chapter  2
The rise of empire: Charles V 1516–1558
Pages 49

The son born to princess Juana of Spain and Philip the Fair in Ghent in February 1500 was named Charles after his great-grandfather Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. His paternal grandfather was the emperor Maximilian of Habsburg, his maternal grandparents were Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain: it seemed likely in consequence that he would one day inherit both Spain and the Habsburg lands. Charles spent his entire childhood in the Netherlands, as did three of his

sisters (Eleanor, Isabel and Mary); the other two children of Juana, Ferdinand and Catherine, were born and raised in Castile. When Juana went to Castile to take up her inheritance in 1506, she left her young son behind in the charge of his aunt, Margaret of Austria, who took care of his upbringing and supplied him with tutors. Portraits of the young prince show him to be thin, sickly-looking, and somewhat ugly, with a prominent nose and a heavy lower jaw – characteristic of the Habsburg family – that protruded slightly so that his teeth did not meet exactly and caused some inconvenience when eating. In the genial atmosphere of the Burgundian court at Brussels, Charles was brought up as a Renaissance prince. Alternating with the pleasures of chivalry and the chase, he was given a solid grounding in statecraft and piety under the guidance of Adrian of Utrecht, an adept of the mystical school known as the ‘devotio moderna’. From 1509 his tutor was Guillaume de Croÿ, lord of Chièvres, who kept a firm hand over his charge. Although Charles was not without talent (in languages, for example, he was brought up to speak only French, Flemish and Latin, but soon added Spanish and a smattering of German), he relied heavily on his advisers in his early years. Shortly after the death of Ferdinand the Catholic in 1516, Charles was

proclaimed in Brussels as ruler, jointly with his mother, of Castile and Aragon. Sailing to Spain the following year, his little fleet was diverted by winds and landed on the wild coast of Asturias on 18 September 1517. From there the royal party had to make a slow and painful journey through winding mountain roads into Castile. Finally on 4 November Charles met his mother in her seclusion at Tordesillas: he obtained confirmation of his royal rights, but continued in

accordance with the demands of his Castilian advisers to use both their names jointly in official documents. A letter was sent asking Cisneros to come and see him, but the ageing regent died on 8 November, just outside Valladolid, on his way to meet the king. Charles entered Valladolid on 18 November. His first trial of strength was

with the Castilian Cortes, which met there in February and recognised him as king, but in an atmosphere of muted suspicion. Castilians had always preferred as their next ruler the Infante Ferdinand, who was a Spaniard like themselves, had been King Ferdinand’s favourite, and enjoyed strong support among a group that later joined in the Comunero rebellion. Charles quickly arranged for his brother to leave for Germany (the prince left Spain in May). On 22 March Charles and his entourage left Valladolid and set out for the crown of Aragon in order to take the customary oath. On 9 May the court arrived at Saragossa and spent the rest of the year in discussions with the obdurate Cortes of Aragon. In June an epidemic of typhus carried off the chancellor, Jean le Sauvage, the second most important man in the court. Charles sent off to Margaret of Austria and summoned one of her advisers, the Piedmontese diplomat and humanist Mercurino de Gattinara, to become his new chancellor in October. In January 1519, on his way to Barcelona, Charles received news of the death

of his grandfather, the emperor Maximilian. The elective crown of the ‘Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation’, to give the German states their formal collective title, had for some time been granted by agreement to a member of the Habsburg family, but the election was never a foregone conclusion. In the midst of negotiating with the Catalan Cortes, then, Charles was drawn into the even more momentous struggle for the imperial crown. At Frankfurt on 27 June the German electors unanimously chose him as Holy Roman Emperor (the Fifth of his name, but in Spain he was Charles the First). The news was received in Barcelona ten days later and immediately changed all plans. Dropping any intention he may have had to go to Valencia, the new emperor ordered preparations to be made for the court to sail back to the Netherlands. As he retraced his way back over the peninsula, in February 1520 he summoned the Castilian Cortes to meet at Santiago, in distant Galicia, within four weeks. The location was chosen as being nearest to the intended port of departure, Coruña, but it was looked upon as foreign territory by the cities of Castile, which eventually convened on 31 March, a bare five days after the arrival of the court in Santiago. The delegates reluctantly voted money, mainly to cover the costs of the enormous fleet of 100 vessels that left Coruña with Charles on 20 May. Already, in central Castile, a revolution had broken out. Charles’s all-too-brief sojourn in Spain was the prelude to a career that, thanks

to his new imperial commitments, made him a perpetual absentee monarch. He now united in himself a greater number of realms than had ever before been accumulated by any European ruler: the entire Burgundian inheritance, centred in the Netherlands; the immense hereditary Habsburg lands, including Austria within the Empire and Hungary outside it; the whole of peninsular Spain as well

as its Mediterranean lands, particularly Naples and Sicily; and the continent of America. His duties took him everywhere: at his memorable abdication in Brussels in 1555 he recalled that he had made nine expeditions to Germany, six to Spain, seven to Italy, four to France, ten to the Netherlands, two to England, as many to Africa; and that he had made eleven voyages by sea. He spent one out of every four days of his reign travelling: ‘my life’, he said, ‘has been one long journey’. It is true that of all his realms he devoted the most time to Spain, a total of

some seventeen years, against twelve in the Netherlands and only nine in Germany. But it was also the country from which he made the single longest absence, an astonishing fourteen years between 1543 and 1556. He was in Spain from September 1517 to May 1520, July 1522 to July 1529 (his longest stay), April 1533 to April 1535, December 1536 to early 1538, July 1538 to November 1539, November 1541 to May 1543, and September 1556 till his death in September 1558. As sovereign of so many states he needed to be present in each of them to maintain his authority; but in the process his repeated absences provoked profound discontent. Charles’s departure inMay 1520 was the signal for the revolt of the Comunidades,

which paralysed all government in Castile for over a year. Despite the defeat of the rebels at Villalar (1521), it was some time before pacification was complete. After his return in 1522 the emperor made Spain his home for the next seven years, the longest period he spent in any of his dominions. It was perhaps the most successful phase of his entire reign, and Castilians became reconciled to a king who now spoke perfect Castilian and governed through Castilians. Furthermore, as he informed the Cortes in 1523, he regarded ‘these realms [of Castile] as the head of all the rest’ of the Spanish realms, if only because they were becoming a valuable source of revenue. The seven years were important because Charles used them to settle the

government of the country: he reformed the court, reorganised the administration, and presided over a significant elite cultural revival. In practice there was still no capital city of Castile, and Charles continued to be an itinerant king. He spent money on restoring palaces, but also confided once to his son Philip the opinion that ‘kings do not need to have residences’; he was content to be always on the move. In January 1526, for example, he was in Madrid, where he signed the treaty releasing King Francis I of France from captivity. In April he was in Seville, where he married his cousin, the beautiful princess Isabella of Portugal. From May through to the late fall he spent his honeymoon in Granada, amid the delights of the Alhambra: they were the happiest and most idyllic days of his reign. Granada pleased him so much that exceptionally he decided to build a new royal palace there. Construction began in 1527, immediately after Charles’s honeymoon; but because of his duties abroad he never came to reside in it, and the building remained an empty shell. In December a Cortes was summoned to meet in February at Valladolid, to

which the court moved: it was there in May 1527 that Isabella gave birth to the future Philip II. These travels within Spain show that Charles had resumed

the peripatetic character of the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella: he was seen by and consequently earned the loyalty of many Spaniards. The fact is essential to an understanding of how the general suspicion of 1520 was replaced by a good measure of devotion. Catalonia was particularly privileged: virtually all the emperor’s comings and goings were through the port of Barcelona, where in April 1535 he assembled the splendid array of forces destined for the siege of Tunis. On the other hand, Valencia benefited least from his presence; his seventeen-day visit to the city in May 1527 began tragically, because the crowds waiting to see him were so great that a bridge collapsed and scores of people died. He visited the city only once again: in December 1542, to have Philip recognised as heir to the throne. The court grew in size because of its responsibilities and, despite Charles’s

wanderings in the peninsula, became more sedentary and distant from the common people. The Cortes pleaded with Charles ‘to hold public court certain days in the week as was the custom of the Catholic King’, in order to dispense justice; but this never happened. Instead, the royal household from 1548 adopted the complex and luxurious Burgundian ceremonial, with a huge staff ranging from the high chamberlain to gentlemen of the household and pages. By the end of the reign Charles had 762 persons in his Spanish household, at a cost of 200,000 ducats a year: the figure excludes the separate households of the empress and the prince. This great number necessarily included most officials of state, since at that time government was inseparable from the household of the king. Administration in Spain was theoretically under the direction of Gattinara

as grand chancellor, but effective control moved more and more into the hands of Spaniards. Of these the most important was Francisco de los Cobos (d. 1547), an Andalusian of humble origins who served in the royal secretariat in Spain and then in 1516 went to Flanders, where he earned the favour of Chièvres and an influential post when the court came to Spain in 1517. When Chièvres died suddenly of plague in Germany in 1521, the emperor began to rely on Cobos, who was also accompanying him, for advice on Spanish affairs. Thereafter the star of Cobos rose while that of Gattinara waned. He became the emperor’s chief secretary, in 1529 was appointed to the Council of State, and became the king’s chief counsellor together with Nicholas Perrenot, lord of Granvelle. Gattinara’s death in 1530 confirmed this pre-eminence. Over the next eight years Cobos accompanied the emperor on all his travels, but increasingly deferred to Perrenot in foreign affairs; from 1539 he stayed behind and devoted himself exclusively to the administration of Spain. ‘When he is with the emperor’, the Venetian ambassador wrote in 1546, ‘everything goes through his hands; and when the emperor is absent, in all important matters he is the ruler through the Council and his own judgment’. Cobos’s major contribution was the recruitment and training of a bureaucracy

for loyal government in Castile. His senior officials, who included his nephew Juan Vázquez de Molina, and Gonzalo Pérez, who succeeded Alfonso de Valdés as Latin secretary and later became principal secretary to Philip II, were not younger

sons of the nobility nor (Pérez excepted) lawyers. They were lesser gentry, with an eye on preferment but with a total dedication to the service of the emperor. Spaniards continued to regret Charles’s commitment to northern Europe and

the Holy Roman Empire: the theme recurs in every Cortes of the reign. ‘Your Majesty’s protracted absence from your Spanish dominions’, wrote the admiral of Castile in 1531, ‘is a thing to which your subjects can hardly reconcile themselves’. They were also unhappy at the use in Spain of the new title ‘Majesty’. Charles attempted to meet criticism: he selected Spanish clergy as confessors, for example, and made Spaniards eligible for honours in the famous Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece. The Spanish language began to be used together with French and Latin in correspondence and administration, and Charles learned to speak it perfectly. In a speech he made before the pope and cardinals in Rome in 1536, he rebuked a French prelate who criticised him for speaking in Castilian. ‘Do not’, he said, ‘expect me to speak any other language but Spanish, which is so noble that it should be learned and understood by all Christian people’. The refusal to speak French, his own tongue, was a gesture of anger directed against the French king, who had just declared war. It did not give any special status to Spanish, which in fact was never again used by Charles in an international assembly, and French always remained his preferred language. After the suppression of the rebellions of the 1520s, the reign remained

singularly bare of great events. The emperor’s fleeting visits to Spain were notable only for the rapid summoning and dissolution of the Cortes in each realm. After 1529 the empress Isabella was regent of Spain, acting with the advice of the archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Tavera, president of the council of Castile. She died in 1539, when her son Philip was only twelve years old. After a short interval, the prince was in May 1543 appointed regent, to act with the advice of Tavera, the duke of Alba, and Cobos. At the same time Charles prepared, in his own hand, two Instructions for his son. One, the ‘Confidential’ Instruction, outlined the personal and political ideals he wished his son to follow; the other, a ‘Private’ Instruction, was a report on the principal advisers he had left with Philip. Commenting on Tavera and Cobos, Charles wrote: ‘Though they are the heads of rival cliques, nevertheless I decided to appoint them both, so that you might not be left in the hands of either one of them.’ This careful balance of interests, which Philip later adopted in his own government, helps to explain the apparent absence of conflict in the governmental affairs of Charles in Spain. In October 1548 prince Philip was summoned by Charles to go to the

Netherlands and Germany in order to be sworn in as his father’s heir (he returned in May 1551). During his absence his place was temporarily taken by the archduke Maximilian, Ferdinand’s son, who came to Spain to marry Philip’s sister Maria. Philip resumed the regency again from 1551, but interrupted it in July 1554 to go to England for his marriage to Mary Tudor; in the interim his sister Juana, widow of the king of Portugal, acted as regent. For the prince it was to be an eventful absence: he came back from it as king. Charles returned for the last time to the peninsula in September 1556, having divested himself of Spain and its associated territories, though not yet of the Holy Roman Empire.