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Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire

HGW 5202 - Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire. When Charles was born in Ghent in 1500, it was clear that he would one day come into an extensive inheritance, but few could have realized that he would be lord of wider dominions than had been ruled by any previous European monarch. When he was six years old, the death of his father, Philip of Habsburg, gave him possession of the Netherlands and Imperial Burgundy (Franche Comte).

When he was sixteen, the death of his grandfather Ferdinand made him King Charles I of Spain, with its dependencies in Italy and overseas in America. At nineteen, the death of his grandfather Maximilian brought him all the hereditary territories of the Habsburgs and the expectation of being chosen Holy Roman Emperor.
Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire
Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire (pic)

Though the title of emperor had come down in the Habsburg family continuously since 1438, the office was still elective, and in 1519 there were in addition to Charles two young and ambitious rulers who put forward their candidacies: Henry VIII of England, and Francis I of France. The latter was the more formidable rival in the election. By diplomacy and bribes Francis sought to win the backing of the church and the votes of the electors. Charles already ruled so many lands that it could easily be argued that he would have little time to devote to Germany or to his duties as emperor.

Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire

But in the election Charles had certain advantages. The tradition of electing the Habsburgs was strong, and as a habsburg Charles seemed more like a german than did Francis. In addition, Charles had special friends among the bangkers of the time, and with their aid he was better able to play the game of bribery than his rival. He borrowed some money for the purpose from the Medici at Florence, and still more from the Fuggers, the German bangking family of Augsburg which had long been loaning money to the Habsburgs, the Fuggers now surpassed the Medici and had more funds at their disposal than any other bankers in Europe.

They had branch offices in Antwerp and a dozen other cities from which they financed merchants, towns, provinces, and kings. When the head of the house of Fugger, Jacob ther Rich, opened his purse to Charles, it meant that the bribes of Francis could be easily matched and exceeded. In 1519 Charles gained the election and in 1520 he was crowned as the Emperor Charles V at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen).

Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire

It was a sign of the times that capitalists could help make emperors. In the fifteenth century the center of capitalistic credit and banking had been in northern Italy, and particularly with the Medici family at Florence. But in the early sixteenth century it passed to Augsburg in southern germany, where the family firms of the Welsers, the Hochstetters, the Meutings, and others vied with the foggers. Many of the banker merchants finance commercial and industrial ventures, but the Fuggers had two main interest-mining, and loans to the Habsburgs. They reaped rich profits from the copper, silver, and lead mines of the Tyrol and of Hungary. They loaned more and more money to the Habsburgs, until in 1560 Charles’ son, Philip II of Spain, owed them some 4000.000 gold gulden, a gigantic sum for those days.

Most of the great German and Italian bankers had offices in one of Charles’ cities, Antwerp in the Netherlands. For by the sixteenth century Antwep had displace the older city of Bruges as the commercial center of northern and western Europe. There the products of the north, especially English cloth, were exchanged for those of the Mediterranean and for the new goods that began to come in from America and the Far East. Antwerp  had a great Bourse, or Exchange (opened in 1460), for trade in goods, and another (opened in 1531) for financial transactions such as loans to merchants and king. Its river harbor was thronged with shipping, its streets crowded with drays and carts. To Charles V, it was a great source of strength that he was ruler of the rich Netherlands and of the busy city Antwerp.

Charles the First of Spain and Fifth of the Holy Roman Empire

Because he had been born in the Netherlands, had live there during his boyhood, and spoke the local language (Flemish or Dutch), Charles V always thought of himself as a Netherlander than as an Austrian or a Spaniard. He Knew how to deal Familiarly and in friendly fashion with the richc burghers of the town. They, in turn, regarded him with pride and affection and even paid the taxes he levied without too much murmuring or discontenc. In Spain, on the contratry, Charles was regarded, when he went there first in 1517, as a foreigner and he did not increase his popularity by making use there of advisers and officials from the Netherlands. There was some hospitality ti him and even open revolt in various Spanish cities (1519-1520). But though Charles looked upon Spain merely as a source of wealth and military strength, he was able to crush all opposition and rule the country with a firm hand.

Charles was indeed an able ruler, who could adapt himself to the needs of the moment. If he was amiable in Ghent he could be haughty in Madrid and stern in Vienna. Though he was afraid of mice and spiders, he was an able an courageous general on the field of the battle. He could persuade as well as command, and he could employ guileful diplomacy as well as military force. All his life he showed a deep devotion to the Catholic faith. Thin if face and with the protruding lower jaw of the Habsburgs, Charles was bearing were those of the great monarch that he truly was.

Source : History of Western Civilization (Hayes, Baldwin, Cole)

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