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Charles V

Charles V Emperor Charles V (CHARLES I, King of SPAIN). Born at Ghent, 1500; died at Yuste, in Spain, 1558; was a descendant of the house of Hapsburg, and to this descent owed his sovereignty over so many lands that it was said of him that the sun never set on his dominions. Charles was the son of Philip, Duke of Burgundy, by Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and Burgundy was the first heritage to which he at his led, on his fathers death in 1506. As he was a minor at that time, his aunt, Margaret of Austria, undertook the regency for him. William of Chivres, his father’s chief counsellor, had charge of the prince’s household; Adrian of Utrecht, the Humanist and professor of theology at Louvain, who undertook his education, appears to have exercised a deep and lasting influence on the opinions and convictions of his pupil.

Like many princes of his house, the boy developed slowly, showing no signs of a strong will. In January, 1515, he was declared to be of age, through the influence of Chivres, who sought to destroy the power by which Margaret was forcing the Burgundian nobility into a too dynastic policy regardless of the country’s need of peace. The peace of the country demanded an alliance with France, even though France should thus gain considerable influence in the internal affairs of Burgundy. Charles at once acceded to the wishes of the nobility (Treaties of Paris, 24 March, 1515, and Noyon, 13 August, 1516). Upon the death of Ferdinand of Aragon in January, 1516, Charles was named as his successor; but as the Duchess Joanna was still living, and Charles’ brother Ferdinand, educated in Spain, was popular in that country, the realization of this arrangement was still in doubt.

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Of his own motion Charles immediately assumed the title of King of Castile, and announced his intention of going to Spain as soon as possible. It was not till the autumn of 1517 that he effected this purpose, and the Spanish opposition had mean while been silenced. But the power left in the hands of Chivres, and the Burgundians provoked the uprising in Castile known as the War of the Communidad. It was a movement of the cities. In Castile the discontentment of the ruling classes was joined to that of the handicraftsmen and labourers, in Valencia the movement was exclusively one of mechanics and the proletariat.

The rebellion failed because the commercial cities of Southern Castile took no part in it, and because Charles, acting upon his own judgment, placed Spaniards, instead of foreigners, in positions of authority. In 1520 Charles left Spain to take possession of the German Empire to which he had been elected. The French king, Francis I, had been his rival for the dignity; Leo X thought that his interests in Italy were endangered by Charles’ election. The Kingdom of Navarre was already a matter of contention between France and Spain, while France and the Netherlands wrangled over the original Dukedom of Burgundy as well as Tournai, Flanders, Artois, and some lesser territories. War had not broken out over these questions, and nothing indicated that Charles would be a warlike prince; but he had broken the alliance with France made under Chivres. The Holy See opposed the election of Charles even more vigorously than France. As King of Aragon, Charles was heir to the Kingdom of Naples, a papal fief; the investiture had not yet taken place, but it could not be withheld.

If he should also become emperor, and thus obtain a title to Milan as well, there would result a political condition against which the popes since Innocent III had constantly fought-the union of Milan and Naples in one hand. In spite of the opposition of Rome and France, Charles was elected (28 June, 1519), and everywhere received the title of Emperor Elect’. Leo X put no difficulties in Charles’ way at Naples. The foundation bad been laid for his universal empire. Not yet twenty years of age at the time of his election, he had shown a marked precocity of development.

During a stay in the Netherlands of several months, after his return from Spain, and on his arrival in Germany, it became apparent that he had taken the reins of government into his own hands. His chief counsellor, Chivres, died in May, 1521, and thenceforward Charles was practically free in all his decisions. His first important service to the empire was to affect the successful issue of the Diet of Worms, exhibiting his entire independence and intellectual maturity. The Lutheran movement had extended so widely over Germany, that Aleander, the papal representative at the imperial Court, strenuously urged its suppression. Charles had already told him, in the Netherlands, that the affair seemed to him to be settled by the papal Bull of 15 June, 1520.

But in Germany he was convinced that the opposition to the Roman Curia was widespread and that this opposition helped the monk, even among those who did not hold heretical doctrines. Still, as he told Aleander, Charles did not think it right to mix up his affairs with those of the pope. He promised the constituent estates of the empire a hearing for the monk before the imperial diet and in return received their promise that if Luther persisted in his heresy they would abandon him. Thus he gained time to turn his attention to temporal politics. He meant to bring to a successful conclusion the efforts which for a generation had been making to give the empire a better constitution, and increase its financial and military strength.

An agreement was reached as to how the estates of the realm should share in its government, according to a scheme called the Reichsregiment – how the expenses of the imperial chamber etc. were to be met and how the estates were to furnish the emperor military assistance in war. In April, 1521, Luther appeared before the diet, but did not retract. Next day Charles in person appeared against him before the estates, and expressed his own views with an emphasis not expected from so taciturn a youth. On the 8th of May he prepared the ban against Luther, but it was not published until the 26th.

In accordance with the promise given by the estates in February, he spoke for them all. Had Charles had his way, he would have devoted himself for some time to the pressing internal needs of his country. The constitution especially needed improvement; the finances were so disordered, and the debt so large, that the monarch was hampered in whatever he did, and could provide for the foreign interests of the empire only by very careful management. Owing to the primitive development of means of communication, he could not keep watch over the whole empire, which he therefore decided to divide into districts. Already convinced that he must make Spain the centre of his dominions and the mainstay of his politics, he for that reason determined to make it his personal charge, and went thither in the summer of 1522.

Once in Spain, remote from Germany and his hereditary Hapsburg estates, he at first purposed to make them almost entirely independent of him, although he was more dissatisfied with the conditions there than with those of any other part of his empire. Reserving to himself only the general policy of the empire as a whole, he gave his Austrian possessions to his brother Ferdinand, in 1522, making him, at the same time, his representative at the head of the imperial government. The Reichsregiment having been abrogated in 1525, he had Ferdinand chosen King of Rome at the next opportunity (1530). He kept a firmer hold on the government of the Netherlands, but established a permanent regency for them also (1522), selecting for this function two able and thoroughly loyal women: first (till 1530), the faithful Margaret, and next his sister Maria of Hungary, who held the regency till Charles himself abdicated. Naples had been ruled by viceroys under his grandfather, and he continued this policy.

While Charles was completing these dispositions, he became involved in a great war. On the 8th of May, 1521, the date of the edict against Luther, an offensive alliance against France was signed by representatives of the pope and the emperor. Charles had desired only a defensive alliance, but Leo X, long an ally of Francis I, was now bent upon war against him, because Francis had prevented an extension of the papal territory which Leo desired. War would assuredly have broken out between Francis and Charles on the score of Navarre and Burgundy, even if Leo had not hastened the conflict; though it probably would not have attained such dimensions, nor would have lasted so long as it actually did; for Francis I was an irritable and fickle prince, not a man of strong will, and cared more for pleasure than for war. But, as a matter of fact, the main issue to be decided in the ensuing struggle (1521-29) was the extent of the papal power in Italy – the question, that is, whether the papacy or some foreign dynasty should be the dominant political power in the Peninsula.

In the first year of this war Charles’ generals won only a few minor victories in Spain and the Netherlands. In 1522 they took Milan from the French. To complete their victory they invaded France, in alliance with the Constable of Bourbon. But the army had been weakened by the siege of Milan, and the French succeeded in again invading Lombardy. Meanwhile Clement VII, who had succeeded Leo X, after the short pontificate of Adrian VI, feared that Charles might become too powerful in Italy, and, when the French returned, prepared to transfer his friendship to them. But before he came to a decision, the Spaniards completely defeated Francis at Pavia (24 February, 1525) and took him prisoner.

Francis was carried to Spain and, to obtain his freedom, was forced to sign the Peace of Madrid (44 January, 1526), the terms of which greatly weakened the power of France and gave Charles a free hand in Italy. Charles believed that this peace would be lasting. But Clement VII exerted every effort to at once form a coalition against Charles, and to induce Francis to recommence the war. Under these circumstances Charles directed his army against Rome. The result of this action was the frightful sack of Rome by the imperial troops in 1527, which the emperor had never intended, but his generals were powerless to prevent, since discipline had vanished in presence of constant privations.

After the sack, Charles’ army was placed in a dangerous position, as the French advanced to relieve Rome and then besiege Naples. By superior generalship, however, the imperialists once more triumphed. The smaller Italian States, recognizing the hopelessness of opposing the imperial power, made an alliance with Charles. Clement also concluded a treaty of peace at Barcelona, 29 June, 1529; France at Cambrai, 5 August. The Peace of Cambrai settled the political situation of Western Europe for a long time, especially that of Italy.

Meantime Charles regulated the affairs of Spain and the Netherlands. These countries resembled each other in having been originally composed of many independent parts, gradually united under one sovereign. In both cases, too, the previously independent states had obstinately clung to their ancient interests, laws, and customs, and were moreover powerful against the Crown. By centralizing the general administration, and assimilating the laws and legal procedures, he sought to counteract the force of these nationalist tendencies. To this end, he perceived, the king, or (in the Netherlands) the regent, must be the centre of activity.

In reorganizing the central bureaus in Spain (1523) and the Netherlands (1531), his main object was to entirely subordinate them to the royal power, and employ in them trained men who should consider themselves servants of the king. In the Netherlands, moreover, he brought about the dependence of the judicial and fiscal officials on the central administration. Through these new and efficient agencies he created an excellent police system as well as a body of laws which fostered the social and industrial life of the people, besides promoting agriculture as no other prince ever had. His commercial legislation was restrictive only when capitalistic excesses or the growth of the proletariat demanded restraint. The edict of 1531 for the Netherlands (promulgated 1540) and the state organization for the care of the poor illustrate this.

The creation of these authorities and this system of laws at the same time had the effect of limiting the power of the Cortes and the States General, both of which bodies thereafter retained only the right of taxation, in the exercise of which, moreover, Charles succeeded in accustoming them to regular annual budgets, by explaining to them his own policy and enlightening them as to the needs of the country, and thus showing them why they should contribute revenue. With individuals Charles dealt still more effectively – in Spain chiefly with the burghers, in the Netherlands with the higher nobility. The latter he won to his support by bestowing on them the most important offices and holding out hopes of the Golden Fleece; the former he hoped to win by leaving them the control of taxation, so that they might regulate it uniformly, and therefore less oppressively. He controlled the clergy by transferring to them an almost general right to the disposal of benefices, which had been granted by the popes either to his predecessors or to himself. He strove especially to foster the progressive industrial elements of the middle class.

At the beginning of the century the old cloth industries of Flanders had been seriously threatened by English competition; under Charles the industries of the Netherlands were effectually protected by an entire change in system which may be regarded as a first step towards capitalistic industry. Antwerp became the world’s great centre of commerce and finance. The cloth industry was strengthened by the introduction of factory methods, the linen industry fully developed. While furthering this progress, Charles used it to give political influence in the cities of the Low Countries to the progressive classes who were loyal to himself. Judged by its results, Charles’ economic policy was successful in the Netherlands, but it succeeded only indifferently in Spain, where industrial progress, though much greater during this reign than it had been, was generally slow and never so marked as to produce great political changes. In Spain the opposition to Charles’ policies was found in the Cortes and in the city governments, but still more among the lesser nobility, the Hidalgueria, who resisted all agricultural progress as well as the emperor’s external policy.

Most of the Castilians remained under Charles’ rule the same frugal, contented, rustic people as before, in marked contrast to the people of the Netherlands. Yet by industrial improvement and political training, Charles was able to make of Spain the instrument by which his son Philip, in the time of the counter-Reformation, brought effective aid to the Catholics of Europe, and under the unfavourable circumstances this result is as remarkable as the prosperity which the Netherlands attained under his rule. No less noteworthy were his services to the great empire rapidly springing up in America. Economical considerations being, in the early period of colonization, the most important, the management of American affairs was con …

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