1493-1519 1556-1648

The Holy Roman Empire, 1519-1556

Emperor Maximilian died in 1519; he was succeeded by his grandson Charles V., at the time of his election already King of Spain. Charles V. also ruled, formally, over the Austrian lands, the Burgundian Lands, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, since 1535 over Milan. He ruled from three capitals, Brussels, Madrid and Innsbruck, and spent much time on the road. Charles V. was Emperor by title, but he was ruler of the Habsburg Empire rather than of the Holy Roman Empire.
Charles V. was almost constantly occupied with the French threat. There was the Ottoman threat; Vienna was besieged in 1529. He had to face the Comuneros Revolt in Spain and the Reformation in the Empire. The latter was complicated by the popes and the uncompromising Council of Trent.

As Charles V. was only temporarily present in the Empire, already in 1531 his brother Ferdinand was elected Roman King. During Charles' absence, Ferdinand took charge of the Empire. He resided in Vienna and took charge of the defense of the Austrian lands, of the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. The partition of the Habsburg territories into an Austrian and a Spanish line (1556) had been agreed upon long before.
The concentration of so many titles in the hands of one person spelled potential danger to the princes of the Holy Roman Empire. For centuries the Emperors had been little more than honorary presidents, the princes rather autonomous. With such a concentration of titles, he could assemble an army and force them into submission, could turn the hitherto hollow title of Emperor into a position of power. The princely opposition, already formed under Maximilian, stiffened under Charles V.; the Lutheran Reformation was an opportunity of the princes to strengthen their position.
Charles V. was adamantly opposed to the Reformation, but, for most of the time, attempted to search a diplomatic solution of the problem. His brother Ferdinand was more conciliant. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 was a first compromise; Charles V. insisted on the Council of Trent (1545-1563) be held on Imperial soil, so to facilitate the participation of Lutheran representatives; after the Schmalkaldic War 1546-1547 Charles V. was optimistic regarding a compromise solution favourable to Catholicism could be achieved in negotiations at the Diet of Augsburg (1548-1552); in 1552 this belief was shattered by the resurged princely opposition in alliance with his French archenemy. The Religious Peace of Augsburg 1555 satisfied the demands of the princely opposition; Charles V. was a broken man, resigned the next year.

Charles V. attempted to rule the Empire in the sense of his Grandfather. He did not continue the ambitious reform policy; he wanted to solve the church reformation issue on an Empire-wide level. While, compared to his grandfather, he had less time and energy to spend on the administration of the Empire, he not only had to deal with a more determined opposition, but also with an opposition which did not refrain from entering into a foreign alliance, detrimental to the Empire itself - in 1552 the princely opposition ceded the princebishoprics of Toul, Metz and Verdun to France.
Under Charles V., in the 1520es, the Empire experienced a breakdown of authority. Southwestern and central Germany were the site of the German Peasants' War (1524-1525); in northern Germany the Hildesheim Stifts Feud (1519-1523), the subjugation of Butjadingen, Stadland, Wursten (1525) took place. In the 1548 Pragmatic Sanction, Charles V. granted the Burgundian Lands (the Netherlands) a separate, largely autonomous status within the Empire.

Biography of Charles V., from Catholic Encyclopedia, from Columbia Encyclopedia, from Wikipedia
REFERENCE Andrea van Dülmen : Deutsche Geschichte in Daten, Bd.1 : Von den Anfängen bis 1770, München : dtv 1979

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 8th 2003, lst revised on November 12th 2004

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