Charles I was king of Spain from 1516 until his voluntary retirement in 1556, and from 1519 to 1556, he also reigned as Charles V Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, bringing to the throne of Spain the Habsburg Dynasty. He is often considered the first king of Spain, for he was the first monarch to reign in his own right over both the Crown of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon. As the heir four Europe dynasties, he ruled over extensive domains in Central, Western and Southern Europe, as well as the various Spanish colonies in the Americas and Philippines.
As the grandson of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon on his mother’s side, he was born on February 24, 1500 to Joan of Castile, "the Mad," and Philip "the Handsome", Duke of Burgundy and son of Maximilian I, Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Because his father Philip died young of typhoid fever and the mental instability of his mother Joan, his grandfather Ferdinand II king of Aragon was ruled over both kingdoms until his death in 1516, leaving Charles king of both kingdoms, Castile and Aragon, which he merged into one as he was crowned Charles I, king of Spain. Later in 1519, when his grandfather Maximilian I died, he also inherited the Habsburg’s lands of central Europe.
Wars Against France
Four Years War
During most of his reign, Charles I was busy with the conflicts with France. The first war against France began late in 1521 over the election of Charles as Emperor in 1519–20 and from Pope Leo X’s need to ally with Charles against Martin Luther. The war broke out across western Europe when the French invaded Navarre and the Low Countries. Imperial forces overcame the invasion and attacked northern France, where they were stopped in turn. The Pope, the Emperor, and Henry VIII then signed a formal alliance against France, and hostilities began on the Italian peninsula. At the Battle of Bicocca, Imperial and Papal forces defeated the French, driving them from Lombardy.
Following the battle, fighting again spilled onto French soil. The English invaded France in 1523, while Charles de Bourbon, alienated by Francis’s attempts to seize his inheritance, betrayed Francis and allied himself with the Emperor. A French attempt to regain Lombardy in 1524 failed and provided Bourbon with an opportunity to invade Provence at the head of a Spanish army. Francis himself led a second attack on Milan in 1525. Although he was initially successful in driving back the Spanish and Imperial forces, he was thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Pavia, where he was captured and many of his chief nobles were killed. Thus this battle led to the end of the war. While imprisoned in Spain, Francis I signed the Treaty of Madrid, surrendering his claims to Italy, Flanders, and Burgundy.
War of League of Cognac
Only a few weeks after his release, however, he repudiated the terms of the Treaty of Madrid, starting the War of the League of Cognac. Shocked at the total defeat of France and the growing power of Charles I, king and Emperor, the Pope Clement VII organized an alliance with Francis I, Venice, Florence, and Sforza of Milan, forming thus the League of Cognac, which had as objective to drive the Habsburg forces from Italy. The League quickly seized Lodi, but Imperial troops marched into Lombardy and soon forced Sforza to abandon Milan. Charles V now gathered a force of landsknechts under Georg Frundsberg and a Spanish army under Charles of Bourbon. The two forces combined at Piacenza and advanced on Rome, defeating the Papal armies under the command of Francesco Guicciardini. However, the Duke of Bourbon was killed in the battle, and the underpaid Spanish army sacked the city, forcing the Pope to flee.
The destruction of Rome, and the consequent removal of Clement from any real role in the war, prompted frentic action on the part of the French. On April 30, 1527, Henry VIII and Francis signed the Treaty of Westminster, pledging to combine their forces against Charles. Francis, having finally drawn Henry VIII into the League, sent an army under Odet de Foix through Genoa, where Andrea Doria had quickly joined the French, seizing much of the Genoese fleet and proceeded to dig in for an extended siege. Doria, however, soon deserted the French for Charles. The siege collapsed as plague broke out in the French camp, killing most of the army along with Foix. Andrea Doria’s offensive in Genoa, where he soon broke the blockade of the city and forced the surrender of the French at Savona, together with the decisive defeat of a French relief force under the Duke of St. Pol at the Battle of Landriano, ended Francis’s hopes of regaining his hold on Italy.
Following the defeat of his armies, Francis sought peace with Charles. The negotiations began in July 1529 in the border city of Cambrai. They were conducted primarily between Francis’s mother Louise of Savoy for the French, and Margaret of Austria for her nephew the Emperor Charles and signed they Treaty of Cambrai, known as the Peace of the Ladies. The final terms largely mirrored those of the Treaty of Madrid three years earlier; Francis surrendered his rights to Artois, Flanders, and Tournai, and was obliged to pay a ransom of two million golden ecus before his sons were to be released. Removed, however, were both the humiliating surrender of Burgundy itself and the various points dealing with Charles de Bourbon, who, having been killed two years prior, was no longer a candidate for leading an independent Kingdom of Provence. The final treaty, signed on August 5, removed France from the war, leaving Venice, Florence, and the Pope alone against Charles.
A third war erupted in 1535, when, following the death of the last Sforza Duke of Milan, Charles installed his own son, Philip, in the duchy, despite Francis’s claims on it. This war too was inconclusive. Francis failed to conquer Milan, but succeeded in conquering most of the lands of Charles’s ally the Duke of Savoy, including his capital, Turin. A truce at Nice in 1538 ended the war, but lasted only a short time. War resumed in 1542, with Francis now allied with Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I and Charles once again allied with Henry VIII. Despite the conquest of Nice by a Franco-Ottoman fleet, the French remained unable to advance into Milan, while a joint Anglo-Imperial invasion of northern France, led by Charles himself, won some successes but was ultimately abandoned, leading to another peace and restoration of the status quo before 1544.
During Charles’ reign, the territories in America, New Spain, were considerably extended by conquerors like Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, who caused the Aztec and Inca empires to fall in little more than a decade. Combined with the Magellan expedition’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1522, these successes convinced Charles of his divine mission to become the leader of a Christian world that still perceived a significant threat from Islam. Of course, the conquests also helped solidify Charles’ rule by providing the state treasury with enormous amounts of bullion. As the conqueror Bernal Diaz observed: "We came to serve God and our Majesty, … and also to get rich." In 1550, Charles convened a conference at Valladolid in order to consider the morality of the force used against the indigenous populations of Spanish America.
Wars Against the Ottoman Turks
Charles fought continually against the Ottoman Empire and its sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The expeditions of the Ottoman force along the Mediterranean coast posed a threat to Habsburg lands and Christian monopolies on trade in the Mediterranean. In Central Europe, the Turkish advance was halted at Vienna in 1529. In 1535 Charles won an important victory at Tunis, but in 1536 Francis I of France allied himself with Suleiman against Charles. While Francis was persuaded to sign a peace treaty in 1538, he again allied himself with the Ottomans in 1542. In 1543 Charles allied himself with Henry VIII and forced Francis to sign the Truce of Crepy-en-Laonnois. Charles later signed a humiliating treaty with the Ottomans, to gain him some respite from the huge expenses of their war, although it did not end there. However, the Protestant powers in the Holy Roman Empire Diet often voted against money for his Turkish wars, as many Protestants saw the Muslim advance as a counterweight to the Catholic powers. The great Hungarian defeat at the 1526 Battle of Mohács "sent a wave of terror over Europe", according to an obscure mid 20th century historian known as Bryan Ball.
In 1521, as Holy Roman Emperor, he called Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521, promising him safe conduct if he would appear. He initially dismissed Luther’s idea of reformation as "An argument between monks". But he later outlawed Luther and his followers in that same year but was tied up with other concerns and unable to take action against Protestantism. 1524 to 1526 saw the Peasants’ Revolt in Germany and in 1531 the formation of the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League. Charles delegated increasing responsibility for Germany to his brother Ferdinand while he concentrated on problems elsewhere.
In 1545, the opening of the Council of Trent began the Counter-Reformation, and Charles won to the Catholic cause some of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1546, he outlawed the Schmalkaldic League, which had occupied the territory of another prince. He drove the League’s troops out of southern Germany and at the Battle of Mühlberg defeated John Frederick, Elector of Saxony and imprisoned Philip of Hesse in 1547. At the Augsburg Interim in 1548 he created an interim solution giving certain allowances to Protestants until the Council of Trent would restore unity. However, Protestants mostly resented the Interim and some actively opposed it. Protestant princes, in alliance with Henry II of France, rebelled against Charles in 1552, which caused Charles to retreat to the Netherlands.
Abdication and Later Life
Charles suffered from an enlarged lower jaw, a deformity which got considerably worse in later Habsburg generations. He struggled to chew his food properly and consequently experienced bad indigestion for much of his life. As a result, he usually ate alone. He suffered from epilepsy and joint pain, presumed to be gout, according to his 16th century doctors. In his retirement, he was carried around the monastery of St. Yuste in a sedan chair. A ramp was specially constructed to allow him easy access to his rooms.
In 1556, Charles abdicated his various titles, giving his Spanish empire,Spain, the Netherlands, Naples and Spain’s possessions in the Americas, to his son, Philip II of Spain. He passed his dynastic Austrian lands and the Holy Roman Empire to his brother, Ferdinand. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste in Extremadura, but continued to correspond widely and kept an interest in the situation of the empire. Charles died on September 21, 1558 from fatal malaria. Twenty-six years later, his remains were transferred to the Royal Pantheon of The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.