1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles V. (Roman Emperor)
CHARLES V. (1500–1558), Roman emperor and (as Charles I.) king of Spain, was born at Ghent on the 24th of February 1500. His parents were Philip of Burgundy and Joanna, third child of Ferdinand and Isabella. Philip died in 1506, and Charles succeeded to his Netherland possessions and the county of Burgundy (Franche Comté). His grandfather, the emperor Maximilian, as regent, appointed his daughter Margaret vice regent, and under her strenuous guardianship Charles lived in the Netherlands until the estates declared him of age in 1515. In Castile, Ferdinand, king of Aragon, acted as regent for his daughter Joanna, whose intellect was already clouded. On the 23rd of January 1516 Ferdinand died. Charles's visit to Spain was delayed until the autumn of 1517, and only in 1518 was he formally recognized as king conjointly with his mother, firstly by the cortes of Castile, and then by those of Aragon. Joanna lived to the very eve of her son's abdication, so that he was only for some months technically sole king of Spain. During this Spanish visit Maximilian died, and Charles succeeded to the inheritance of the Habsburgs, to which was shortly added the duchy of Württemberg. Maximilian had also intended that he should succeed as emperor. In spite of the formidable rivalry of Francis I. and the opposition of Pope Leo X., pecuniary corruption and national feeling combined to secure his election in 1519. Charles hurriedly left Spain, and after a visit to Henry VIII. and his aunt Catherine, was crowned at Aix on the 23rd of October 1520.
The difficulty of Charles's reign consists in the complexity of interests caused by the unnatural aggregate of distinct territories and races. The crown of Castile brought with it the two recently conquered kingdoms of Navarre and Granada, together with the new colonies in America and scattered possessions in northern Africa. That of Aragon comprised the three distinct states of Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia, and in addition the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, each with a separate character and constitution of its own. No less than eight independent cortes or parliaments existed in this Spanish-Italian group, adding greatly to the intricacy of government. In the Netherland provinces again the tie was almost purely personal; there existed only the rudiments of a central administration and a common representative system, while the county of Burgundy had a history apart. Much the same was true of the Habsburg group of states, but Charles soon freed himself from direct responsibility for their government by making them over, together with Württemberg, to his brother Ferdinand. The Empire entailed serious liabilities on its ruler without furnishing any reliable assets: only through the cumbrous machinery of the diet could Charles tap the military and financial resources of Germany. His problem here was complicated by the growth of Lutheranism, which he had to face at his very first diet in 1521. In addition to Such administrative difficulties Charles had inherited a quarrel with France, to which the rivalry of Francis I. for the Empire gave a personal character. Almost equally formidable was the advance of Sultan Suliman up the Danube, and the union of the Turkish naval power with that of the Barbary States of northern Africa. Against Lutheran Germany the Catholic emperor might hope to rely upon the pope, and against France on England. But the attitude of the popes was almost uniformly disagreeable, while from Henry VIII. and Edward VI. Charles met with more unpleasantness than favour.
The difficulty of Charles himself is also that of the historian and reader of his reign. It is probably more instructive to treat it according to the emperor’s several problems than in strict chronological order. Yet an attempt to distinguish the several periods of his career may serve as a useful introduction. The two best dividing lines are, perhaps, the coronation as emperor at Bologna in 1530, and the peace of Crépy in 1544. Until his visit to Italy (1529) Charles remained in the background of the European stage, except for his momentous meeting with Luther at the diet of Worms (1521). This meeting in itself forms a subdivision. Previously to this, during his nominal rule in the Netherlands, his visit to Spain, and his candidature for the Empire, he seemed, as it was said, spell-bound under the ferule of his minister Chièvres. Almost every report represented him as colourless, reserved and weak. His dependence on his Flemish counsellors provoked the rising in Castile, the feebleness of his government the social war in Aragon. The religious question first gave him a living interest, and at this moment Chièvres died. Aleander, the papal nuncio at Worms, now recognized that public opinion had been wrong in its estimate of Charles. Never again was he under tutelage. The necessity, however, of residence in Spain prevented his taking a personal part in the great fight with Francis I. for Italy. He could claim no credit for the capture of his rival at Pavia. When his army sacked Rome and held Pope Clement VII. prisoner, he could not have known where this army was. And when later the French overran Naples, and all but deprived him of his hold on Italy, he had to instruct his generals that they must shift for themselves. The world had become afraid of him, but knew little of his character. In the second main division of his career Charles changed all this. No monarch until Napoleon was so widely seen in Europe and in Africa. Complexity of problems is the characteristic of this period. At the head of his army Charles forced the Turks backwards down the Danube (1532). He personally conquered Tunis (1535), and was only prevented by “act of God” from winning Algiers (1541). The invasion of Provence in 1536 was headed by the emperor. In person he crushed the rebellion of Ghent (1540). In his last war with Francis (1542–44) he journeyed from Spain to the Netherlands, brought the rebellious duke of Cleves to his knees, and was within easy reach of Paris when he made the peace of Crépy (1544). In Germany, meanwhile, from the diet of Augsburg (1530) onwards, he had presided at the diets or conferences, which, as he hoped, would effect the reunion of the church.
Peace with France and the Turk and a short spell of friendliness with Pope Paul III. enabled Charles at last to devote his whole energies to the healing of religious schism. Conciliation proving impossible, he led the army which received the submission of the Lutheran states, and then captured the elector of Saxony at Mühlberg, after which the other leader, Philip of Hesse, capitulated. The Armed Diet of 1548 was the high-water mark of Charles’s power. Here, in defiance of the pope, he published the Interim which was meant to reconcile the Lutherans with the church, and the so-called Reform which was to amend its abuses. During the next four years, owing to ill-health and loss of insight, his power was ebbing. In 1552 he was flying over the Brenner from Maurice of Saxony, a princeling whose fortunes he had made. Once again the old complications had arisen. His old enemy’s son, Henry II., had attacked him indirectly in Piedmont and Parma, and then directly in Germany in alliance with Maurice. Once more the Turk was moving in the Danube and in the western Mediterranean. The humiliation of his flight gave Charles new spirit, and he once more led an army through Germany against the French, only to be checked by the duke of Guise’s defence of Metz. Henceforth the waves of his fortune plashed to and fro until his abdication without much ostensible loss or gain.
Charles had abundance of good sense, but little creative genius, and he was by nature conservative. Consequently he never sought to impose any new or common principles of administration on his several states. He took them as he found them, and at most, as in the Netherlands, improved upon what he found. So also in dealing with rival powers his policy may be called opportunist. He was indeed accused by his enemies of emulating Charlemagne, of aiming at universal empire. Historians have frequently repeated this charge. Charles himself in later life laughingly denied the imputation, and facts are in favour of his denial. When Francis I. was in his power he made no attempt to dismember France, in spite of his pledges to his allies Henry VIII. and the duke of Bourbon. He did, indeed, demand the duchy of Burgundy, because he believed this to have been unrighteously stolen by Louis XI. from his grandmother when a helpless girl. The claim was not pressed, and at the height of his fortunes in 1548 he advised his son never to surrender it, but also never to make it a cause of war. When Clement VII. was his prisoner, he was vehemently urged to overthrow the temporal power, to restore imperial dominion in Italy, at least to make the papacy harmless for the future. In reply he restored his enemy to the whole of his dominions, even reimposing him by force on the Florentine republic. To the end of his life his conscience was sensitive as to Ferdinand’s expulsion of the house of Albret from Spanish Navarre, though this was essential to the safety of Spain. Though always at war he was essentially a lover of peace, and all his wars were virtually defensive. “Not greedy of territory,” wrote Marcantonio Contarini in 1536, “but most greedy of peace and quiet.” For peace he made sacrifices which angered his hot-headed brother Ferdinand. He would not aid in expelling the sultan’s puppet Zapolya from Ferdinand’s kingdom of Hungary, and he suffered the restoration of the ruffianly duke of Württemberg, to the grave prejudice of German Catholicism. In spite of his protests, Henry VIII. with impunity ill-treated his aunt Catherine, and the feeble government of Edward VI. bullied his cousin Mary, who had been his fiancée. No serious efforts were made to restore his brother-in-law, Christian II., to the throne of Denmark, and he advised his son Philip to make friends with the usurper. After the defeat of the Lutheran powers in 1547 he did not gain a palm’s breadth of territory for himself. He resisted Ferdinand’s claim for Wurttemberg, which the duke had deserved to forfeit; he disliked his acceptance of the voluntary surrender of the city of Constance; he would not have it said that he had gone to war for the benefit of the house of Habsburg.
On the other hand, Charles V.’s policy was not merely negative. He enlarged upon the old Habsburg practice of marriage as a means of alliance of influence. Previously to his election as emperor, his sister Isabella was married to Christian II. of Denmark, and the marriages of Mary and Ferdinand with the king of Hungary and his sister had been arranged. Before he was twenty Charles himself had been engaged some ten times with a view to political combinations. Naturally, therefore, he regarded his near relations as diplomatic assets. The federative system was equally familiar; Germany, the Netherlands, and even Spain, were in a measure federations. Combining these two principles, he would within his more immediate spheres of influence strengthen existing federations by intermarriage, while he hoped that the same means would convert the jarring powers of Europe into a happy family. He made it a condition of the treaty of Madrid (1526) that Francis I. should marry his sister Eleanor, Manuel of Portugal’s widow, in the hope, not that she would be an ally or a spy within the enemy’s camp, but an instrument of peace. His son’s marriage with Mary Tudor would not only salve the rubs with England, but give such absolute security to the Netherlands that France would shrink from war. The personal union of all the Iberian kingdoms under a single ruler had long been an aim of Spanish statecraft. So Charles had married his sister Eleanor, much against her will, to the old king Manuel, and then his sister Catherine to his successor. The empress was a Portuguese infanta, and Philip’s first wife was another. It is thus small wonder that, within a quarter of a century of Charles’s death, Philip became king of Portugal.
In the wars with Francis I. Italy was the stake. In spite of his success Charles for long made no direct conquests. He would convert the peninsula into a federation mainly matrimonial. Savoy, the important buffer state, was detached from France by the marriage of the somewhat feeble duke to Charles’s capable and devoted sister-in-law, Beatrice of Portugal. Milan, conquered from France, was granted to Francesco Sforza, heir of the old dynasty, and even after his treason was restored to him. In the vain hope of offspring Charles sacrificed his niece, Christina of Denmark, to the valetudinarian duke. In the long negotiations for a Habsburg-Valois dynasty which followed Francesco’s death, Charles was probably sincere. He insisted that his daughter or niece should marry the third rather than the second son of Francis I., in order, apart from other reasons, to run less risk of the duchy falling under French dominion. The final investiture of Philip was forced upon him, and does not represent his saner policy. The Medici of Florence, the Gonzaga of Mantua, the papal house of Farnese, were all attached by Habsburg marriages. The republics of Genoa and Siena were drawn into the circle through the agency of their chief noble families, the Doria and Piccolomini; while Charles behaved with scrupulous moderation towards Venice in spite of her active hostility before and after the League of Cognac. Occasional acts of violence there were, such as the participation in the murder of Pierluigi Farnese, and the measures which provoked the rebellion of Siena. These were due to the difficulty of controlling the imperial agents from a distance, and in part to the faults of the victim prince and republic. On the whole, the loose federation of viceroyalties and principalities harmonized with Italian interests and traditions. The alternative was not Italian independence, but French domination. At any rate, Charles’s structure was so durable that the French met with no real success in Italy until the 18th century.
Germany offered a fine field for a creative intellect, since the evils of her disintegration stood confessed. On the other hand, princes and towns were so jealous of an increase of central authority that Charles, at least until his victory over the League of Schmalkalden, had little effective power. Owing to his wars with French and Turks he was rarely in Germany, and his visits were very short. His problem was infinitely complicated by the union of Lutheranism and princely independence. He fell back on the old policy of Maximilian, and strove to create a party by personal alliances and intermarriage. In this he met with some success. The friendship of the electors of Brandenburg, whether Catholic or Protestant, was unbroken. In the war of Schmalkalden half the Protestant princes were on Charles’s side or friendly neutrals. At the critical moment which preceded this, the lately rebellious duke of Cleves and the heir of Bavaria were secured through the agency of two of Ferdinand’s invaluable daughters. The relations, indeed, between the two old enemies, Austria and Bavaria, were permanently improved. The elector palatine, whose love affairs with his sister Eleanor Charles as a boy had roughly broken, received in compensation a Danish niece. Her sister, widow of Francesco Sforza, was utilized to gain a hold upon the French dynasty which ruled Lorraine. More than once there were proposals for winning the hostile house of Saxony by matrimonial means. After his victory over the League of Schmalkalden, Charles perhaps had really a chance of making the imperial power a reality. But he lacked either courage or imagination, contenting himself with proposals for voluntary association on the lines of the defunct Swabian League, and dropping even these when public opinion was against them. Now, too, he made his great mistake in attempting to foist Philip upon the Empire as Ferdinand’s successor. Gossip reported that Ferdinand himself was to be set aside, and careless historians have given currency to this. Such an idea was impossible. Charles wished Philip to succeed Ferdinand, while he ultimately conceded that Ferdinand’s son Maximilian should follow Philip, and even in his lifetime exercise the practical power in Germany. This scheme irritated Ferdinand and his popular and ambitious son at the critical moment when it was essential that the Habsburgs should hold together against princely malcontents. Philip was imprudently introduced to Germany, which had also just received a foretaste of the unpleasant characteristics of Spanish troops. Yet the person rather than the policy was, perhaps, at fault. It was natural that the quasi-hereditary succession should revert to the elder line. France proved her recuperative power by the occupation of Savoy and of Metz, Toul and Verdun, the military keys of Lorraine. The separation of the Empire and Spain left two weakened powers not always at accord, and neither of them permanently able to cope on equal terms with France. Nevertheless, this scheme did contribute in no small measure to the failure of Charles in Germany. The main cause was, of course, the religious schism, but his treatment of this requires separate consideration.
The characteristics of Charles’s government, its mingled conservatism and adaptability, are best seen in Spain and the Netherlands, with which he was in closer personal contact than with Italy and Germany. In Spain, when once he knew the country, he never repeated the mistakes which on his first visit caused the rising of the communes. The cortes of Castile were regularly summoned, and though he would allow no encroachment on the crown’s prerogatives, he was equally scrupulous in respecting their constitutional rights. They became, perhaps, during the reign slightly more dependent on the crown. This has been ascribed to the system of gratuities which in later reigns became a scandal, but was not introduced by Charles, and as yet amounted to little more than the payment of members’ expenses. Indirectly, crown influence increased owing to the greater control which had gradually been exercised over the composition of the municipal councils, which often returned the deputies for the cortes. Charles was throughout nervous as to the power and wealth of the greater nobles. They rather than the crown had conquered the communes, and in the past they rather than the towns had been the enemies of monarchy. He earnestly warned his son against giving them administrative power, especially the duke of Alva, who in spite of his sanctimonious and humble bearing cherished the highest ambitions: in foreign affairs and war he might be freely used, for he was Spain’s best soldier. In the cortes of 1538 Charles came into collision with the nobles as a class. They usually attended only on ceremonial occasions, since they were exempted from direct taxation, which was the main function of the cortes. Now, however, they were summoned, because Charles was bent upon a scheme of indirect taxation which would have affected all classes. They offered an uncompromising opposition, and Charles somewhat angrily dismissed them, nor did he ever summon them again. The peculiar Spanish system of departmental councils was further developed, so that it may be said that the bureaucratic element was slightly increasing just as the parliamentary element was on the wane. The evils of this tendency were as yet scarcely apparent owing to Charles’s personal intervention in all departments. The councils presented their reports through the minister chiefly concerned; Charles heard their advice, and formed his own conclusions. He impressed upon Philip that he should never become the servant of his ministers: let him hear them all but decide himself. Naturally enough, he was well served by his ministers, whom he very rarely changed. After the death of the Piedmontese Gattinara he relied mainly on Nicolas Perrenot de Granvella for Netherland and German affairs, and on Francisco de los Cobos for Spanish, while the younger Granvella was being trained. From 1520 to 1555 these were the only ministers of high importance. Above all, Charles never had a court favourite, and the only women who exercised any influence were his natural advisers, his wife, his aunt Margaret and his sister Mary. In all these ladies he was peculiarly fortunate. Charles was never quite popular in Spain, but the empress whom he married at his people’s request was much beloved. Complaints were made of his absenteeism, but until 1543 he spent the greater portion of his reign in Spain, or on expeditions such as those against Tunis and Algiers which were distinctively in Spanish interests. Spaniards disliked his Netherland and German connexions, but without the vigorous blows which these enabled him to strike at France, it is improbable that Spain could have retained her hold on Italy, or her monopoly of commerce with the Indies. The wars with Francis I. were, in spite of the rival candidature for the Empire, Spanish wars entailed by Ferdinand’s retention of Roussillon, his annexation of Navarre, his summary eviction of the French from Naples. The Netherlands had become convinced on commercial grounds of the wisdom of peace with France, and the German interest in Milan was not sufficiently active to be a standing cause of war. Charles and Francis had inherited the hostility of Ferdinand and Louis XII.
The reign of Charles was in America the age of conquest and organization. Upon his accession the settlements upon the mainland were insignificant; by 1556 conquest was practically complete, and civil and ecclesiastical government firmly established. Actual expansion was the work of great adventurers starting on their own impulse from the older colonies. To Charles fell the task of encouraging such ventures, of controlling the conquerors, of settling the relations between colonists and natives, which involved those between the colonists and the missionary colonial church. He must arrest depopulation, provide for the labour market, regulate oceanic trade, and check military preponderance by civil and ecclesiastical organization. In America Charles took an unceasing interest; he had a boundless belief in its possibilities, and a determination to safeguard the interests of the crown. Cortes, Alvarado and the brothers Pizarro were brought into close personal communication with the emperor. If he bestowed on Cortes the confidence which the loyal conqueror deserved, he showed the sternest determination in crushing the rebellious and autonomous instincts of Almagro and the Pizarros. But for this, Peru and Chile must have become independent almost as soon as they were conquered. Throughout he strove to protect the natives, to prevent actual slavery, and the consequent raids upon the natives. Legislation was not, indeed, always consistent, because the claims of the colonists could not always be resisted, but on the whole he gave earnest support to the missionaries, who upheld the cause of the natives against the military, and sometimes the civil and ecclesiastical elements. His humane care for his native subjects may well be studied in the instructions sent to Philip from Germany in 1548, when Charles was at the summit of his power. If Charles had had his will, he would have opened the colonial trade to the whole of his wide possessions. The Castilians, however, jealously confined it to the city of Seville, artificially fostering the indolence of the colonists to maintain the agricultural and manufacturing monopoly of Castile, and by extreme protective measures forcing them to live on smuggled goods from other countries. Charles did actually attempt to cure the exclusive interest of the colonists in mineral wealth by the establishment of peasant and artisan colonies. If in many respects he failed, yet the organization of Spanish America and the survival of the native races were perhaps the most permanent results of his reign. It is a proof of the complexity of his interests that the march of the Turk upon Vienna and of the French on Naples delayed until the following reign the foundation of Spain’s eastern empire. Charles carefully organized the expedition of Magellan, which sailed for the Moluccas and discovered the Philippines. Unfortunately, his straits for money in 1529 compelled him to mortgage to Portugal his disputed claim to the Moluccas, and the Philippines consequently dropped out of sight.
If in the administration of Spain Charles did little more than mark time, in the Netherlands advance was rapid. Of the seven northern provinces he added five, containing more than half the area of the later United Provinces. In the south he freed Flanders and Artois from French suzerainty, annexed Tournai and Cambrai, and closed the natural line of French advance through the great bishopric of Liége by a line of fortresses across its western frontier. Much was done to convert the aggregate of jarring provinces into a harmonious unity by means of common principles of law and finance, and by the creation of a national army. While every province had its own assembly, there were at Charles’s accession only the rudiments of estates general for the Netherlands at large. At the close of the reign the common parliamentary system was in full swing, and was fast converting the loosely knit provinces into a state. By these means the ruler had wished to facilitate the process of supply, but supply soon entailed redress, and the provinces could recognize their common interests and grievances. Under Philip II. all patriotic spirits passionately turned to this creation of his father as the palladium of Netherland liberty. This process of consolidation was infinitely difficult, and conflicts between local and central authorities were frequent. That they were safely tided over was due to Charles’s moderation and his legal mind, which prompted him to draw back when his case was bad. The harshest act of his life was the punishment of the rebellion of Ghent. Yet the city met with little or no sympathy in other quarters, because she had refused to act in concert with the other members of Flanders and the other provinces. It was no mere local quarrel, but a breach of the growing national unity.
In the Netherlands Charles showed none of the jealousy with which he regarded the Spanish nobles. He encouraged the growth of large estates through primogeniture; he gave the nobles the provincial governorships, the great court offices, the command of the professional cavalry. In the Order of the Golden Fleece and the long established presence of the court at Brussels, he possessed advantages which he lacked in Spain. The nobility were utilized as a link between the court and the provinces. Very different was it with the church. By far the greater part of the Netherlands fell under foreign sees, which were peculiarly liable to papal exactions and to the intrigues of rival powers. Thus the usual conflict between civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction was peculiarly acute. To remedy this dualism of authority and the consequent moral and religious abuses, Charles early designed the creation of a national diocesan system, and this was a darling project throughout his life. He was doing what every German territorial prince, Catholic or Lutheran, attempted, making bishoprics and abbeys dependent on the crown, with nomination and institution in his hands, and with reasonable control over taxation and jurisdiction. The papacy unfortunately thwarted him, and the scheme, which under Charles would have been carried with national assent, and created a national church, took the appearance under Philip of alien domination.
If in Germany Charles was emperor, he was in the Netherlands territorial prince, and thus his interests might easily be at disaccord with those of the Empire. Consequently, just as he had shaken off French suzerainty from Flanders and Artois, so he loosened the tie of the other provinces to Germany. In 1548 they were declared free and sovereign principalities not subject to imperial laws, and all the territories were incorporated in the Burgundian circle. It was, indeed, agreed that they should contribute to imperial taxation, and in return receive imperial protection. But this soon became a dead letter, and the Netherlands were really severed from the Empire, save for the nominal feudal tie in the case of some provinces. Thus some writers have dated their independence from Charles’s convention of 1548 rather than from the peace of Westphalia, a century later. Having converted his heterogeneous territories into a self-sufficient state, Charles often contemplated the formation of a middle kingdom between France and Germany. At the last moment he spoiled his own work by granting the Netherlands to Philip. It was indeed hard to set aside the order of inheritance, and the commercial interests of the provinces were closely bound with Spain, and with England, whose queen Philip had married. Under any other ruler than Philip the breach might not have come so early. Yet it must be regretted that Charles had not the courage of his convictions, and that he lost the opportunity of completing the new nation which he had faithfully laboured to create.
Charles V. is in the eyes of many the very picture of a Catholic zealot. Popular opinion is probably mainly based upon the letters written from Yuste in 1558, when two hot-beds of heresy had been discovered in Spain herself, and on the contemporary codicil to his will. These were, perhaps, really in part responsible for the later persecution. Yet the circumstances were far from being typical of the emperor’s career. Death was very near him; devotional exercises were his main occupation. The letters, moreover, were cries of warning, and not edicts. Charles was not then the responsible authority. There is a long step between a violent letter and a violent act. Few men would care to have their lives judged by letters written in the last extremities of gout. Less pardonable was the earlier persecution of the Valencian Moriscoes in 1525–1526. They had fought for their landlords in the cause of order, had been forcibly converted by the revolutionaries, and on the suppression of revolution had naturally relapsed. But for this momentary conversion the Inquisition would have had no hold upon them. The edict of persecution was cruel and unnecessary, and all expert opinion in Valencia was against it. It was not, however, actually enforced until after the victory of Pavia. It seems likely that Charles in a fit of religious exaltation regarded the persecution as a sacrificial thank-offering for his miraculous preservation. It is characteristic that, when in the following year he was brought into personal contact with the Moors of Granada, he allowed them to buy themselves off from the more obnoxious measures of the Inquisition. Henceforth the reign was marked by extreme leniency. Spain enjoyed a long lull in the activity of her Inquisition. At Naples in 1547 a rumour that the Spanish Inquisition was to be introduced to check the growth of heresy in influential quarters produced a dangerous revolt. The briefs were, however, issued by Paul III., no friend of Charles, and when a Neapolitan deputation visited the emperor he disclaimed any intention of making innovations. Of a different type to all the above was the persecution in the Netherlands. Here it was deliberate, chronic, and on an ascending scale. It is not a sufficient explanation that heresy also was persistent, ubiquitous and increasing, for this was also the case in Germany where Charles’s methods were neither uniform nor drastic. But in the Netherlands the heretics were his immediate subjects, and as in every other state, Catholic or Lutheran, they must conform to their prince’s religion. But there was more than this. After the suppression of the German peasant revolt in 1525 many of the refugees found shelter in the teeming Netherland cities, and heresy took the form, not of Lutheranism, but of Anabaptism, which was believed to be perilous to society and the state. The government put down Anabaptism, as a modern government might stamp out Anarchism. The edicts were, indeed, directed against heresy in general, and were as harsh as they could be—at least on paper. Yet when Charles was assured that they were embarrassing foreign trade he let it be understood that they should not affect the foreign mercantile communities. Prudential considerations proved frequently a drag upon religious zeal.
The relations of Charles to heresy must be judged in the main by his treatment of German Lutheranism. Here he had to deal, not with drawing-room imprudences nor hole-and-corner conventicles, not with oriental survivals nor millenary aspirations, but with organized churches protected by their princes, supported by revenues filched from his own church and stiffened by formulae as rigid as those of Catholicism. The length and stubbornness of the conflict will serve to show that Charles’s religious conservatism had a measure of elasticity, that he was not a bigot and nothing more. It should be remembered that all his principal ministers were inclined to be Erasmian or indifferent, that one of his favourite confessors, Loaysa, advised compromise, and that several intimate members of his court and chapel were, after his death, victims of the Inquisition. The two more obvious courses towards the restoration of Catholic unity were force and reconciliation, in other words, a religious war or a general council. Neither of these was a simple remedy. The latter was impossible without papal concurrence, inoperative without the assistance of the European powers, and merely irritant without the adhesion of the Lutherans. It was most improbable that the papacy, the powers and the Lutherans would combine in a measure so palpably advantageous to the emperor. Force was hopeless save in the absence of war with France and the Turk, and of papal hostility in Italian territorial politics. Charles must obtain subsidies from ecclesiastical sources, and the support of all German Catholics, especially of the traditional rival, Bavaria. Even so the Protestants would probably be the stronger, and therefore they must be divided by utilizing any religious split, any class distinction, any personal or traditional dislikes, or else by bribery. Force and reconciliation seeming equally difficult, could an alternative be found in toleration? The experiment might take the form either of individual toleration, or of toleration for the Lutheran states. The former would be equally objectionable to Lutheran and Catholic princes as loosening their grip upon their subjects. Territorial toleration might seem equally obnoxious to the emperor, for its recognition would strengthen the anti-imperial particularism so closely associated with Lutheranism. If Charles could find no permanent specific, he must apply a provisional palliative. It was absolutely necessary to patch, if not to cure, because Germany must be pulled together to resist French and Turks. Such palliatives were two—suspension and comprehension. Suspension deferred the execution of penalties incurred by heresy, either for a term of years, or until a council should decide. Thus it recognized the divorce of the two religions, but limited it by time. Comprehension instead of recognizing the divorce would strive to conceal the breach. It was a domestic remedy, German and national, not European and papal. To become permanent it must receive the sanction of pope and council, for the Roman emperor could not set up a church of Germany. Yet the formula adopted might conceivably be found to fall within the four corners of the faith, and so obviate the necessity alike of force or council. Such were the conditions of the emperor’s task, and such the methods which he actually pursued. He would advance now on one line, now on another, now on two or three concurrently, but he never definitely abandoned any. This fusion of obstinacy and versatility was a marked feature of his character.
Suspension was of course often accidental and involuntary. The two chief stages of Lutheran growth naturally corresponded with the periods, each of nine years, when Charles was absent. Deliberate suspension was usually a consequence of the failure of comprehension. Thus at Augsburg in 1530 the wide gulf between the Lutheran confession and the Catholic confutation led to the definite suspensive treaty granted to the Lutherans at Nuremberg (1532). Charles dared not employ the alternative of force, because he needed their aid for the Turkish war. In 1541, after a series of religious conferences, he personally presented a compromise in the so-called Book of Regensburg, which was rejected by both parties. He then proposed that the articles agreed upon should be compulsory, while on others toleration should be exercised until a national council should decide. Never before nor after did he go so far upon the path of toleration, or so nearly accept a national settlement. He was then burning to set sail for Algiers. His last formal suspensive measure was that of Spires (Speyer) in 1544, when he was marching against Francis. He promised a free and general council to be held in Germany, and, as a preparation, a national religious congress. The Lutherans were privately assured that a measure of comprehension should be concluded with or without papal approval. Meanwhile all edicts against heresy were suspended. No wonder that Charles afterwards confessed that he could scarcely reconcile these concessions with his conscience, but he won Lutheran aid for his campaign. The peace of Crépy gave all the conditions required for the employment of force. He had peace with French and Turk, he won the active support of the pope, he had deeply divided the Lutherans and reconciled Bavaria. Finding that the Lutherans would not accept the council summoned by the pope to Trent, he resorted to force, and force succeeded. At the Armed Diet of 1548 reunion seemed within reach. But Paul III. in direct opposition to Charles’s wish had withdrawn the council from Trent to Bologna. Charles could not force Lutherans to submit to a council which he did not himself recognize, and he could not bring himself to national schism. Thus, falling back upon his old palliatives, he issued the Interim and the accompanying Reform of the Clergy, pending a final settlement by a satisfactory general council. These measures pleased neither party, and Charles at the very height of his power had failed. He was conscious of failure, and made few attempts even to enforce the Interim. Henceforward political complications gathered round him anew. The only remedy was toleration in some form, independent of the papacy and limitless in time. To this Charles could never assent. His ideal was shattered, but it was a great ideal, and the patience, the moderation, even at times the adroitness with which he had striven towards it, proved him to be no bigot.
The idea of abdication had long been present with Charles. After his failure to eject the French from Metz he had not shrunk from a wearisome campaign against Henry II., and he was now tired out. His mother’s death removed an obstacle, for there could now be no question as to his son’s succession to the Spanish kingdoms. Religious settlement in Germany could no longer be postponed, and he shrank from the responsibility; the hand that should rend the seamless raiment of God’s church must not be his. To Ferdinand he gave his full authority as emperor, although at his brother’s earnest request formal abdication was delayed until 1558. In the Hall of the Golden Fleece at Brussels on the 25th of October 1555 he formally resigned to Philip the sovereignty of his beloved Netherlands. Turning from his son to the representatives of the estates he said, “Gentlemen, you must not be astonished if, old and feeble as I am in all my members, and also from the love I bear you, I shed some tears.” In the Netherlands at least the love was reciprocal, and tears were infectious among the thousand deputies who listened to their sovereign’s last speech. On the 16th of January 1556, Charles resigned his Spanish kingdoms and that of Sicily, and shortly afterwards his county of Burgundy. On the 17th of September he sailed from Flushing on the last of his many voyages, an English fleet from Portland bearing him company down the Channel. In February 1557 he was installed in the home which he had chosen at Yuste in Estremadura.
The excellent books which have been written upon the emperor’s retirement have inspired an interest out of all proportion to its real significance. His little house was attached to the monastery, but was not within it. He was neither an ascetic nor a recluse. Gastronomic indiscretions still entailed their inevitable penalties. Society was not confined to interchange of civilities with the brethren. His relations, his chief friends, his official historians, all found their way to Yuste. Couriers brought news of Philip’s war and peace with Pope Paul IV., of the victories of Saint Quentin and Gravelines, of the French capture of Calais, of the danger of Oran. As head of the family he intervened in the delicate relations with the closely allied house of Portugal: he even negotiated with the house of Navarre for reparation for the wrong done by his grandfather Ferdinand, which appeared to weigh upon his conscience. Above all he was shocked by the discovery that Spain, his own court, and his very chapel were infected with heresy. His violent letters to his son and daughter recommending immediate persecution, his profession of regret at having kept his word when Luther was in his power, have weighed too heavily on his reputation. The feverish phrases of religious exaltation due to broken health and unnatural retirement cannot balance the deliberate humanity and honour of wholesome manhood. Apart from such occasional moments of excitement, the emperor’s last years passed tranquilly enough. At first he would shoot pigeons in the monastery woods, and till his last illness tended his garden and his animal pets, or watched the operations of Torriani, maker of clocks and mechanical toys. After an illness of three weeks the call came in the early hours of the feast of St Matthew, who, as his chaplain said, had for Christ’s sake forsaken wealth even as Charles had forsaken empire. The dying man clasped his wife’s crucifix to his breast till his fingers lost their hold. The archbishop held it before his eyes, and with the cry of “Ay Jesus!” died, in the words of his faithul squire D. Luis de Quijada, “the chief of men that had ever been or would ever be.” Posterity need not agree, but no great man can boast a more honest panegyric.
In character Charles stands high among contemporary princes. It consists of pairs of contrasts, but the better side is usually stronger than the worse. Steadfast honesty of purpose was occasionally warped by self-interest, or rather he was apt to think that his own course must needs be that of righteousness. Self-control would give way, but very rarely, to squalls of passion. Obstinacy and irresolution were fairly balanced, the former generally bearing upon ends, the latter upon means. His own ideals were constant, but he could gradually assimilate the views of others, and could bend to argument and circumstance; yet even here he had a habit of harking back to earlier schemes which he had seemed to have definitely abandoned. Intercourse with different nationalities taught him a certain versatility; he was dignified with Spaniards, familiar with Flemings, while the material Italians were pleased with his good sense. His sympathies were neither wide nor quick, but he was a most faithful friend, and the most considerate of masters. For all who sought him his courtesy and patience were unfailing. At his abdication he dwelt with reasonable pride upon his labours and his journeyings. Few monarchs have lived a more strenuous life. Yet his industry was broken by fits of indolence, which were probably due to health. In his prime his confessor warned him against this defect, and it caused, indeed, the last great disaster of his life. Fortunately he was conscious of his obstinacy, his irresolution and his indolence. He would accept admonition from the chapter of the Golden Fleece, would comment on his failings as a warning to his son. When Cardinal Contarini politely assured him that to hold fast to good opinions is not obstinacy but firmness, the emperor replied, “Ah! but I sometimes stick to bad ones.” Charles was not cruel, indeed the character of his reign was peculiarly merciful. But he was somewhat unforgiving. He especially resented any slight upon his honour, and his unwise severity to Philip of Hesse was probably due to the unfounded accusation that he had imprisoned him in violation of his pledge. The excesses of his troops in Italy, in Guelders and on the Austrian frontiers caused him acute pain, although he called himself “hard to weep.” No great nobleman, statesman or financier was executed at Charles’s order. He was proud of his generalship, classing himself with Alva and Montmorenci as the best of his day. Yet his failures nearly balanced his successes. It is true that in his most important campaign, that against the League of Schmalkalden, the main credit must be ascribed to his well-judged audacity at the opening, and his dogged persistency at the close. As a soldier he must rank very high. It was said that his being emperor lost to Spain the best light horseman of her army. At every crisis he was admirably cool, setting a truly royal example to his men. His mettle was displayed when he was attacked on the burning sands of Tunis, when his troops were driven in panic from Algiers, when in spite of physical suffering he forded the Elbe at Mühlberg, and when he was bombarded by the vastly superior Lutheran artillery under the walls of Ingolstadt. When blamed for exposing himself on this last occasion, “I could not help it,” he apologized; “we were short of hands, 1 could not set a bad example.” Nevertheless he was by nature timid. Just before this very action he had a fit of trembling, and he was afraid of mice and spiders. The force of his example was not confined to the field. Melanchthon wrote from Augsburg in 1530 that he was a model of continence, temperance and moderation, that the old domestic discipline was now only preserved in the imperial household. He tenderly loved his wife, whom he had married for pecuniary and diplomatic reasons. Of his two well-known illegitimate children, Margaret was born before he married, and Don John long after his wife’s death, but he felt this latter to be a child of shame. His sobriety was frequently contrasted with the universal drunkenness of the German and Flemish nobles, which he earnestly condemned. But on his appetite he could place no control, in spite of the ruinous effects of his gluttony upon his health. In dress, in his household, and in his stable he was simple and economical. He loved children, flowers, animals and birds. Professional jesters amused him, and he was not above a joke himself. Maps and mechanical inventions greatly interested him, and in later life he became fond of reading. He takes his place indeed among authors, for he dictated the commentaries on his own career. Of music he possessed a really fine knowledge, and his high appreciation of Titian proves the purity of his feeling for art. The little collection of books and pictures which he carried to Yuste is an index of his tastes. Charles was undeniably plain. He confessed that he was by nature ugly, but that as artists usually painted him uglier than he was, strangers on seeing him were agreeably disappointed. The protruding lower jaw and the thin pale face were redeemed by the fine open brow and the bright speaking eyes. He was, moreover, well made, and in youth had an incomparable leg. Above all no man could doubt his dignity; Charles was every inch an emperor.
Bibliography.—Commentaries de Charles-quint, ed. by Baron Kervyn de Lettenhove (Brussels, 1862); Memoirs written by Charles in 1550, and treating somewhat fully of the years 1543–1548; W. Robertson, History of the Emperor Charles V. (latest ed., London, 1887), an English classic, which needs supplementing by later authorities; F. A. Mignet, Rivalité de François I et de Charles-quint (2 vols., Paris, 1875); E. Armstrong, The Emperor Charles V. (2 vols., London, 1902), to which reference may be made for monographs and collections of documents bearing on the reign; H. Baumgarten, Geschichte Karls V. (3 vols., Stuttgart, 1885–1893), very full but extending only to 1539; G. de Leva, Storia documentata di Carlo V. in correlazione all’ Italia (5 vols., Venice, 1862–1894), a general history of the reign, though with special reference to its Italian aspects, and extending to 1552; article by L. P. Gachard in Biographie nationale, vol. iii., 1872, an excellent compressed account. The life of Charles V. at Yuste may be studied in L. P. Gachard’s Retraite et mort de Charles-quint au monastère de Yuste (Brussels, 1854–1855), and in Sir W. Stirling-Maxwell’s The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles V. (London, 4 editions from 1852); also in W. H. Prescott’s edition of Robertson’s History (1857). (E. Ar.)