Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Charles V (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor (1519–1556), King of Castile and Aragon (1516–1556), and head of the House of Habsburg. As emperor he was sovereign in Germany and northern Italy, while he had direct rule over Habsburg Austria and also the Habsburg Netherlands since becoming Duke of Burgundy in 1506. Through his Spanish kingdoms he was also ruler of Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and an expanding colonial empire. He spent most of his reign defending the integrity of the Holy Roman Empire from the Protestant Reformation, the Ottoman Empire and a series of wars with France. Charles ratified the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires by the Castilian conquistadores, and financed the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan. He revitalized the medieval concept of the universal monarchy of Charlemagne and travelled from city to city, with no single fixed capital: overall he spent 28 years in the Low Countries, 18 years in Spain and 9 years in Germany proper. After four decades of incessant warfare, Charles V abandoned his multi-national project by abdicating in 1556 and dividing his hereditary and imperial domains between the Spanish Habsburgs headed by his son Philip II of Spain and the Austrian Habsburgs headed by his brother Ferdinand, who was Archduke of Austria under Charles' authority since 1521 and the designated successor as Emperor since 1531. The personal union of his European and American territories, spanning over nearly 4 million square kilometres, was the first collection of realms labelled "the empire on which the sun never sets". Charles was born in Flanders to Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad. Due to the premature death of his father in 1506 and the mental illness of his mother, Charles inherited all of his family dominions at a young age. As Duke of Burgundy from 1506, he inherited areas in the Netherlands and around the eastern border of France. As a grandson of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he became King of Spain jointly with his mother in 1516 and inherited the developing Castilian empire in the Americas and the Aragonese territories extending to southern Italy. As the head of the House of Habsburg, he inherited Austria and other lands in central Europe and was also elected in 1519 to succeed his grandfather as Holy Roman Emperor. 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. 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. In order to finance such wars to defend the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V increased the flows of South American silver to Spain (the chief source of his power and wealth) and caused long-term consequences on the economy. While Charles did not typically concern himself with rebellions, he was quick to put down four particularly dangerous rebellions; the Revolt of the Comuneros in Castile, the Revolt of the Brotherhoods in Aragon, 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 opposed the Reformation, and in Germany he was in conflict with Protestant nobles who were motivated by both religious and political opposition to him. In 1521 he organised the Diet of Worms and declared Martin Luther an outlaw, but could not prevent the spread of Protestantism and (despite victory in the Schmalkaldic War) was ultimately forced to concede the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio in 1555. 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. The French wars, mainly fought in Italy, lasted for most of his reign. Enormously expensive due to the employment of condottieri and landsknecht, they led to the development of the infantry known as the tercios. The Battle of Pavia (1525) led to the temporary imprisonment of Francis I of France: imperial control of the French-occupied Duchy of Milan was restored and Charles V became Duke of Milan in 1535. However, France refused to accept the hegemony of Charles V and often supported the Protestant Leagues and formed alliances with the Ottomans. Charles was 56 when he abdicated, and 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 was inherited by Charles's son Philip II of Spain. The Duchy of Milan and the Habsburg Netherlands were left in personal union to the King of Spain, but remained part of the Holy Roman Empire. The two empires would remain allies until the extinction of the male line of the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs in 1700.


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