Spanish Hegemony (I): Charles I

By 1500, Spain had shaken off their feudal past and emerged as a Modern Monarchy. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had unified the country the country, enforced religious unity and lead the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

Charles V Inherits Two Crowns In 1516, Ferdinand and Isabella’s grandson, Charles I, became king of Spain, and thereby ruler of the Spanish colonies in the Americas as well. Ruling the Hapsburg Empire When his other grandfather died in 1519, Charles I also became heir to the sprawling Hapsburg empire, which included the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands. As ruler of this empire, Charles took the name Charles V. Historians now usually refer to him by this title. Ruling two empires involved Charles in constant warfare.

In 1517 he arrived in Spain, a country with whose customs he was unfamiliar and whose language he could not speak well. There he instituted a government that was considered as a foreign rule. When his election as king of Germany in 1519 (succeeding his grandfather Emperor Maximilian I) recalled him to that country after some two and one-half years in Spain, Charles left behind him  dissatisfied  Spanish people. Adrian, who was appointed as regent, was not strong enough to suppress the revolt of the Castilian cities (comuneros). Making the most of their candidate’s German parentage and buying up German electoral votes Charles was electedemperor over his powerful rival, Francis I of France.

In 1522  pope Adrian VI tried to reconcile Francis I and the emperor  but he failed, and three years later Charles’s army defeated Francis I at the Battle of Pavia, taking prisoner the king himself. The victory ensured Spanish supremacy in Italy. Held in the alcazar of Madrid, the royal captive feigned agreement with the conditions imposed by Charles. The Treaty of Madrid concluding hostilities between the two countries was signed in 1526, but as soon as he had regained his freedom, Francis rejected the treaty and refused to ratify it. The newly started war between the emperor and France finished when the mother of Francis I approached Margaret of Austria, the emperor’s aunt, through whose mediation the so-called “ladies’ peace,” the Treaty of Cambrai, was concluded in  1529. The status quo was preserved: Charles renounced his claim to Burgundy; Francis, his claims to Milan and Naples.

As a devout Catholic, he fought to suppress Protestantism in the German states. After years of religious conflict, and defeating the Lutheran league at Mulhberg,  Charles was forced to allow the German princes to choose their own religión.

Charles also faced the Muslim Ottoman empire, which was based in Turkey but stretched across the Balkans. Under Suleiman, Ottoman forces advanced across central Europe to the walls surrounding Vienna, Austria. Although Austria held firm during the siege, the Ottomans occupied much of Hungary following their crushing victory at the Battle of Mohács. Ottoman naval forces also continued to challenge Spanish power in the Mediterranean.

Charles V Abdicates The Hapsburg empire proved to be too scattered and cumbersome for any one person to rule effectively. Exhausted and disillusioned, Charles V gave up his titles and entered a monastery in 1556. He divided his empire, leaving the Hapsburg lands in central Europe to his brother Ferdinand, who became Holy Roman emperor. He gave Spain, the Netherlands, some southern Italian states, and Spain’s overseas empire to his 29-year-old son Philip.


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