I'm in the middle of reading: Emperor: A New Life Of Charles V by early modern historian, Geoffrey Parker, which was published in 2019, so this isn't my usual book review as I haven't finished the biography yet. However halfway through (on page 332 with 200 pages to go!) I can say it's meticulously researched and compelling to read. The section I'm on is where the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor is intent on wrangling in all those rebellious Lutheran German Princes who have broken away from Rome (and thus labeled Protestants) and taken theirs, as well as, Charles' subjects with them. As you might imagine, Emperor Charles is thinking, "What the hell! Those pesky heretics!!! Not gonna happen on my Christian watch!!!" So he's organizing talks and campaigns to deal with the German problem in his realm.
After the death of his grandparents, Charles V ruled over Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as, much of Italy, Central, and South America. He was an Emperor with a capital ''E." -- conquering, reorganizing, and protecting what the book calls the "world's first and most enduring transatlantic empire."
An artist's images of what Charles and his wife, Isabella would look like if they lived today.
Likewise, Charles V had to become proficient in many languages to rule over his vast lands, and of course, he had an overall fine education in philosophy, theology, the arts and was taught jostling, hunting, shooting, fishing, good manners, chivalry, to play music and dancing in his role as heir to the throne. His two closest in age sisters took classes with him. He studied mathematics as an adult to "escape the burden of affairs" of state for a few hours at night.
A lesser ruler with a weaker intellect and will couldn't have held such a diverse and enormous empire together for 40 years. At the time monarchs believed their roles were divinely ordained, and, the grandson of 4 sovereigns carried out his duty with conviction and gratitude to God. Charles worked tirelessly and constantly traveled throughout Europe attending to conflicts and ensuing problems by negotiating, writing up, and signing over 100,000 documents, edicts, and treaties. He asked for what he wanted -- in point-by-point terms -- and got much of it. He called forth and oversaw major councils and diets of the day, as well as, met privately and publically with townspeople, officials, kings, and Popes. And when talking didn't lead to peace and agreement, he took rulers prisoner until they came around, as Charles was a capable and successful military commander and also lucky since the weather or an advisory's blunder often favored him. Moreover, Charles V strategized and knew how to seize an advantage.
|Painted by Peter, Paul Rubens|
Emperor Charles is a complex historical character. He was dutiful, patient, conscientious, dogmatic (i.e., inclined to lay down principles), a seeker of advice, a good listener, but also selfish, dogmatic (this time meaning opinionated and domineering), and a ruler who always settled scores. Like many leaders and diplomats of a country, he told the truth, but not necessarily all of the truth, nor all of the time.👑
|Eleanor, Charles, and Isabeau were born and raised in the Netherlands and took lessons together, sharing a tutor.|
1) He had 4 illegitimate children -- 3 before and 1 after his marriage to Isabella of Portugal (born in 1503). Yet during his marriage, there is no record of the Emperor ever having extra-marital affairs ... rather moral considering his immense power, lots of travels, and what powerful rulers could get away with during the 16th century.
2) The Habsburgs watched each other's backs. Sometimes Emperor Charles appealed to (critics might say shamelessly exploited) his siblings' loyalty and love for him to get them to act as regents for the Habsburg dynasty. The siblings cooperated and even spent time together after Charles abdicated and went into retirement. They managed to stay cohesive and put dynasty above ego, as well as, be close in their later years.
3) Charles attended mass daily and without fail took a week off to participate fully in Holy Week devotionals every Easter.
4) As devout as Charles V was to Catholicism (and indeed, he was pious all his life) when the Pope crossed the line into politics by siding with Francis I of France and sent troops against him (1535 - 1536), Charles defeated those armies and took the Pope hostage! It's the reason why Henry VIII of England was not granted his annulment against his popular Queen of 25+ years, Catherine of Aragon, to marry a woman who would have faired better as his mistress. Queen Catherine of England was Charles V's maternal aunt ... and with the pope as his prisoner, Henry was not going to get his divorce. In fact, it was a term the Pope had to agree to in the peace treaty to gain his freedom.
5) Charles had an enlarged lower jaw (mandibular prognathism) a congenital deformity that got worst in later Habsburg generations due to inbreeding.
6) When his wife, Empress Isabella, died from a fever after childbirth in 1539, Charles was so devastated, he locked himself away in a monastery for 2 months to grieve her. He never remarried and wore black for the rest of his life.
7) I haven't gotten to the part of the book where Charles abdicated as Emperor in 1556, but I find the fact that he knew when to relinquish power interesting, as well as, admirable. Due to acute arthritis (called gout) and his declining health, Charles knew he couldn't travel and reign as effectively as before, and the burden of ruling and traveling non-stop for 40 years exhausted him. The man was tired!!
8) Realizing it was too much for one person, Charles V divided the Habsburg Empire into two parts, giving Spain, the Netherlands, and parts of Italy and America to his son, Philip II to rule ... and Austria, and the German states to his brother, Ferdinand I -- the next elected Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V's daughter, Maria, married her 1st cousin, Maximillian II, who also became the Holy Roman Emperor (= Charles' nephew and brother, Ferdinand I's son). Charles and Isabella's other surviving child, Joanna, married another 1st cousin, Prince (later King) John Manuel of Portugal. Joanna became the Regent of Spain during her brother, Philip II's absence and marriage to Queen Mary Tudor, Philip's 1st cousin. All the family intermarriages occurred for the purpose of keeping the territories in Habsburg hands, but over the generations, it also weaken the dynasty as defects in recessive genes lead to horrible birth defects including the inability to produce healthy heirs in Spain.
Photo by of His Majesty's bed and the room where he died.
After his public abdication in the Netherlands in October 1556, Charles V left for Spain persuading his two widowed sisters, Eleanor of France and Maria of Hungry to accompany him. He lived in lovely quarters at the Monastery of Yuste from January 1557 until September 21, 1558, dying from malaria at the age of 58 while clutching the same cross that his wife, Isabella, held in her hands when she died.
|Pantheon of the Kings|
Well, it's back to page 332 for me. I think reading 10 - 15 pages per sitting is about right to keep a myriad of historical details straight. Common sense and intuition tell me Charles isn't done with the Germans, French, or Turks, and none of them are done with him either. What's more, the "taming of America" is coming up in a later chapter. Oh, taming Americans, eh ... I'd like to see him try.😁
For sure, this biography of a remarkable Emperor is a riveting read for a history buff!