Charles V

Charles V
   King of Spain (1515-1555) and Holy Roman Emperor (1519-1555). Charles was the most powerful ruler in 16th-century Europe. As the descendant of the German Habsburg dynasty, of the rulers of the united Spain created by his grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella, and of the powerful dukes of Burgundy, in his youth he collected, by inheritance and election, a vast empire that dominated much of Europe and considerable parts of the Americas. Born and reared in the Netherlands, and originally speaking only the French language of the Burgundian court, he became ruling prince of the Netherlands at the age of six and was declared of legal age in 1515, when he took charge of the government. In 1516, after the death of his grandfather Ferdinand, he became hereditary king of Spain, a position that also made him king of Naples and ruler of the Spanish colonies in America. The death of his Habsburg grandfather Maximilian I in 1519 brought him title to the hereditary Habsburg principalities in Germany; it also made him the prime candidate to succeed Maximilian as emperor, a position to which he was elected in 1519 in rivalry with King Francis I of France. His electoral victory was won not by his descent from the German Habsburgs (he understood no German) but by the enormous bribes with which he bought the votes of a majority of the seven electoral princes.
   Charles aspired to develop his imperial title into a strong German monarchy, while also maintaining control over the Netherlands (where he grew up), Spain, and Naples. He took seriously the universalist claims of his imperial title. Personally devout and firmly Catholic though sympathetic to humanist reformers like Erasmus, he nevertheless clashed frequently with the popes, partly over ecclesiastical patronage in his territories but mainly over his determination to transform the imperial title into an effective control over all of Italy, a policy bitterly resisted by the popes. The chief hindrance to his success was the determination of France to resist his attempts to regain French fiefs lost by his Burgundian ancestors in the mid-15th century, and also to keep him from creating a unified German monarchy that would dominate western and central Europe. Charles's task was complicated by the Lutheran Reformation and the decision of a number of the German princes and the great majority of self-governing German towns to support Martin Luther's reforms. Charles attempted to enforce the decree he proclaimed at the Diet of Worms in 1521 out-lawing Luther and all who supported him.
   Despite his great military power and revenues, however, he never gained enough military power in Germany to make good his threats to extinguish heresy by force. The constant opposition of the French king Francis I, who felt threatened by Charles' ambitions, helped to frustrate his policy. Only in 1546, at one of the rare moments when he had forced the French to stop meddling in German politics and had won political and financial support from the pope, was Charles finally able to concentrate his military power in Germany, defeat the Lutheran princes in the Schmalkaldic War (1546-1547), and compel those princes to accept an interim religious settlement that was intended to reestablish Catholicism eventually throughout Germany. Even this victory proved ephemeral. The French king resumed his encouragement of the anti-Habsburg German princes, the one major Lutheran prince who had joined the imperial side in the war defected, and by 1552 the Lutherans had forced Charles' brother Ferdinand to agree to a settlement that preserved Lutheranism in Germany. After many decades of struggle against the Lutherans, the French, and the Ottoman Turks, Charles decided to abdicate. He turned control of Germany over to his brother Ferdinand, who received the imperial title. He abdicated control in the Netherlands, Spain, and Naples in favor of his son Philip II. In 1556 he withdrew to a monastery in Spain.
   Although by no means an intellectual, Charles did have some sympathy for the humanistic learning of the Renaissance, especially for the moderate reform ideas of the German and Dutch humanists who did not turn Protestant. He was a great admirer and patron of the artists of the Renaissance.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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