Charles I of Spain and V of Germany

Charles I was the first king of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain. He is the only king in history who could be considered to be the emperor of the old and new worlds. He is also considered to be the trailblazer for Europe as it is today.

Charles I of Spain and V of Germany was born in the Belgian city of Ghent in 1500. He was the son of Juana of Castille (Juana La Loca) and Philip of Habsburg (Philip the Handsome) and grandson of both the Catholic kings and of Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor.

He inherited a vast empire; from his maternal grandparents, the Catholic Kings, the crowns of Castille and Aragon, with their possessions in America (Mexico and Peru), Italy and some parts of North Africa. From his grandfather Maximilian, he inherited Austria, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Franch- Comté, as well as the rights to the title of Holy Roman Emperor, which included the territories of what is nowadays central Europe.

Charles I spent his early years in the Netherlands, where he was educated in a French- speaking atmosphere under the tutelage of Adrian of Utrecht, rector of the University of Louvain, who later would become Pope Adrian VI.

The death of his grandfather Fernando The Catholic opened the doors of the Spanish court to him. He arrived in Spain in 1517, landing at the small Asturian port of Tazones.

In 1518, with the permission of his mother Juana La Loca, the queen in captivity, as well as the agreement of the Courts of Castille and Aragon, he was proclaimed King of Spain.

In 1520, on the death of his grandfather Maximilian, he was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor, with his coronation taking place in the German city of Aachen, where he solemnly promised to defend the Catholic religion from Protestantism.

During his long reign, of nearly 40 years, Charles I had to deal with a number of conflicts, both in Spain and also abroad.

In Spain there were three serious incidents:

  • The Rebellion of the Comuneros of Castille, who revolted against the tax increase implemented by the King and which culminated in the execution of the Comuneros Bravo, Padilla and Maldonado after their defeat at the battle of Villalar.
  • The Revolt of the Brotherhoods, in Valencia and Mallorca, over the loss of privileges of craftsmen and guilds with regard to the nobility.
  • The attempt by Francisco I, King of France, to invade the Kingdom of Navarra, taking advantage of the weak state of Spain as a result of the Comuneros’ Rebellion.

In Europe the main conflicts which Charles I had to deal with were:

  • The continuing conflict with Francisco I, who invaded Milanesado but was defeated by the Spanish army at the battle of Pavía, where even the French King was captured and taken to Madrid.
  • The various conflicts with the Clementine League, encouraged by Pope Clement VII, which ended with the imperial army taking Rome and signing an alliance with the Republic of Genoa, in such a way that in 1530, Pope Clement crowned Charles I Holy Roman Emperor.
  • The problem with the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman The Magnificent, who invaded Hungry in 1526, even though in 1529, Fernando of Austria, Charles I’s brother, managed to stop Vienna being conquered by the Turks. In 1532 the Turks besieged Vienna again, but this time when Suleiman found out that Charles himself was approaching with his powerful army, he retreated without a fight.
  • The consolidation of the Schmalkaldic League of the Protestant princes, who Charles defeated in 1547 at the battle of Mühlberg.

Despite these and other victories, Charles V’s fight against Islam lacked the support of Francisco I of France. In 1538 the emperor, thinking he was supported by France, created the Holy League with the Pope and the Republic of Venice. After the heroic resistance of the Spanish troops in Castelnuevo couldn’t stop the victory of the Ottomans, Francisco I of France warned Charles that he would not support a Christian attack against the Turks. Charles abandoned the crusade, in effect leaving the Holy League.

During the reign of Charles I, Spain grew and consolidated its dominion and colonization of America: Hernán Cortés defeated the Aztec empire and Pizarro conquered Peru and founded its capital, Lima. Between 1519 and 1522, the great achievement of the first voyage around the world was completed, started by the Portuguese sailor Magallanes and finished by the Basque, Juan Sebastian Elcano.

In 1556, Charles abdicated as King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor and retired to the Monastery of Yuste, where he died in the summer of 1558. On his death, the empire was divided in two: on one hand The Holy Roman Empire was inherited by his brother Fernando I of Habsburg. On the other, the territories of Spain, Flanders, America and Italy were left in the hands of his son, Philip II, from his marriage to Isabel of Portugal.


Documented by:

Olegario Llamazares García-Lomas

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