On this day in History
Charles V (Spanish: Carlos I; German: Karl V.; Croatian: Karlo V; Dutch: Karel V; Italian: Carlo V; Czech: Karel V.; French: Charles Quint; 24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I as Holy Roman Emperor and his son Philip II as King of Spain in 1556.
Charles was the eldest son of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad. His grandmother was Isabella I of Castile. As the heir of three of Europe’s leading dynasties—the House of Habsburg of the Habsburg Monarchy; the House of Valois-Burgundy of the Burgundian Netherlands; and the House of Trastámara of the Crowns of Castile and Aragon—he ruled over extensive domains in Central, Western, and Southern Europe; and the Spanish colonies in the Americas and Asia. As Charles was the first king to rule Castile, León, and Aragon simultaneously in his own right, he became the first King of Spain. In 1519, Charles became Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria. From that point forward, his empire spanned nearly four million square kilometers across Europe, the Far East, and the Americas.
Much of Charles’ reign was devoted to the Italian Wars against France which, although enormously expensive, were militarily successful. Charles’ forces re-captured both Milan and Franche-Comté from France after the decisive Habsburg victory at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, which pushed Francis to form the Franco-Ottoman alliance. Charles’ rival Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the central part of the Hungarian Kingdom in 1526 after defeating the Christians at the Battle of Mohács. However, the Ottoman advance was halted after they failed to capture Vienna in 1529.
Aside from this, Charles is best known for his role in opposing the Protestant Reformation. Several German princes abandoned the Catholic Church and formed the Schmalkaldic League in order to challenge Charles’ authority with military force. Unwilling to allow the same religious wars to come to his other domains, Charles pushed for the convocation of the Council of Trent, which began the Counter-Reformation. The Society of Jesus was established by St. Ignatius of Loyola during Charles’ reign in order to peacefully and intellectually combat Protestantism, and continental Spain was spared from religious conflict largely by Charles’ nonviolent measures.
In the New World, Spain conquered Mexico and Peru, and extended its control across much of South and Central America. Charles oversaw the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Charles provided five ships to Ferdinand Magellan whose voyage — the first circumnavigation of the Earth — laid the foundation for the Pacific oceanic empire of Spain and began Spanish colonization of the Philippines.
Though always at war, Charles was a lover of peace. “Not greedy of territory,” wrote Marcantonio Contarini in 1536, “but most greedy of peace and quiet.” Charles retired in 1556. The Habsburg Monarchy passed to Charles’ younger brother Ferdinand, whereas the Spanish Empire was inherited by his son Philip II. The two empires would remain allies until the 18th century.
Charles suffered from an enlarged lower jaw, a deformity that became considerably worse in later Habsburg generations, giving rise to the term Habsburg jaw. This deformity was caused by the family’s long history of inbreeding, which was commonly practiced in royal families of that era to maintain dynastic control of territory. He struggled to chew his food properly and consequently experienced bad indigestion for much of his life. As a result, he usually ate alone. He suffered from epilepsy and was seriously afflicted with gout, presumably caused by a diet consisting mainly of red meat. As he aged, his gout progressed from painful to crippling. In his retirement, he was carried around the monastery of St. Yuste in a sedan chair. A ramp was specially constructed to allow him easy access to his rooms.
Abdication and later life
On 25 October 1555, Charles abdicated all his titles except the county of Charolais, giving his Spanish Empire (continental Spain, the Netherlands, Naples–Sicily, Lombardy and Spain’s possessions in the Americas) to his son, Philip. His brother Ferdinand, already in possession of the dynastic Habsburg lands, succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste in Extremadura, but continued to correspond widely and kept an interest in the situation of the empire. He suffered from severe gout and some scholars think Charles decided to abdicate after a gout attack in 1552 forced him to postpone an attempt to recapture the city of Metz, where he was later defeated. He lived alone in a secluded monastery, with clocks lining every wall, which some historians believe symbolizes his reign and his lack of time.
Charles died on 21 September 1558 from malaria. Twenty-six years later, his remains were transferred to the Royal Pantheon of The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
An elderly Charles V