Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Charles V
Elderly Karl V.jpg
Reign28 June 1519 – 27 August 1556
PredecessorMaximilian I
SuccessorFerdinand I
King of Spain
Reign23 January 1516 – 16 January 1556
PredecessorJoanna (Castile)
Ferdinand II (Aragon)
SuccessorPhilip II of Spain
Reign25 September 1506 – 25 October 1555[1]
PredecessorPhilip of Castile
SuccessorPhilip II of Spain
Archduke of Austria
Reign12 January 1519 – 28 April 1521
PredecessorMaximilian I
SuccessorFerdinand I
Born24 February 1500
Ghent, Flanders, Habsburg Netherlands
Died21 September 1558(1558-09-21) (aged 58)
Yuste, Spain
SpouseIsabella of Portugal
see full list
Regnal name
see full list of titles and regnal names
FatherPhilip of Castile
MotherJoanna of Castile
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureCharles V's signature

Charles V[a] (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was ruler of both the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and the Spanish Empire (as Charles I of Spain) from 1516, as well as of the lands of the former Duchy of Burgundy from 1506. He stepped down from these and other positions by a series of abdications between 1554 and 1556. Through inheritance, he brought together under his rule extensive territories in western, central, and southern Europe, and the Spanish viceroyalties in the Americas and Asia. As a result, his domains spanned nearly 4 million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles), and were the first to be described as "the empire on which the sun never sets".[2]

Charles was the heir of three of Europe's leading dynasties: Valois of Burgundy, Habsburg of Austria, and Trastámara of Spain. As heir of the House of Burgundy, he inherited areas in the Netherlands and around the eastern border of France. As the head of the House of Habsburg, he inherited Austria and other lands in central Europe, and was also elected to succeed his grandfather, Maximilian I, as Holy Roman Emperor. As a grandson of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, from the Spanish House of Trastámara he inherited the Crown of Castile, which was developing a nascent empire in the Americas and Asia, and the Crown of Aragon, which included a Mediterranean empire extending to southern Italy. Charles was the first king to rule Castile and Aragon simultaneously in his own right (as a unified Spain), and as a result he is often referred to as the first king of Spain.[3][b] The personal union under Charles of the Holy Roman Empire with the Spanish Empire was the closest Europe has come to a universal monarchy[4] since the time of Charlemagne in the 9th century.

Because of widespread fears that his vast inheritance would lead to the realisation of a universal monarchy and that he was trying to create a European hegemony, Charles was the object of hostility from many enemies.[5] His reign was dominated by war, particularly by three major simultaneous prolonged conflicts: the Italian Wars with France, the struggle to halt the Turkish advance into Europe, and the conflict with the German princes resulting from the Protestant Reformation.[6] The French wars, mainly fought in Italy, lasted for most of his reign. Enormously expensive, they led to the development of the first modern professional army in Europe, the Tercios.

The struggle with the Ottoman Empire was fought in Hungary and the Mediterranean. The Turkish advance was halted at the Siege of Vienna in 1529, and a lengthy war of attrition, conducted on Charles' behalf by his younger brother Ferdinand (King of Hungary and archduke of Austria), continued for the rest of Charles's reign. In the Mediterranean, although there were some successes, he was unable to prevent the Ottomans' increasing naval dominance and the piratical activity of the Barbary pirates. Charles opposed the Reformation, and in Germany he was in conflict with Protestant nobles who were motivated by both religious and political opposition to him. He could not prevent the spread of Protestantism and was ultimately forced to concede the Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which divided Germany along denominational lines.

While Charles did not typically concern himself with rebellions, he was quick to put down three particularly dangerous rebellions; the Revolt of the Comuneros in Castile, the revolt of the Arumer Zwarte Hoop in Frisia, and, later in his reign, the Revolt of Ghent (1539). Once the rebellions were quelled the essential Castilian and Burgundian territories remained mostly loyal to Charles throughout his rule.

Charles's Spanish dominions were the chief source of his power and wealth, and they became increasingly important as his reign progressed. In the Americas, Charles sanctioned the conquest by Castilian conquistadores of the Aztec and Inca empires. Castilian control was extended across much of South and Central America. The resulting vast expansion of territory and the flows of South American silver to Castile had profound long term effects on Spain.

Charles was only 56 when he abdicated, but after 40 years of active rule he was physically exhausted and sought the peace of a monastery, where he died at the age of 58. The Holy Roman Empire passed to his younger brother Ferdinand, archduke of Austria, while the Spanish Empire, including the possessions in the Netherlands and Italy, was inherited by Charles's son Philip II of Spain. The two empires would remain allies until the extinction of the House of Habsburg in the 18th century.

Heritage and early life

Portrait by Bernard van Orley, 1519

Charles was born in 1500 as the eldest son of Philip the Handsome and Joanna of Castile in the Flemish city of Ghent, which was part of the Habsburg Netherlands.[7] The culture and courtly life of the Burgundian Low Countries were an important influence in his early life. He was tutored by William de Croÿ (who would later become his first prime minister), and also by Adrian of Utrecht (later Pope Adrian VI). Charles became a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece in his infancy and later became its grand master. Founded by the Burgundian Duke Philip the Good in 1430, the order emphasised the ideals of the medieval knights and the desire for Christian unity to fight the infidel.[8] It played an important part in the development of Charles' beliefs and he is rarely seen in portraits without its insignia prominently displayed (see portraits by van Orley and Seisenegger). It is said that Charles spoke several vernacular languages: he was fluent in French and Dutch, later adding an acceptable Castilian Spanish (which Charles called the "divine language"[9]) required by the Castilian Cortes Generales as a condition for becoming King of Castile. He also gained a decent command of German (in which he was not fluent prior to his election), though he never spoke it as well as French.[10]

From his Burgundian ancestors he inherited an ambiguous relationship with the Kings of France. Charles shared with France his mother tongue and many cultural forms. In his youth he made frequent visits to Paris, then the largest city of Western Europe. In his words: "Paris is not a city, but a world" (Lutetia non urbs, sed orbis). He was betrothed to both Louise and Charlotte of Valois, daughters of King Francis I of France, but they both died in childhood. Charles also inherited the tradition of political and dynastic enmity between the royal and the Burgundian ducal lines of the Valois dynasty. Charles was very attached to the Burgundian Low Countries where he had been raised. These lands were very rich and contributed significantly to the wealth of the Empire. He also spent much time there, mainly in Brussels. This stands in contrast with the attitude of his son Philip who only visited the Low Countries once.

Portrait by Jakob Seisenegger, 1533

Until the 1540s, Charles did not spend much time in Germany. He frequently was in Northern Italy (then part of the Holy Roman Empire). He never actually governed his Austrian dominions and made his brother Ferdinand the ruler of these lands in 1521, as well as his representative in the Holy Roman Empire during his absence. In spite of this, the Emperor had a close relationship with some German families, like the House of Nassau, many of which were represented at his court in Brussels. Some 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.[11]

Indeed, in 1519, he was elected because he was considered a German prince while his main opponent was French. Nonetheless, in the long term, the growth of Lutheranism and Charles' staunch Catholicism alienated him from various German princes who finally fought against him in the 1540s and the 1550s. It is important to note, though, that other states of the Empire chose to support him in his war, and that he had the constant support of his brother, in spite of their strained personal relationship.[12] Whereas Charles spent much of his final years as a ruler trying to address the issue of religion in the Empire, it would ultimately be Ferdinand, by then much more popular in Germany, who would bring peace to the German lands.

Though Spain was the core of his personal possessions and though he had many Iberian ancestors, in his earlier years Charles felt as if he were viewed as a foreign prince. He became fluent in Spanish late in his life, as it was not his first language. Nonetheless, he spent much of his life in Spain, including his final years in a Spanish monastery, and his heir, later Philip II, was born and raised in Spain. Indeed, Charles's motto, Plus Ultra ('Further Beyond'), became the national motto of Spain. He had many Spanish counselors and, except for the revolt of the comuneros in the 1520s, Spain remained mostly loyal to him. Spain was also his most important military asset, as it provided a great number of generals, as well as the formidable Spanish tercios, considered the best infantry of its time. Many Spaniards, however, believed that their resources were being used to sustain a policy that was not in the country's interest.[13] They usually believed that Charles should have focused on the Mediterranean and North Africa instead of Northern or Central Europe.

A witticism sometimes attributed to Charles is: "I speak Spanish (or Latin, depending on the source) to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse." A variant of the quote is attributed to him by Swift in his 1726 Gulliver's Travels, but there are many other variants and it is often attributed instead to Frederick the Great.[14]

Portrait gallery

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Karel V
Alemannisch: Karl V. (HRR)
azərbaycanca: V Karl
Bân-lâm-gú: Karl 5-sè
беларуская: Карл V Габсбург
български: Карл V
čeština: Karel V.
Deutsch: Karl V. (HRR)
eesti: Karl V
estremeñu: Carlos I d'España
فارسی: کارل پنجم
français: Charles Quint
Frysk: Karel V
한국어: 카를 5세
Bahasa Indonesia: Karl V, Kaisar Romawi Suci
íslenska: Karl 5. keisari
Kabɩyɛ: Charles Quint
ქართული: კარლ V
Lëtzebuergesch: Karel V. (HRR)
Ligure: Carlo V
Lingua Franca Nova: Carlo 5
Nederlands: Keizer Karel V
Nedersaksies: Karel V
occitan: Carles Quint
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Karl V
Plattdüütsch: Karl V. (HRR)
română: Carol Quintul
slovenščina: Karel V. Habsburški
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Karlo V., car Svetog Rimskog Carstva
Türkçe: V. Karl
українська: Карл V Габсбург
Võro: Karl V
粵語: 卡爾五世