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PART I CHARLES V AND THE IDEA OF THE EMPIRE

In the middle of the sixteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire, which had seemed to be dwindling more and more rapidly into a local German concern, suddenly takes on once more something of its old significance. The century in which a new Europe, with its great states built up on principles of realistic statecraft and infused with national patriotism, was in process of formation saw also a late manifestation of the Monarch, the potential Lord of the World, in the person of the Emperor Charles V. The patterns of the new Europe take their shape under the shadow, or the mirage, of a recrudescence of the idea of the Empire. The revival of imperialism in Charles V was a phantom revival. That he looked so much like a Lord of the World was due to the Hapsburg dynastic marriage policy which had brought such vast territories under his rule, and when, after his death, Phillip II succeeded to the Spanish monarchy whilst the imperial title passed to another branch of the Hapsburg family, the whole imposing edifice of the empire of the second Charlemagne broke down. The transitory and unreal character of the empire of Charles V is the aspect of it usually stressed by modern historians. Whilst not denying its unreality in the political sense, it is the purpose of the present essay to suggest that it is precisely as a phantom that Charles's empire was of importance, because it raised again the imperial idea and spread it through Europe in the symbolism of its propaganda, and that at a time when the more advanced political thinking was discrediting it.