Charles the V
“Plus Ultra”by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
"Plus Ultra", "Even Further", was the motto of Charles
the V, the most powerful sovereign in Christendom. His empire far exceeded those
of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne. His territory included the Spanish Kingdoms
of Aragon and Castile; the Netherlands; the Italian states of Naples, Sicily,
and Sardinia; Spanish conquests in America and Africa; and the Habsburg lands.
Charles was the son of Philip I, king of Castile, and Joanna the Mad. He was the maternal grandson of Ferdinand V of Castile; the paternal grandson of the Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and great-grandson of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Charles the V was born in Gent on February 24, 1500. He grew up in the Netherlands, without his parents. The global empire, which he later ruled with the philosophy of uniting it into a multinational, Christian universal empire, was not due to conquest, but to inheriting territories which lay far apart.
In 1504, he inherited the Spanish oversea conquests, on the death of his Spanish grandmother Isabelle. When he was six years old, in 1506, he inherited the Burundian realm on the death of his father. After the death of his Spanish grandfather, he also inherited the thrones of Castile and Aragon. In addition to that he gained rule over Naples and Sicily. In 1915, together with his brother, he inherited the Habsburg lands in central Europe. Shortly after this, he was designated Holy Roman Emperor, and was crowned king of Germany in Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen, Germany), on October 23, 1520.
Now, at the age of 20, Charles the V was the most powerful ruler ever in Christendom. Charles ascended the throne at a time when Germany was agitated by Martin Luther. In an unsuccessful attempt to restore tranquility, a great Diet was held in 1521, before which Luther made a memorable defense of his doctrines. The Diet rejected Luther’s position, and Charles subsequently issued an edict condemning Luther. At this time struggles between Spain and France over the Italian lands and Burgundy forced Charles the V to take up arms against King Francis the I of France, the result being that Charles’ attention was drawn away from Germany’s internal affairs. The war between Francis and Charles ended disastrously for France. In 1525, the French king was taken prisoner after the battle of Pavia, and was forced to sign the Treaty of Madrid, which relinquished his claim to Italy and banded Burgundy. After his release, Francis restarted the struggle, this time aided by Henry VIII of England who stood on Charles during the last conflict, and who was also aided by the Pope Clement VII, who was anxious to rid Italy of the imperial armies. The war ended with the signing by Charles and Francis of the Peace of Cambrai in 1529. Francis again renounced the Italian lands to Charles, and Charles ceded Burgundy to France. In 1530, the Pope crowned the victorious monarch in Bologna as Holy Roman emperor, which was the last coronation of a German emperor by the Pope.
In 1526, the year Ferdinand I claimed the Hungarian throne, the Ottoman Turks swept the country. Charles noticed the great danger the Ottoman Turks presented for his empire and the whole of Christendom. He was anxious to end the war with France and to prevent the Turks from overrunning Europe. In 1529, the Turks led by Sultan Suleiman laid siege on Vienna. The Turks were defeated, and drawn back by an expedition of Admiral Andrea Doria, in services of Charles. In 1538 Charles formed an anti-Turkish alliance with the Pope. However, the alliance failed and in 1547 Ferdinand signed a 5-year treaty with the Turks.
The failure of Charles to properly draw back the Turks was partly due to his inability to bring religious peace to his empire, especially to Germany. The spread of disorders during the Reformation made the German princes seek autonomy for their states. In 1530, shortly after his coronation, Charles convoked a diet in Augsburg to discuss the religious problem. However, negotiations failed and in 1531 the princes formed the Schmalkaldic League. The continuing war with the Turks and the domestic unrest, forced Charles to grant the Protestants some liberties at the Peace of Nuremberg in 1532.
After two, two-year long wars against France, which mainly reaffirmed the treaty of Cambrai, Charles turned his attentions to Germany, and the Schmalkaldic League. In 1546 the emperor moved against the southern German principalities, and in 1547, he gained a decisive victory against the Protestants. Though his success was temporary. In 1551 Magdeburg fell to Maurice, duke of Saxony, but Maurice, who had previously supported the emperor, suddenly allied with France and went against Charles. He fled before the Protestants, and in 1552 he concluded the peace of Passau, which allowed all Lithuanian states to practice their religion.
Weary of the never-ending struggles and heavy responsibilities of his huge empire, in 1555, Charles resigned the Netherlands, and in 1556, Spain, to his son Philip II. In 1556 Charles announced his intentions to abdicate the imperial crown in favor of his brother Ferdinand I, who officially became emperor in 1558. Charles retired that year to the monastery of San Jeronimo de Yuste in Extremadura, Spain, where he died on September 21, 1558.
Charles’ strategy of creating a global Christian empire had several factors. First of all he had to restore peace between the Christian rulers in Europe. The illumination of heresy, which he thought Protestantism was promoting, and additionally ending the corruption of the Catholic Church. And of course driving the Turks out of Europe was another goal.
The problems that stood against that plan were great. Charles always called for a crusade against the Turks, however his request was mainly ignored and some Christians, like the French, even allied with the Turks. France represented the first problem. Instead of feeling protected by its Christian neighbors, it felt dangerously flanked by Burgundy and Spain. After the peace of Madrid, Charles V set Francis free, trusting in his noble character. However Francis did not recognize his resuming of the war as a breaking of an oath, but rather he viewed this as an absolute political need. The fact that Charles never really understood the meaning of the Reformation also had a great impact. Instead of viewing the reformation as a new religious way of thinking, he just saw it as a revolt against the church.
All those factors led to the fact that Charles’ great ideas never became real. Even though he made single great achievements, he technically failed in all aspects of his political plan.
Considering his talent as ruler and creator of the New Spain, his efforts as a Diplomat and military commander, he was definitely the greatest of the Hapsburg rulers. Additionally, he was an excellent horseman and fencer even though he was of rather weak stature. Whenever he lacked something in talent or body strength, he balanced it out with his extraordinary will to do well. Perhaps it can be said that Charles V, though never achieving his political ideals, was truly a noble and great man. Even though ‘Plus Ultra’ was never realized, his will for “even further” is to be commended.
Kurt Kusenberg. Karl V. Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, 1974.
Heimpel, Heuss, and Benno Reifenberg. Die Grossen Deutschen I. Frankfurt/M: Prisma Verlag GmbH, 1978.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, 2000. 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation.
“Charles V (Holy Roman Empire)”, pg.1