating to the rebels of Ghent. [45] [46]

Spanish Kingdoms

The city of Toledo served as the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in Castile. Toledo Skyline Panorama, Spain - Dec 2006.jpg
The city of Toledo served as the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in Castile.
The exterior of The Palace of Charles V in Granada was built upon his wedding to Isabel of Portugal in 1526. Palacio Carlos V west.jpg
The exterior of The Palace of Charles V in Granada was built upon his wedding to Isabel of Portugal in 1526.

In the Castilian Cortes of Valladolid in 1506 and of Madrid in 1510, Charles was sworn as the Prince of Asturias, heir-apparent to his mother the Queen Joanna. [49] On the other hand, in 1502, the Aragonese Corts gathered in Saragossa and pledged an oath to Joanna as heiress-presumptive, but the Archbishop of Saragossa expressed firmly that this oath could not establish jurisprudence, that is to say, modify the right of the succession, except by virtue of a formal agreement between the Cortes and the King. [50] [51] So, upon the death of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, on 23 January 1516, Joanna inherited the Crown of Aragon, which consisted of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, while Charles became governor general. [52] Nevertheless, the Flemings wished Charles to assume the royal title, and this was supported by Emperor Maximilian I and Pope Leo X.

Thus, after the celebration of Ferdinand II's obsequies on 14 March 1516, Charles was proclaimed king of the crowns of Castile and Aragon jointly with his mother. Finally, when the Castilian regent Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros accepted the fait accompli, he acceded to Charles's desire to be proclaimed king and imposed his enstatement throughout the kingdom. [53] Charles arrived in his new kingdoms in autumn of 1517. Jiménez de Cisneros came to meet him but fell ill along the way, not without a suspicion of poison, and he died before reaching the King. [54]

Due to the irregularity of Charles assuming the royal title while his mother, the legitimate queen, was alive, the negotiations with the Castilian Cortes in Valladolid (1518) proved difficult. [55] In the end Charles was accepted under the following conditions: he would learn to speak Castilian; he would not appoint foreigners; he was prohibited from taking precious metals from Castile beyond the Quinto Real; and he would respect the rights of his mother, Queen Joanna. The Cortes paid homage to him in Valladolid in February 1518. After this, Charles departed to the crown of Aragon. [56]

He managed to overcome the resistance of the Aragonese Cortes and Catalan Corts, [57] and he was recognized as king of Aragon and count of Barcelona jointly with his mother. [58] The Kingdom of Navarre had been invaded by Ferdinand of Aragon jointly with Castile in 1512, but he pledged a formal oath to respect the kingdom. On Charles's accession to the Spanish thrones, the Parliament of Navarre (Cortes) required him to attend the coronation ceremony (to become Charles IV of Navarre). Still, this demand fell on deaf ears, and the Parliament kept piling up grievances.

Charles was accepted as sovereign, even though the Spanish felt uneasy with the Imperial style. Spanish kingdoms varied in their traditions. Castile had become an authoritarian, highly centralized kingdom, where the monarchs own will easily overrode legislative and justice institutions. [59] By contrast, in the crown of Aragon, and especially in the Pyrenean kingdom of Navarre, law prevailed, and the monarchy was seen as a contract with the people. [60] This became an inconvenience and a matter of dispute for Charles V and later kings since realm-specific traditions limited their absolute power. With Charles, the government became more absolute, even though until his mother died in 1555, Charles did not hold the full kingship of the country.

Soon resistance to the Emperor arose because of heavy taxation to support foreign wars in which Castilians had little interest and because Charles tended to select Flemings for high offices in Castile and America, ignoring Castilian candidates. The resistance culminated in the Revolt of the Comuneros, which Charles suppressed. Immediately after crushing the Castilian revolt, Charles was confronted again with the hot issue of Navarre when King Henry II attempted to reconquer the kingdom. Main military operations lasted until 1524, when Hondarribia surrendered to Charles's forces, but frequent cross-border clashes in the western Pyrenees only stopped in 1528 (Treaties of Madrid and Cambrai).

After these events, Navarre remained a matter of domestic and international litigation still for a century (a French dynastic claim to the throne did not end until the July Revolution in 1830). Charles wanted his son and heir Philip II to marry the heiress of Navarre, Jeanne d'Albret. Jeanne was instead forced to marry William, Duke of Julich-Cleves-Berg, but that childless marriage was annulled after four years. She next married Antoine de Bourbon, and both she and their son would oppose Philip II in the French Wars of Religion.

After its integration into Charles's empire, Castile guaranteed effective military units and its American possessions provided the bulk of the empire's financial resources. However, the two conflicting strategies of Charles V, enhancing the possessions of his family and protecting Catholicism against Protestants heretics, diverted resources away from building up the Spanish economy. Elite elements in Spain called for more protection for the commercial networks, which were threatened by the Ottoman Empire. Charles instead focused on defeating Protestantism in Germany and the Netherlands, which proved to be lost causes. Each hastened the economic decline of the Spanish Empire in the next generation. [61] The enormous budget deficit accumulated during Charles's reign, along with the inflation that affected the kingdom, resulted in declaring bankruptcy during the reign of Philip II. [62]

Italian states

Pope Clement VII and Emperor Charles V on horseback under a canopy, by Jacopo Ligozzi, c. 1580. It describes the entry of the Pope and the Emperor into Bologna in 1530, when Charles was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by Clement VII. Papa Clemente VII e l'imperatore Carlo V a cavallo soto un baldacchino (8 de agosto de 2018, Museo degli affreschi Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle, Verona).jpg
Pope Clement VII and Emperor Charles V on horseback under a canopy, by Jacopo Ligozzi, c. 1580. It describes the entry of the Pope and the Emperor into Bologna in 1530, when Charles was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by Clement VII.

The Crown of Aragon inherited by Charles included the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Sardinia. As Holy Roman Emperor, Charles was sovereign in several states of northern Italy and had a claim to the Iron Crown of Lombardy (obtained in 1530). The Duchy of Milan, however, was under French control. France took Milan from the House of Sforza after victory against Switzerland at the Battle of Marignano in 1515.

Imperial-Papal troops succeeded in re-installing the Sforza in Milan in 1521, in the context of an alliance between Charles V and Pope Leo X. A Franco-Swiss army was expelled from Lombardy at the Battle of Bicocca 1522. In 1524, Francis I of France retook the initiative, crossing into Lombardy where Milan, along with several other cities, once again fell to his attack. Pavia alone held out, and on 24 February 1525 (Charles's twenty-fifth birthday), Charles's forces led by Charles de Lannoy captured Francis and crushed his army in the Battle of Pavia.

In 1535, Francesco II Sforza died without heirs and Charles V annexed the territory as a vacant Imperial state with the help of Massimiliano Stampa, one of the most influential courtiers of the late Duke. [63] Charles successfully held on to all of its Italian territories, though they were invaded again on multiple occasions during the Italian Wars.

In addition, Habsburg trade in the Mediterranean was consistently disrupted by the Ottoman Empire. In 1538 a Holy League consisting of all the Italian states and the Spanish kingdoms was formed to drive the Ottomans back, but it was defeated at the Battle of Preveza. Decisive naval victory eluded Charles; it would not be achieved until after his death, at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The Americas

During Charles's reign, the Castilian territories in the Americas were considerably extended by conquistadores like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. They conquered the large Aztec and Inca empires and incorporated them into the Empire as the Viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru between 1519 and 1542. Combined with the circumnavigation of the globe by the Magellan expedition in 1522, these successes convinced Charles of his divine mission to become the leader of Christendom, which still perceived a significant threat from Islam. [64]

The conquests also helped solidify Charles's rule by providing the state treasury with enormous amounts of bullion. As the conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo observed, "We came to serve God and his Majesty, to give light to those in darkness, and also to acquire that wealth which most men covet." [64] Charles used the Spanish feudal system as a model for labor relations in the new colonies. The local Spaniards strongly objected because it assumed the equality of Indians and Spaniards. The locals wanted complete control over labor and got it under Philip II in the 1570s. [65]

On 28 August 1518, Charles issued a charter authorizing the transportation of slaves direct from Africa to the Americas. Up until that point (since at least 1510), African slaves had usually been transported to Castile or Portugal and had then been transhipped to the Caribbean. Charles's decision to create a direct, more economically viable Africa to America slave trade fundamentally changed the nature and scale of the transatlantic slave trade. [66]

In 1528 Charles assigned a concession in Venezuela Province to Bartholomeus V. Welser, in compensation for his inability to repay debts owed. The concession, known as Klein-Venedig (little Venice), was revoked in 1546. In 1550, Charles convened a conference at Valladolid in order to consider the morality of the force used against the indigenous populations of the New World, which included figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas. [67]

Charles V is credited with the first idea of constructing an American Isthmus canal in Panama as early as 1520. [68]

Holy Roman Empire

A panorama of Augsburg, perhaps the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in Germany. Nuremberg chronicles - Augusta vendilicorum.png
A panorama of Augsburg, perhaps the main revenue of the Imperial court of Charles V in Germany.

After the death of his paternal grandfather, Maximilian, in 1519, Charles inherited the Habsburg Monarchy. He was also the natural candidate of the electors to succeed his grandfather as Holy Roman Emperor. After having paid huge bribes to the electors, he defeated the candidacies of Frederick III of Saxony, Francis I of France, and Henry VIII of England. Charles was the highest bidder and won the crown on 28 June 1519. On 23 October 1520 he was crowned in Germany and some ten years later, on 24 February 1530, he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Clement VII in Bologna, the last emperor to receive a papal coronation. [7] [69] [70]

Despite his holding the imperial throne, Charles's real authority was limited by the German princes. They gained a strong foothold in the Empire's territories, and Charles was determined not to let this happen in the Netherlands. An inquisition was established as early as 1522. In 1550, the death penalty was introduced for all cases of unrepentant heresy. Political dissent was also firmly controlled, most notably in his place of birth, where Charles, assisted by the Duke of Alba, personally suppressed the Revolt of Ghent in mid-February 1540. [44]

Charles abdicated as emperor in 1556 in favour of his brother Ferdinand; however, due to lengthy debate and bureaucratic procedure, the Imperial Diet did not accept the abdication (and thus make it legally valid) until 24 February 1558. Up to that date, Charles continued to use the title of emperor.

Wars with France

Francis I and Charles V made peace at the Truce of Nice in 1538. Francis actually refused to meet Charles in person, and the treaty was signed in separate rooms. Truce of Nice 1538.jpg
Francis I and Charles V made peace at the Truce of Nice in 1538. Francis actually refused to meet Charles in person, and the treaty was signed in separate rooms.

Much of Charles's reign was taken up by conflicts with France, which found itself encircled by Charles's empire while it still maintained ambitions in Italy. In 1520, Charles visited England, where his aunt, Catherine of Aragon, urged her husband, Henry VIII, to ally himself with the emperor. In 1508 Charles was nominated by Henry VII to the Order of the Garter. [71] His Garter stall plate survives in Saint George's Chapel.

The first war with Charles's great nemesis Francis I of France began in 1521. Charles allied with England and Pope Leo X against the French and the Venetians, and was highly successful, driving the French out of Milan and defeating and capturing Francis at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. [72] To gain his freedom, Francis ceded Burgundy to Charles in the Treaty of Madrid, as well as renouncing his support of Henry II's claim over Navarre.

Charles in the 1550s, after Titian Elderly Karl V.jpg
Charles in the 1550s, after Titian

When he was released, however, Francis had the Parliament of Paris denounce the treaty because it had been signed under duress. France then joined the League of Cognac that Pope Clement VII had formed with Henry VIII of England, the Venetians, the Florentines, and the Milanese to resist imperial domination of Italy. In the ensuing war, Charles's sack of Rome (1527) and virtual imprisonment of Pope Clement VII in 1527 prevented the Pope from annulling the marriage of Henry VIII of England and Charles's aunt Catherine of Aragon, so Henry eventually broke with Rome, thus leading to the English Reformation. [73] [74] In other respects, the war was inconclusive. In the Treaty of Cambrai (1529), called the "Ladies' Peace" because it was negotiated between Charles's aunt and Francis' mother, Francis renounced his claims in Italy but retained control of Burgundy.

A third war erupted in 1536. Following the death of the last Sforza Duke of Milan, Charles installed his son Philip in the duchy, despite Francis' claims on it. This war too was inconclusive. Francis failed to conquer Milan, but he succeeded in conquering most of the lands of Charles's ally, the Duke of Savoy, including his capital Turin. A truce at Nice in 1538 on the basis of uti possidetis ended the war but lasted only a short time. War resumed in 1542, with Francis now allied with Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I and Charles once again allied with Henry VIII. Despite the conquest of Nice by a Franco-Ottoman fleet, the French could not advance toward Milan, while a joint Anglo-Imperial invasion of northern France, led by Charles himself, won some successes but was ultimately abandoned, leading to another peace and restoration of the status quo ante bellum in 1544.

A final war erupted with Francis' son and successor, Henry II, in 1551. Henry won early success in Lorraine, where he captured Metz, but French offensives in Italy failed. Charles abdicated midway through this conflict, leaving further conduct of the war to his son, Philip II, and his brother, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.

Conflicts with the Ottoman Empire

Charles fought continually with the Ottoman Empire and its sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The defeat of Hungary at the Battle of Mohács in 1526 "sent a wave of terror over Europe." [75] [76] The Muslim advance in Central Europe was halted at the Siege of Vienna in 1529, followed by a counter-attack of Charles V across the Danube river. However, by 1541, central and southern Hungary fell under Turkish control.

Suleiman won the contest for mastery of the Mediterranean, in spite of Christian victories such as the conquest of Tunis in 1535. [77] The regular Ottoman fleet came to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean after its victories at Preveza in 1538 and Djerba in 1560 (shortly after Charles's death), which severely decimated the Spanish marine arm. At the same time, the Muslim Barbary corsairs, acting under the general authority and supervision of the sultan, regularly devastated the Spanish and Italian coasts and crippled Spanish trade. The advance of the Ottomans in the Mediterranean and central Europe chipped at the foundations of Habsburg power and diminished Imperial prestige.

In 1536 Francis I allied France with Suleiman against Charles. While Francis was persuaded to sign a peace treaty in 1538, he again allied himself with the Ottomans in 1542 in a Franco-Ottoman alliance. In 1543 Charles allied himself with Henry VIII and forced Francis to sign the Truce of Crépy-en-Laonnois. Later, in 1547, Charles signed a humiliating [78] treaty with the Ottomans to gain himself some respite from the huge expenses of their war. [79]

Charles V made overtures to the Safavid Empire to open a second front against the Ottomans, in an attempt at creating a Habsburg-Persian alliance. Contacts were positive, but rendered difficult by enormous distances. In effect, however, the Safavids did enter in conflict with the Ottoman Empire in the Ottoman-Safavid War, forcing it to split its military resources. [80]

Protestant Reformation

Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side. Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms.jpg
Summons for Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms, signed by Charles V. The text on the left was on the reverse side.

The issue of the Protestant Reformation was first brought to the imperial attention under Charles V. As Holy Roman Emperor, Charles called Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521, promising him safe conduct if he would appear. After Luther defended the Ninety-five Theses and his writings, the Emperor commented: "that monk will never make me a heretic". Charles V relied on religious unity to govern his various realms, otherwise unified only in his person, and perceived Luther's teachings as a disruptive form of heresy. He outlawed Luther and issued the Edict of Worms, declaring:

You know that I am a descendant of the Most Christian Emperors of the great German people, of the Catholic Kings of Spain, of the Archdukes of Austria, and of the Dukes of Burgundy. All of these, their whole life long, were faithful sons of the Roman Church ... After their deaths they left, by natural law and heritage, these holy catholic rites, for us to live and die by, following their example. And so until now I have lived as a true follower of these our ancestors. I am therefore resolved to maintain everything which these my forebears have established to the present.

Nonetheless, Charles V kept his word and left Martin Luther free to leave the city. Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony and protector of Luther, lamented the outcome of the Diet. On the road back from Worms, Luther was kidnapped by Frederick's men and hidden in a distant castle in Wartburg. There, he began to work on his German translation of the bible. The spread of Lutheranism led to two major revolts: that of the knights in 1522–1523 and that of the peasants led by Thomas Muntzer in 1524–1525. While the pro-Imperial Swabian League, in conjunction with Protestant princes afraid of social revolts, restored order, Charles V used the instrument of pardon to maintain peace.

16th-century perception of German soldiers during Charles's reign (1525) portrayed in the manuscript "Theatre de tous les peuples et nations de la terre avec leurs habits et ornemens divers, tant anciens que modernes, diligemment depeints au naturel". Painted by Lucas d'Heere in the second half of the 16th century. Preserved in the Ghent University Library. Archive-ugent-be-79D46426-CC9D-11E3-B56B-4FBAD43445F2 DS-263 (cropped).jpg
16th-century perception of German soldiers during Charles's reign (1525) portrayed in the manuscript "Théâtre de tous les peuples et nations de la terre avec leurs habits et ornemens divers, tant anciens que modernes, diligemment depeints au naturel". Painted by Lucas d'Heere in the second half of the 16th century. Preserved in the Ghent University Library.

Thereafter, Charles V took a tolerant approach and pursued a policy of reconciliation with the Lutherans. At the 1530 Imperial Diet of Augsburg was requested by Emperor Charles V to decide on three issues: first, the defense of the Empire against the Ottoman threat; second, issues related to policy, currency and public well-being; and, third, disagreements about Christianity, in attempt to reach some compromise and a chance to deal with the German situation. [82] The Diet was inaugurated by the emperor on June 20. It produced numerous outcomes, most notably the 1530 declaration of the Lutheran estates known as the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana), a central document of Lutheranism that was presented to the emperor. Luther's assistant Philip Melanchthon went even further and presented to Charles V the Lutheran Augsburg confession. The emperor strongly rejected it, and in 1531 the Schmalkaldic League was formed by Protestant princes. In 1532, Charles V recognized the League and effectively suspended the Edict of Worms with the standstill of Nuremberg . The standstill required the Protestants to continue to take part in the Imperial wars against the Turks and the French, and postponed religious affairs until an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church was called by the Pope to solve the issue.

Due to Papal delays in organizing a general council, Charles V decided to organize a German summit and presided over the Regensburg talks between Catholics and Lutherans in 1541, but no compromise was achieved. In 1545, the Council of Trent was finally opened and the Counter-Reformation began. The Catholic initiative was supported by a number of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. However, the Schmalkaldic League refused to recognize the validity of the council and occupied territories of Catholic princes. [83] Therefore, Charles V outlawed the Schmalkaldic League and opened hostilities against it in 1546. [84] The next year his forces drove the League's troops out of southern Germany, and defeated John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, and Philip of Hesse at the Battle of Mühlberg, capturing both. At the Augsburg Interim in 1548, he created a solution giving certain allowances to Protestants until the Council of Trent would restore unity. However, members of both sides resented the Interim and some actively opposed it.

The council was re-opened in 1550 with the participation of Lutherans, and Charles V set up the Imperial court in Innsbruck, Austria, sufficiently close to Trent for him to follow the evolution of the debates. In 1552 Protestant princes, in alliance with Henry II of France, rebelled again and the second Schmalkaldic War began. Maurice of Saxony, instrumental for the Imperial victory in the first conflict, switched side to the Protestant cause and bypassed the Imperial army by marching directly into Innsbruck with the goal of capturing the Emperor. Charles V was forced to flee the city during an attack of gout and barely made it alive to Villach in a state of semi-consciousness carried in a litter. After failing to recapture Metz from the French, Charles V returned to the Low Countries for the last years of his emperorship. In 1555, he instructed his brother Ferdinand to sign the Peace of Augsburg in his name. The agreements led to the religious division of Germany between Catholic and Protestant princedoms. [85]

Patronage of the arts and architecture

Noted Spanish Poet Garcilaso de la Vega, was a nobleman and ambassador in the royal court of Charles. He was first appointed "contino" (imperial guard) of the King in 1520. Alfonso de Valdés, twin brother of the humanist Juan de Valdés and secretary of the emperor, was a Spanish humanist. Peter Martyr d'Anghiera was an Italian historian at the service of Spain who wrote the first accounts of explorations in Central and South America in a series of letters and reports, grouped in the original Latin publications of 1511 to 1530 into sets of ten chapters called "decades." His Decades are of great value in the history of geography and discovery. His De Orbe Novo (On the New World, 1530) describes the first contacts of Europeans and Native Americans, Native American civilizations in the Caribbean and North America, as well as Mesoamerica, and includes, for example, the first European reference to India rubber. Martyr was given the post of chronicler (cronista) in the newly formed Council of the Indies, commissioned by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor to describe what was occurring in the explorations of the New World. In 1523 Charles gave him the title of Count Palatine, and in 1524 called him once more into the Council of the Indies. Martyr was invested by Pope Clement VII, as proposed by Charles V, as Abbot of Jamaica. Juan Boscán Almogáver was a poet who participated with Garcilaso de la Vega in giving naval assistance to the Isle of Rhodes during a Turkish invasion. Boscà fought against the Turks again in 1532 with Álvarez de Toledo and Charles I in Vienna. During this period, Boscán had made serious progress in his mastery of verse in the Italian style. [86]

The Palace of Charles V was commanded by Charles, who wished to establish his residence close to the Alhambra palaces. Although the Catholic Monarchs had already altered some rooms of the Alhambra after the conquest of the city in 1492, Charles V intended to construct a permanent residence befitting an emperor. The project was given to Pedro Machuca, an architect whose life and development are poorly documented. At the time, Spanish architecture was immersed in the Plateresque style, with traces of Gothic architecture still visible. Machuca built a palace corresponding stylistically to Mannerism, a mode then in its infancy in Italy. The exterior of the building uses a typically Renaissance combination of rustication on the lower level and ashlar on the upper. The building has never been a home to a monarch and stood roofless until 1957. [87] [88]

Marriage and private life

Isabella of Portugal, Charles's wife. Portrait by Titian, 1548 La emperatriz Isabel de Portugal, por Tiziano.jpg
Isabella of Portugal, Charles's wife. Portrait by Titian, 1548

During his lifetime, Charles V had several mistresses, his step-grandmother, Germaine de Foix among them. These liaisons occurred during his bachelorhood and only once during his widowerhood; there are no records of his having any extramarital affairs during his marriage.

On 21 December 1507, Charles was betrothed to 11-year-old Mary, the daughter of King Henry VII of England and younger sister to the future King Henry VIII of England, who was to take the throne in two years. However, the engagement was called off in 1513, on the advice of Cardinal Wolsey, and Mary was instead married to King Louis XII of France in 1514.

After his ascension to the Spanish thrones, negotiations for Charles's marriage began shortly after his arrival in Castile, with the Castilian nobles expressing their wishes for him to marry his first cousin Isabella of Portugal, the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and Charles's aunt Maria of Aragon. The nobles desired Charles's marriage to a princess of Castilian blood, and a marriage to Isabella would have secured an alliance between Castile and Portugal. However, the 18-year-old King was in no hurry to marry and ignored the nobles' advice, exploring other marriage options. [89] Instead of marrying Isabella, he sent his sister Eleanor to marry Isabella's widowed father, King Manuel, in 1518.

In 1521, on the advice of his Flemish counsellors, especially William de Croÿ, Charles became engaged to his other first cousin, Mary, daughter of his aunt, Catherine of Aragon, and King Henry VIII, in order to secure an alliance with England. However, this engagement was very problematic because Mary was only 6 years old at the time, sixteen years Charles's junior, which meant that he would have to wait for her to be old enough to marry.

By 1525, Charles was no longer interested in an alliance with England and could not wait any longer to have legitimate children and heirs. Following his victory in the Battle of Pavia, Charles abandoned the idea of an English alliance, cancelled his engagement to Mary and decided to marry Isabella and form an alliance with Portugal. He wrote to Isabella's brother, King John III of Portugal, making a double marriage contract – Charles would marry Isabella and John would marry Charles's youngest sister, Catherine. A marriage to Isabella was more beneficial for Charles, as she was closer to him in age, was fluent in Spanish and provided him with a very handsome dowry of 900,000 Portuguese cruzados or Castilian folds that would help to solve the financial problems brought on by the Italian Wars.

Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabella. Peter Paul Rubens after Titian, 17th century Charles V and Empress Isabella of Portugal, by Peter Paul Rubens.jpg
Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabella. Peter Paul Rubens after Titian, 17th century

On 10 March 1526, Charles and Isabella met at the Alcázar Palace in Seville. The marriage was originally a political arrangement, but on their first meeting, the couple fell deeply in love: Isabella captivated the Emperor with her beauty and charm. They were married that very same night in a quiet ceremony in the Hall of Ambassadors, just after midnight. Following their wedding, Charles and Isabella spent a long and happy honeymoon at the Alhambra in Granada. Charles began the construction of the Palace of Charles V in 1527, wishing to establish a permanent residence befitting an emperor and empress in the Alhambra palaces. However, the palace was not completed during their lifetimes and remained roofless until the late 20th century. [90]

Despite the Emperor's long absences due to political affairs abroad, the marriage was a happy one, as both partners were always devoted and faithful to each other. [91] The Empress acted as regent of Spain during her husband's absences, and she proved herself to be a good politician and ruler, thoroughly impressing the Emperor with many of her political accomplishments and decisions.

The marriage lasted for thirteen years, until Isabella's death in 1539. The Empress contracted a fever during the third month of her seventh pregnancy, which resulted in antenatal complications that caused her to miscarry a stillborn son. Her health further deteriorated due to an infection, and she died two weeks later on 1 May 1539, aged 35. Charles was left so grief-stricken by his wife's death that for two months he shut himself up in a monastery, where he prayed and mourned for her in solitude. [92] Charles never recovered from Isabella's death, dressing in black for the rest of his life to show his eternal mourning, and, unlike most kings of the time, he never remarried. In memory of his wife, the Emperor commissioned the painter Titian to paint several posthumous portraits of Isabella; the finished portraits included Titian's Portrait of Empress Isabel of Portugal and La Gloria . [93] Charles kept these paintings with him whenever he travelled, and they were among those that he brought with him after his retirement to the Monastery of Yuste in 1557. [94]

The bronze effigies of Charles and Isabella at the Basilica in El Escorial. Cenotafio de Carlos I de Espana y su familia.jpg
The bronze effigies of Charles and Isabella at the Basilica in El Escorial.
Titian's La Gloria, one of the several paintings commissioned by Charles V in memory of his wife Isabella La Gloria (Tiziano).jpg
Titian's La Gloria, one of the several paintings commissioned by Charles V in memory of his wife Isabella

In 1540, Charles paid tribute to Isabella's memory when he commissioned the Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon to compose new music as a memorial to her. Crecquillon composed his Missa 'Mort m'a privé in memory of the Empress. It expresses the Emperor's grief and great wish for a heavenly reunion with his beloved wife. [95]


The children of Phillip and Joanna Children of Joanna and Philip.JPG
The children of Phillip and Joanna
Eleanor 15 November 149825 February 1558(1558-02-25) (aged 59)first marriage in 1518, Manuel I of Portugal and had children; second marriage in 1530, Francis I of France and had no children.
Isabella 18 July 150119 January 1526(1526-01-19) (aged 24)married in 1515, Christian II of Denmark and had children.
Ferdinand 10 March 150325 July 1564(1564-07-25) (aged 61)married in 1521, Anna of Bohemia and Hungary and had children.
Mary 18 September 150518 October 1558(1558-10-18) (aged 53)married in 1522, Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia and had no children.
Catherine 14 January 150712 February 1578(1578-02-12) (aged 71)married in 1525, John III of Portugal and had children.


Charles and Isabella had seven legitimate children, but only three of them survived to adulthood:

Philip II of Spain
Portrait of Philip II of Spain by Sofonisba Anguissola - 002b.jpg 21 May 1527 –
13 September 1598
Only surviving son, successor of his father in the Spanish crowns.
Maria of Spain 1557.jpg 21 June 1528 –
26 February 1603
Married her first cousin Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor.
Greater Coat of Arms of Charles I of Spain, Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor (1530-1556).svg 22 November 1529 –
13 July 1530
Died in infancy.
Greater Coat of Arms of Charles I of Spain, Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor (1530-1556).svg 29 June 1534Stillborn
Alonso Sanchez Coello - Portrait of Juana of Austria, Princess of Portugal - Google Art Project.jpg 26 June 1535 –
7 September 1573
Married her first cousin João Manuel, Prince of Portugal.
Greater Coat of Arms of Charles I of Spain, Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor (1530-1556).svg 19 October 1537 –
20 March 1538
Died in infancy.
Greater Coat of Arms of Charles I of Spain, Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor (1530-1556).svg 21 April 1539Stillborn.

Due to Philip II being a grandson of Manuel I of Portugal through his mother he was in the line of succession to the throne of Portugal, and claimed it after his uncle's death (Henry, the Cardinal-King, in 1580), thus establishing the personal union between Spain and Portugal.

Charles also had four illegitimate children:


Charles suffered from an enlarged lower jaw (mandibular prognathism), a congenital deformity that became considerably worse in later Habsburg generations, giving rise to the term Habsburg jaw. This deformity may have been caused by the family's long history of inbreeding, the consequence of repeated marriages between close family members, as commonly practiced in royal families of that era to maintain dynastic control of territory. [98] He suffered from epilepsy [99] and was seriously afflicted with gout, presumably caused by a diet consisting mainly of red meat. [100] As he aged, his gout progressed from painful to crippling. In his retirement, he was carried around the monastery of St. Yuste in a sedan chair. A ramp was specially constructed to allow him easy access to his rooms. [101]

Abdications and death

Between 1554 and 1556, Charles V gradually divided the Habsburg empire between a Spanish line and a German-Austrian branch. His abdications occurred at the Palace of Coudenberg and are therefore known as "Abdications of Brussels" (Abdankung von Brüssel in German and Abdicación de Bruselas in Spanish). First he abdicated the thrones of Sicily and Naples, both fiefs of the Papacy, and the Imperial Duchy of Milan, in favour of his son Philip on 25 July 1554. Philip was secretly invested with Milan already in 1540 and again in 1546, but only in 1554 did the emperor make it public. Upon the abdications of Naples and Sicily, Philip was invested by Pope Julius III with the Kingdom of Naples on 2 October and with the Kingdom of Sicily on 18 November. [102]

In Allegory on the abdication of Emperor Charles V in Brussels, Frans Francken the Younger depicts Charles V in the allegorical act of dividing the entire world between Philip II of Spain and Emperor Ferdinand I. Allegorie op de troonsafstand van keizer Karel V te Brussel Rijksmuseum SK-A-112.jpeg
In Allegory on the abdication of Emperor Charles V in Brussels, Frans Francken the Younger depicts Charles V in the allegorical act of dividing the entire world between Philip II of Spain and Emperor Ferdinand I.

The most famous—and only public—abdication took place a year later, on 25 October 1555, when Charles announced to the States General of the Netherlands (reunited in the great hall where he was emancipated exactly forty years before by Emperor Maximilian) his abdication in favour of his son of those territories as well as his intention to step down from all of his positions and retire to a monastery. [102] During the ceremony, the gout-afflicted Emperor Charles V leaned on the shoulder of his advisor William the Silent and, crying, pronounced his resignation speech:

When I was nineteen ... I undertook to be a candidate for the Imperial crown, not to increase my possessions but rather to engage myself more vigorously in working for the welfare of Germany and my other realms ... and in the hopes of thereby bringing peace among the Christian peoples and uniting their fighting forces for the defense of the Catholic faith against the Ottomans...I had almost reached my goal, when the attack by the French king and some German princes called me once more to arms. Against my enemies I accomplished what I could, but success in war lies in the hands of God, Who gives victory or takes it away, as He pleases ... I must for my part confess that I have often misled myself, either from youthful inexperience, from the pride of mature years, or from some other weakness of human nature. I nonetheless declare to you that I never knowingly or willingly acted unjustly ... If actions of this kind are nevertheless justly laid to my account, I formally assure you now that I did them unknowingly and against my own intention. I therefore beg those present today, whom I have offended in this respect, together with those who are absent, to forgive me." [103]

Habsburg dominions in the centuries following their partition by Charles V. Habsburg dominions 1700.png
Habsburg dominions in the centuries following their partition by Charles V.

He concluded the speech by mentioning his voyages: ten to the Low Countries, nine to Germany, seven to Spain, seven to Italy, four to France, two to England, and two to North Africa. His last public words were, "My life has been one long journey." With no fanfare, in 1556 he finalised his abdications. On 16 January 1556, he gave Spain and the Spanish Empire in the Americas to Philip. On 27 August 1556, he abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in favour of his brother Ferdinand, elected King of the Romans in 1531. The succession was recognized by the prince-electors assembled at Frankfurt only in 1558, and by the Pope only in 1559. [1] [104] [105] The Imperial abdication also marked the beginning of Ferdinand's legal and suo jure rule in the Austrian possessions, that he governed in Charles's name since 1521–1522 and were attached to Hungary and Bohemia since 1526. [15]

According to scholars, Charles decided to abdicate for a variety of reasons: the religious division of Germany sanctioned in 1555; the state of Spanish finances, bankrupted with inflation by the time his reign ended; the revival of Italian Wars with attacks from Henri II of France; the never-ending advance of the Ottomans in the Mediterranean and central Europe; and his declining health, in particular attacks of gout such as the one that forced him to postpone an attempt to recapture the city of Metz where he was later defeated.

Deathbed of the emperor at the Monastery of Yuste, Caceres Dormitorio del emperador Carlos V en el palacio de Yuste, Caceres.jpg
Deathbed of the emperor at the Monastery of Yuste, Cáceres

In September 1556, Charles left the Low Countries and sailed to Spain accompanied by Mary of Hungary and Eleanor of Austria. He arrived at the Monastery of Yuste of Extremadura in 1557. He continued to correspond widely and kept an interest in the situation of the empire, while suffering from severe gout. He lived alone in a secluded monastery, surrounded by paintings by Titian and with clocks lining every wall, which some historians believe were symbols of his reign and his lack of time. [106] In August 1558, Charles was taken seriously ill with what was later revealed to be malaria. [107] He died in the early hours of the morning on 21 September 1558, at the age of 58, holding in his hand the cross that his wife Isabella had been holding when she died. [108] Later historians claimed that, shortly prior to his death, the Emperor had ordered a mock-funeral to be held for himself, during which he lay in a coffin as the monks chanted Mass. The evidence for this is dubious. Neither his physician nor his secretary mention such a thing in their letters, and it would have been against the canon law of the Catholic Church. [109]

Charles was originally buried in the chapel of the Monastery of Yuste, but he left a codicil in his last will and testament asking for the establishment of a new religious foundation in which he would be reburied with Isabella. [110] Following his return to Spain in 1559, their son Philip undertook the task of fulfilling his father's wish when he founded the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. After the Monastery's Royal Crypt was completed in 1574, the bodies of Charles and Isabella were relocated and re-interred into a small vault in directly underneath the altar of the Royal Chapel, in accordance with Charles's wishes to be buried "half-body under the altar and half-body under the priest's feet" side by side with Isabella. They remained in the Royal Chapel while the famous Basilica of the Monastery and the Royal tombs were still under construction. In 1654, after the Basilica and Royal tombs were finally completed during the reign of their great-grandson Philip IV, the remains of Charles and Isabella were moved into the Royal Pantheon of Kings, which lies directly under the Basilica. [111] On one side of the Basilica are bronze effigies of Charles and Isabella, with effigies of their daughter Maria of Austria and Charles's sisters Eleanor of Austria and Maria of Hungary behind them. Exactly adjacent to them on the opposite side of the Basilica are effigies of their son Philip with three of his wives and their ill-fated grandson Carlos, Prince of Asturias.


Charles V styled himself as Holy Roman Emperor after his election, according to a Papal dispensation conferred to the Habsburg family by Pope Julius II in 1508 and confirmed in 1519 to the prince-electors by the legates of Pope Leo X. Although Papal coronation was not necessary to confirm the Imperial title, Charles V was crowned in the city of Bologna by Pope Clement VII in the medieval fashion.

Charles V accumulated a large number of titles due to his vast inheritance of Burgundian, Spanish, and Austrian realms. Following the Pacts of Worms (21 April 1521) and Brussels (7 February 1522), he secretly gave the Austrian lands to his younger brother Ferdinand and elevated him to the status of Archduke. Nevertheless, according to the agreements, Charles continued to style himself as Archduke of Austria and maintained that Ferdinand acted as his vassal and vicar. [112] [113] Furthermore, the pacts of 1521–1522 imposed restrictions on the governorship and regency of Ferdinand. For example, all of Ferdinand's letters to Charles V were signed "your obedient brother and servant". [114] Nonetheless, the same agreements promised Ferdinand the designation as future emperor and the transfer of hereditary rights over Austria at the imperial succession.

Following the death of Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia, at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, Charles V favoured the election of Ferdinand as King of Hungary (and Croatia and Dalmatia) and Bohemia. Despite this, Charles also styled himself as King of Hungary and Bohemia and retained this titular use in official acts (such as his testament) as in the case of the Austrian lands. As a consequence, cartographers and historians have described those kingdoms both as realms of Charles V and as possessions of Ferdinand, not without confusion. Others, such as the Venetian envoys, reported that the states of Ferdinand were "all held in common with the Emperor". [115]

Therefore, although he had agreed on the future division of the dynasty between Ferdinand and Philip II of Spain, during his own reign Charles V conceived the existence of a single "House of Austria" of which he was the sole head. [116] In the abdications of 1554–1556, Charles left his personal possessions to Philip II and the Imperial title to Ferdinand. The titles of King of Hungary, of Dalmatia, Croatia, etc., were also nominally left to the Spanish line (in particular to Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias and son of Philip II). However, Charles's Imperial abdication marked the beginning of Ferdinand's suo jure rule in Austria and his other lands: despite the claims of Philip and his descendants, Hungary and Bohemia were left under the nominal and substantial rule of Ferdinand and his successors. Formal disputes between the two lines over Hungary and Bohemia were to be solved with the Onate treaty of 1617.

Charles's full titulature went as follows:

Charles, by the grace of God, Emperor of the Romans, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, of Hungary, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of both Hither and Ultra Sicily, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Indies, of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen.

A miniature representing Charles V enthroned over his enemies (from left): Suleiman, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse. In reality, Charles was never able to completely defeat them. Charles V enthroned over his defeated enemies Giulio Clovio mid 16th century.jpg
A miniature representing Charles V enthroned over his enemies (from left): Suleiman, Pope Clement VII, Francis I, the Duke of Cleves, the Duke of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse. In reality, Charles was never able to completely defeat them.
Equestrian armour of Emperor Charles V. Piece drawn from the collection of the Royal Armoury of Madrid Armadura de Carlos V a caballo.jpg
Equestrian armour of Emperor Charles V. Piece drawn from the collection of the Royal Armoury of Madrid
TitleFromToRegnal name
Blason fr Bourgogne.svg Titular Duke of Burgundy 25 September 150616 January 1556Charles II
Coat of arms of Brabant.svg Duke of Brabant 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Arms of the Duke of Limburg.svg Duke of Limburg 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Austria coat of arms simple.svg Duke of Lothier 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Arms of the Count of Luxembourg.svg Duke of Luxemburg 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles III
Namur Arms.svg Margrave of Namur 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Arms of County of Burgundy.svg Count Palatine of Burgundy 25 September 15065 February 1556Charles II
Arms of Robert dArtois.svg Count of Artois 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Blason Charolais.svg Count of Charolais 25 September 150621 September 1558Charles II
Arms of Flanders.svg Count of Flanders 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles III
Hainaut Modern Arms.svg Count of Hainault 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Counts of Holland Arms.svg Count of Holland 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Coatofarmszeeland.PNG Count of Zeeland 25 September 150625 October 1555Charles II
Arms of the Crown of Castile (15th Century).svg King of Castile and León 14 March 151616 January 1556Charles I
Arms Aragon-Sicily (Template).svg King of Aragon and Sicily 14 March 151616 January 1556Charles I
Coat of Arms of Catalonia.svg Count of Barcelona 14 March 151616 January 1556Charles I
Arms of Ferdinand I of Naples.svg King of Naples 14 March 151625 July 1554Charles IV
Austria coat of arms simple.svg Archduke of Austria 12 January 151912 January 1521Charles I
Holy Roman Empire Arms-double head.svg Holy Roman Emperor 28 June 151927 August 1556Charles V
Blason DE saint empire (une tete).svg King of the Romans 26 October 152024 February 1530Charles V
Escudo de Zutphen 1581.png Count of Zutphen 12 September 154325 October 1555Charles II
Guelders-Julich Arms.svg Duke of Guelders 12 September 154325 October 1555Charles III

Coat of arms of Charles V

Coat of arms of Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire according to the description: Arms of Charles I added to those of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Two Sicilies and Granada present in the previous coat, those of Austria, ancient Burgundy, modern Burgundy, Brabant, Flanders and Tyrol. Charles I also incorporates the pillars of Hercules with the inscription "Plus Ultra", representing the overseas empire and surrounding coat with the collar of the Golden Fleece, as sovereign of the Order ringing the shield with the imperial crown and Acola double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire and behind it the Spanish Cross of Burgundy. From 1520 added to the corresponding quarter to Aragon and Sicily, one in which the arms of Jerusalem, Naples and Navarre are incorporated.


References to Charles V include a large number of legends and folk tales; literary renderings of historical events connected to Charles's life and romantic adventures, his relationship to Flanders, and his abdication; and products marketed in his name. [131] The 400th anniversary of his death, celebrated in 1958 in Francoist Spain, brought together the local national catholic intelligentsia and a number of European (Catholic) conservative figures, underpinning an imperial nostalgia for Charles V's Europe and the Universitas Christiana, also propelling a peculiar brand of europeanism. [132]

Public monuments

Unusually among major European monarchs, Charles V discouraged monumental depictions of himself during his lifetime.


Escutcheon of Charles V, watercolour, John Singer Sargent, 1912. Metropolitan Museum of Art Escutcheon of Charles V of Spain MET DT287185.jpg
Escutcheon of Charles V, watercolour, John Singer Sargent, 1912. Metropolitan Museum of Art




Television and film

See also


  1. Some sources claim he abdicated on 27 August, [1] [2] while others give 7 September. [3] [4] Moreover, his abdication was not actually recognized until February 1558, on either the 24th [1] [2] or 28th. [5] [6]
  2. 'Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor; Charles I as King of Spain and Archduke of Austria; Charles II as Duke of Burgundy.


  1. 1 2 3 Setton, K. (1984). The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571), Volume IV: The Sixteenth Century from Julius III to Pius V. Memoirs. 162. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. p. 716. ISBN   978-0-87169-162-0. ISSN   0065-9738.
  2. 1 2 Chillany, F. Wilhelm (1865). Europaeische Chronik von 1492 bis Ende April 1865. pp. 16, 78.
  3. Flathe, Theodor (1886). Allgemeine Weltgeschichte. p. 212.
  4. Karl V. Neue Deutsche Biographie .
  5. Bruno Gebhardt (1890). Gebhardts Handbuch der deutschen geschichte. p. 92.
  6. William H. Prescott (1856). Historia del reinado de Felipe Segundo, Rey de España. p. 321.
  7. 1 2 Carlos V: La coronación del Emperador. National Geographic
  8. Chesney, Elizabeth A.; Zegura, Elizabeth Chesney (2004). The Rabelais Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN   9780313310348.; H. Micheal Tarver, ed. (2016). The Spanish Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. 2. ABC-CLIO. p. 161. ISBN   978-1-61069-421-6.; Plain Truth. Ambassador College. 1984.; Ferer, Mary Tiffany (2012). Music and Ceremony at the Court of Charles V: The Capilla Flamenca and the Art of Political Promotion. Boydell Press. ISBN   9781843836995.
  9. Charles Quint, prince des Pays-Bas (in French). La Renaissance du Livre. 1943.
  10. MacCulloch, D. (2 September 2004). Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490–1700. p. 216. ISBN   978-0-14-192660-5.
  11. Leitch, S. (27 September 2010). Mapping Ethnography in Early Modern Germany: New Worlds in Print Culture. Springer. ISBN   9780230112988 via Google Books.
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  • Espinosa, Aurelio. "The Spanish Reformation: Institutional Reform, Taxation, and the Secularization of Ecclesiastical Properties under Charles V", Sixteenth Century Journal (2006) 37#1 pp 3–24. JSTOR   20477694.
  • Espinosa, Aurelio. The Empire of the Cities: Emperor Charles V, the Comunero Revolt, and the Transformation of the Spanish System (2008)
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  • Heath, Richard. Charles V: Duty and Dynasty. The Emperor and his Changing World 1500-1558. (2018) ISBN   9781725852785
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Other languages

  • Salvatore Agati (2009). Carlo V e la Sicilia. Tra guerre, rivolte, fede e ragion di Stato, Giuseppe Maimone Editore, Catania 2009, ISBN   978-88-7751-287-1 (in Italian)
  • D'Amico, Juan Carlos. Charles Quint, Maître du Monde: Entre Mythe et Realite 2004, 290p. (in French)
  • Norbert Conrads: Die Abdankung Kaiser Karls V. Abschiedsvorlesung, Universität Stuttgart, 2003 (text Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine ) (in German)
  • Stephan Diller, Joachim Andraschke, Martin Brecht: Kaiser Karl V. und seine Zeit. Ausstellungskatalog. Universitäts-Verlag, Bamberg 2000, ISBN   3-933463-06-8 (in German)
  • Alfred Kohler: Karl V. 1500–1558. Eine Biographie. C. H. Beck, München 2001, ISBN   3-406-45359-7 (in German)
  • Alfred Kohler: Quellen zur Geschichte Karls V. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1990, ISBN   3-534-04820-2 (in German)
  • Alfred Kohler, Barbara Haider. Christine Ortner (Hrsg): Karl V. 1500–1558. Neue Perspektiven seiner Herrschaft in Europa und Übersee. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien 2002, ISBN   3-7001-3054-6 (in German)
  • Ernst Schulin: Kaiser Karl V. Geschichte eines übergroßen Wirkungsbereichs. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN   3-17-015695-0 (in German)
  • Ferdinant Seibt: Karl V. Goldmann, München 1999, ISBN   3-442-75511-5 (in German)
  • Manuel Fernández Álvarez: Imperator mundi: Karl V. – Kaiser des Heiligen Römischen Reiches Deutscher Nation.. Stuttgart 1977, ISBN   3-7630-1178-1 (in German)
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 24 February 1500 Died: 21 September 1558
Regnal titles
Preceded by Duke of Brabant, Limburg, Lothier and Luxembourg;
Margrave of Namur;
Count of Artois, Flanders, Hainaut, Holland, and Zeeland;
Count Palatine of Burgundy

Succeeded by
Preceded byas sole ruler King of Naples
with Joanna III (1516–1554)
King of Castile, León, Aragon, Majorca, Valencia, Sardinia and Sicily;
Count of Barcelona, Roussillon and Cerdagne

with Joanna (1516–1555)
Preceded by Duke of Guelders
Count of Zutphen

Preceded by Archduke of Austria
Duke of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola
Count of Tyrol

Succeeded by
King of Germany
Holy Roman Emperor
King of Italy

Spanish royalty
Preceded by Prince of Asturias
Title next held by
Philip (II)
Prince of Girona

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Philip the Handsome, also called the Fair, was ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands and titular Duke of Burgundy from 1482 to 1506 and the first Habsburg King of Castile for a brief time in 1506.

Habsburg Spain Reigning dynasty in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries

Habsburg Spain is a contemporary historiographical term referred to the Spain of the 16th and 17th centuries (1516–1700) when it was ruled by kings from the House of Habsburg. The Habsburg Hispanic Monarchs reached the zenith of their influence and power ruling the Spanish Empire. They controlled territories over the five continents including the Americas, the East Indies, the Low Countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and territories now in Italy, France and Germany in Europe, the Portuguese Empire from 1580 to 1640, and various other territories such as small enclaves like Ceuta and Oran in North Africa. This period of Spanish history has also been referred to as the "Age of Expansion".

Eleanor of Austria Queen consort of Portugal and France

Eleanor of Austria, also called Eleanor of Castile, was born an Archduchess of Austria and Infanta of Castile from the House of Habsburg, and subsequently became Queen consort of Portugal (1518–1521) and of France (1530–1547). She also held the Duchy of Touraine (1547–1558) in dower. She is called "Leonor" in Spanish and Portuguese and "Eléonore" or "Aliénor" in French.

Spanish Netherlands Historical region of the Low Countries (1556–1714)

Spanish Netherlands was the name for the Habsburg Netherlands ruled by the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs from 1556 to 1714. They were a collection of States of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries held in personal union by the Spanish Crown. This region comprised most of the modern states of Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as parts of northern France, the southern Netherlands, and western Germany with the capital being Brussels. The Army of Flanders was given the task of defending the territory.

Joanna of Austria, Princess of Portugal Infanta of Spain, Archduchess of Austria and Princess of Portugal

Joanna of Austria was Princess of Portugal by marriage to John Manuel, Prince of Portugal. She served as regent of Spain to her brother Philip II of Spain during his trip to England to marry Mary I in 1554-1556, and from 1556 to 1559. She was the mother of King Sebastian of Portugal.

Coat of arms of Spain National coat of arms of the Kingdom of Spain

The coat of arms of Spain represents Spain and the Spanish nation, including its national sovereignty and the country's form of government, a constitutional monarchy. It appears on the flag of Spain and it is used by the Government of Spain, the Cortes Generales, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and other state institutions. Its design consists of the arms of the medieval kingdoms that would unite to form Spain in the 15th century, the Royal Crown, the arms of the House of Bourbon, the Pillars of Hercules and the Spanish national motto: Plus Ultra. The Monarch, the heir to the throne and some institutions like the Senate, the Council of State and the General Council of the Judiciary have their own variants of the coat of arms.

The phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was used to describe certain global empires that were so extensive that it seemed as though it was always daytime in at least one part of its territory.

Crown of Castile Former country in the Iberian Peninsula from 1230 to 1715

The Crown of Castile was a medieval polity in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and, some decades later, the parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then Castilian king, Ferdinand III, to the vacant Leonese throne. It continued to exist as a separate entity after the personal union in 1469 of the crowns of Castile and Aragon with the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs up to the promulgation of the Nueva Planta decrees by Philip V in 1715.

Council of Castile former part of the Spanish Empire

The Council of Castile, known earlier as the Royal Council, was a ruling body and key part of the domestic government of the Crown of Castile, second only to the monarch himself. It was established under Queen Isabella I in 1480 as the chief body dealing with administrative and judicial matters of the realm. With the 1516 ascension of King Charles I to the throne of both Castile and Aragon, the Royal Council came to be known as the Council of Castile because Charles was king of many dominions other than Castile, while the Council retained responsibility only over Castile.

Habsburg Netherlands Entire period of Habsburg rule in the Low Countries (1482-1794)

Habsburg Netherlands, in Latin referred to as Belgica, is the collective name of Renaissance period fiefs in the Low Countries held by the Holy Roman Empire's House of Habsburg. The rule began in 1482, when the last Valois-Burgundy ruler of the Netherlands, Mary, wife of Maximilian I of Austria, died. Their grandson, Emperor Charles V, was born in the Habsburg Netherlands and made Brussels one of his capitals.

Coat of arms of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was the heir of four of Europe's leading royal houses. He first inherited the Burgundian Netherlands, which came from his paternal grandmother, Mary of Burgundy. Charles was then the first sole monarch of Spain, inheriting the kingdoms first united by his maternal grandparents, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Finally, on the death of his paternal grandfather, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, he inherited the Habsburg lands in Austria.

Ferdinand II of Aragon King of Aragon, Sicily, Naples, and Valencia (1452–1516)

Ferdinand II was the king of Aragon from 1479 until his death in 1516. As the husband of Queen Isabella I of Castile, he was also the king of Castile from 1475 to 1504. He reigned jointly with Isabella over a dynastically unified Spain; together they are known as the Catholic Monarchs. Ferdinand is considered the de facto first king of Spain, and was described as such during his reign, even though, legally, Castile and Aragon remained two separate kingdoms until they were formally united by the Nueva Planta decrees issued between 1707 and 1716.

Empire of Charles V Territory ruled by Charles V of Habsburg from 1519 to 1556

The Empire of Charles V, also known by the umbrella term "Habsburg Empire" and labelled "the empire on which the sun never sets", included the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish empire, the Burgundian Low Countries, the Austrian lands, and all the territories and dominions ruled in personal union by Charles V of Habsburg from 1519 to 1556. The lands of the empire had in common only the monarch, Charles V, while their boundaries, institutions, and laws remained distinct. Charles's nomenclature as Holy Roman Emperor was Charles V, though earlier in his life he was known by the names of Charles of Ghent, Charles II as Duke of Burgundy, and Charles I as King of Spain and Archduke of Austria. The imperial name prevailed due to the politico-religious primacy held by the Holy Roman Empire among European monarchies since the Middle Ages, which Charles V intended to preserve as part of his project to unite Christendom under his leadership.

The Golden Age of Flanders, or Flemish Golden Age, is a term that has been used to describe the flourishing of cultural and economic activities of the Low Countries around the 16th century. The term Flanders in the 1500s referred to the entire Habsburg Netherlands within the Burgundian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire and inclusive of modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Its political capital was Brussels, while the financial-economic centre was Antwerp. Other major artistic and cultural centres of the period included Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen and Leuven. It is also grouped with the Dutch Golden Age, a more common term used primarily in reference to the Dutch Republic in the 1600s, within a "Flemish and Dutch golden age" covering the period from the late 15th to the 17th century.