Today’s’ post will focus on the Abdication of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, King of Spain and Duke of Burgundy.
Generally I like to render people’s names in their original language. In this case Carl & Carlos for the English name Charles. However, for simplicity, I will retain the English form of all names for this entry.
Charles V (February 24, 1500 – September 21, 1558) was ruler of both the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and the Spanish Empire (as Carlos I of Spain) from 1516, as well as of the lands of the former Duchy of Burgundy from 1506. He stepped down from these and other positions by a series of abdications between 1554 and 1556. Through inheritance, he brought together under his rule extensive territories in western, central, and southern Europe, and the Spanish viceroyalties in the Americas and Asia. As a result, his domains spanned nearly 4 million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles), and were the first to be described as “the empire on which the sun never sets”.
Charles was the heir of three of Europe’s leading dynasties: Valois of Burgundy, Habsburg of Austria, and Trastámara of Spain. Charles was the eldest son of Philip of Habsburg (July 22, 1478 – September 25, 1506), called the Handsome or the ouse of Habsburg to be King of Castile as Philip I. Philip was the eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy in her own right. Charles’ mother was Joanna of Castile was the third child and second daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II-V of Aragon-Castile of the royal House of Trastámara.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
As heir of the House of Burgundy, he inherited areas in the Netherlands and around the eastern border of France. As a Habsburg, he inherited Austria and other lands in central Europe, and was also elected to succeed his grandfather, Maximilian I, as Holy Roman Emperor. As a grandson of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, (Ferdinand II-V of Aragon-Castile & Isabel I of Castile) he inherited the Crown of Castile, which was developing a nascent empire in the Americas and Asia, and the Crown of Aragon, which included a Mediterranean empire extending to southern Italy. Charles was the first king to rule Castile and Aragon simultaneously in his own right (as a unified Spain), and as a result he is often referred to as the first king of Spain. The personal union under Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire with the Spanish Empire was the closest Europe has come to a universal monarchy since the time of Charlemagne in the 9th century.
The titles of King of Hungary, of Bohemia, and of Croatia, were incorporated into the imperial family during Charles’s reign, but they were held, both nominally and substantively, by his brother Ferdinand, who initiated a four-century-long Habsburg rule over these eastern territories. However, according Charles V testament, the titles of King of Hungary, of Dalmatia, and of Croatia and others were legated to his grandson, Infante Carlos, Prince of Asturias who was the son of Philip II of Spain, and who died young. Charles’s full titulature went as follows:
Charles, by the grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, of Hungary, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and
Carlos I, King of Spain, King of Naples & Sicily.
On December 21, 1507, Charles was first betrothed to 11-year old Mary of England the daughter of King Henry VII of England and younger sister to the future King Henry VIII of England, who was to take the throne in two years. However, the engagement was called off in 1513 on the advice of Thomas Wolsey and Mary was instead married to King Louis XII of France in 1514.
After his ascension to the Spanish throne, negotiations for Charles’s marriage began shortly after his arrival in Spain, with the Spanish nobles expressing their wishes for him to marry his first cousin Isabella of Portugal, the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and Charles’s aunt Maria of Aragon. The nobles desired for Charles to marry a princess of Spanish blood and a marriage to Isabella would secure an alliance between Spain and Portugal. The 18-year-old King, however, was in no hurry to marry and ignored the nobles’ advice. Instead of marrying Isabella, he sent his sister Eleanor to marry Isabella’s widowed father, King Manuel, in 1518. In 1521, on the advice of his Flemish advisors, especially William de Croÿ, Charles became engaged to his other first cousin, Mary of England daughter of his aunt Catherine of Aragon and King Henry VIII of England, in order to secure an alliance with England. However, this engagement was very problematic since Mary was only 6 years old at the time, sixteen years Charles’s junior, which meant that he would have to wait for her to be old enough to marry.
By 1525, Charles was no longer interested in an alliance with England and could not wait any longer to have legitimate children and heirs. Following his victory in the Battle of Pavia, Charles abandoned the idea of an English alliance, cancelled his engagement to Mary and decided to marry Isabella and form an alliance with Portugal. He wrote to Isabella’s brother King John III of Portugal, making a double marriage contract – Charles would marry Isabella and John would marry Charles’s youngest sister, Catherine. A marriage to Isabella was more beneficial for Charles, as she was closer to him in age, was fluent in Spanish and provided him with a very handsome dowry of 900,000 Portuguese cruzados or Castilian folds that would help to solve his financial problems brought on by the Italian Wars.
On March 10, 1526, Charles and Isabella met at the Alcázar Palace in Seville. The marriage was originally a political arrangement, but on their first meeting, the couple fell deeply in love, with Isabella captivating the Emperor with her beauty and charm. They were married that very same night in a quiet ceremony in the Hall of Ambassadors just after midnight. Following their wedding, Charles and Isabella spent a long and happy honeymoon at the Alhambra in Granada.
Isabella, Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Spain.
The marriage lasted for thirteen years until Isabella’s death in 1539. The Empress contracted a fever during the third month of her seventh pregnancy, which resulted in antenatal complications that caused her to miscarry to a stillborn son. Her health further deteriorated due to an infection and she died two weeks later on May 1, 1539, aged 35. Charles was left so grief-stricken by his wife’s death that he shut himself up in a monastery for two months where he prayed and mourned for her in solitude.
In the aftermath, Charles never recovered from Isabella’s death, dressing in black for the rest of his life to show his eternal mourning, and, unlike most kings of the time, he never remarried. In memory of his wife, the Emperor commissioned the painter Titian to paint several posthumous portraits of Isabella; the portraits that were produced included Titian’s Portrait of Empress Isabel of Portugal and La Gloria. Charles kept these portraits with him whenever he travelled and they were among those that he later brought with him to the Monastery of Yuste in 1557 after his retirement.
Charles also paid tribute to Isabella’s memory with music when, in 1540, he commissioned the Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon to compose new music as a memorial to her. Crecquillon composed his Missa ‘Mort m’a privé in memory of the Empress, which itself expresses the Emperor’s grief and great wish for a heavenly reunion with his beloved wife.
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 may have been 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 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.
Abdications and Later Life.
Charles abdicated the parts of his empire piecemeal. First he abdicated the thrones of Sicily and Naples, both fiefs of the Papacy, and the Duchy of Milan to his son Philip in 1554. Upon Charles’s abdication of Naples on 25 July, Philip was invested with the kingdom (officially “Naples and Sicily”) on 2 October by Pope Julius III. The abdication of the throne of Sicily, sometimes dated to 16 January 1556, must have taken place before Joanna’s death in 1555. There is a record of Philip being invested with this kingdom (officially “Sicily and Jerusalem”) on 18 November 1554 by Julius. These resignations are confirmed in Charles’s will from the same year.
His Imperial Majesty, The Emperor.
The most famous—and public—abdication of Charles took place a year later, on 25 October 1555, when he announced to the States General of the Netherlands his abdication of those territories and the county of Charolais and his intention to retire to a monastery. He abdicated as ruler of the Spanish Empire in January 1556, with no fanfare, and gave these possessions to Philip. On 27 August 1556, he abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in favor of his brother Ferdinand, although the abdication was not formally accepted by the Electors of the Empire until 1558. The delay had been at the request of Ferdinand, who had been concerned about holding a risky election in 1556.
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. 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.
Charles’s abdication has been variously interpreted by historians and even contemporaries. While many saw in it an unsuccessful man’s escape from the world, his peers thought differently. Charles himself had been considering abdication even in his prime. In 1532 his secretary, Alfonso de Valdés, suggested to him the thought that a ruler who was incapable of preserving the peace and, indeed, who had to consider himself an obstacle to its establishment was obliged to retire from affairs of state. Once the abdication had become a fact, St. Ignatius of Loyola had this to say:
The emperor gave a rare example to his successors…in so doing, he proved himself to be a true Christian prince…may the Lord in all His goodness now grant the emperor freedom.
The quote by St. Ignatius of Loyola is evidence that even after his abdications Charles V was still referred to by his Imperial title.
In August 1558, Charles was taken seriously ill with what was later revealed to be malaria. He died in the early hours of the morning on 21 September 1558, at the age of 58, holding in his hand the cross that his wife Isabella had been holding when she died.