Castile 1474-1516 Spain 1556-1598

Spain under Carlos I. (= Emperor Charles V.) 1516-1556

A.) The Foreign Policy

When his grandfather, King Ferdinand of Aragon, Regent of Castile, died, Charles I. (V.) inherited both Castile and Aragon (and, with the latter, Naples and Sicily). The crowns of Castile and Aragon, from then on, were held together, and, from 1516 onward, are referred to as the Kingdom of Spain. In 1519, Charles' other grandfather, Emperor Maximilian, died. Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor as well (he would be crowned only in 1530). He also had inherited the Burgundian Lands and the Austrian Lands.
This sudden combination of territories and political power in the hands of one dynasty, one monarch, caused great concern among contemporary rulers, most notably with King Francis I. of France, and with Germany's princes, the latter fearing the (partial) loss of their political autonomy. King Charles I. (V.) was, by circumstances, forced to move around, as the many countries he ruled had affairs that required his presence.
King Francis I., finding himself almost surrounded by Habsburg territrory, fought one war after another against the Emperor (Franco-Habssburg Wars 1521-1529, 1536-1538, 1542-1544) and his son Henri II. continued his father's foreign policy (Franco-Habsburg War 1551-1559). French diplomacy sought allies everywhere they could be found, in Pope Clement VII. (Sacco di Roma 1527), in the Ottoman Empire (First Siege of Vienna 1529), among Germany's Lutheran princes and in the King of Denmark (nominally at war with Spain 1542-1544).
In the wars against France, the Imperial forces were often victorious, such as at Pavia in 1525 when King Francis I. was taken prisoner. Yet the wars were costly, and whenever one problem seemed to be solved, a new foe popped up.
In order to deal with the Ottoman threat, Charles I. (V.) installed his brother Ferdinand as regent of the Austrian lands, with the understanding that he would inherit them as well as the claim to the imperial crown. In 1530 Charles installed the Knights of St. John on the island of Malta (this militant order had been ousted from Rhodes in 1522). In 1535 Charles undertook an expedition against Tunis and installed a friendly bey there; the citadels of Tunis and La Goleta remained under Spanish occupation.
Regarding the Lutheran Reformation in the Empire, Charles V. - who rejected the reformation and had heretics persecuted in his territories - pursued a policy of negotiation. When the Council of Trent finally met, in Trent on Imperial territory, in 1545, Charles' policy of seeking a solution by concessions and negotiation, was rejected by the Council, where Italian bishops formed the majority. Relations between the Emperor and his Lutheran subjects deteriorated rapidly, and the Schmalkaldic War broke out. In the Battle of Mühlberg 1547 Charles V. won a brilliant victory; Germany's two leading Lutheran princes were taken prisoner. Negotiations with the princes were continued (Charles V. in a position of strength), but the surprise attack by Maurice Duke of Saxony on Augsburg and Innsbruck (1552), at a time when the war with France had resumed (1551) and the Ottoman Turks caused trouble, broke Charles' will. He accepted the Truce of Passau which lead to the Religious Peace of Augsburg 1555. In 1556, Charles V. abdicated, inheriting the Austrian lands and the claim to the Imperial title to his brother Ferdinand, Spain, the Burgundian lands, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia and Milan to his son Philip.
During the rule of Charles V., and with little effort on his side, the Spanish colonial empire in the Americas grew significantly, the most important events being the Conquest of the Aztec Empire 1519-1521 and the Conquest of the Inca Empire 1532-1533.
Emperor Charles V., raised in Burgundy, spoke German, Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. He attempted to be King of Spain, Holy Roman Emperor etc., all in one person. His many wars had to be financed, and Spain, i.e. Castile, had to pay an overproportional share. Under Charles V., Spain (Castile) could claim the title 'Protector of (Catholic) Christianity'.

B.) Domestic Policy

When Charles I. (V.) inherited Castile and Aragon in 1516, he was sixteen years of age and did not speak Spanish. He travelled to Spain, bringing with him confidants from the court in Brussels, whom he appointed to high positions in Castile, by doing so alienating the nobility of Castile. His first concern was raising money (by grants from the Cortes of Castile and Aragon); the death of Emperor Maximilian in 1519 left young Charles as the most eligible candidate, but required new sums of money (to bribe the electors).
In 1519 Charles left Spain; Castile soon was the scene of the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520-1521). Castile's cities revolted against high taxation and against the traditional royal policy of favouring the nobility over them. Charles I. (V.) sided with the nobility; the revolt was suppressed; historians hold this defeat and the subsequent royal policy responsible for Spain's economic underperformance under the Habsburg administration.
However, Charles I. (V.) had learnt not to overlook the Castilian nobility any more; Castilians were appointed to high positions in the administration. Charles learned Spanish, married Princess Isabel of Portugal (1526). Councils of State, of Castile, of Aragon, of the Indies, a Council of War and a Council of Finances were created in an attempt to make the administration more efficient.
While the growing colonial empire in the Americas brought in additional, much needed revenues, the wars demanded even greater expenses.

Article Charles V., from Catholic Encyclopedia, from Wikipedia
Palace of Charles V. at Granada, from Great Buildings Online
DOCUMENTS Portrait : Charles V. seated, by Titian, from Olga's Gallery
Data on Spanish State Revenue, 1520-1807, posted by ESFDB
Sala de los Documentos, from Cuaderno de Bitacora, in Spanish; 63 positions, from 1479 to 1562
REFERENCE Peter Pierson, The History of Spain, Greenwood, 1999, 248 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946 P624t
Patrick Williams, Philip II., Palgrave 2001, 302 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946.043 W721p
Teofilo F. Ruiz, Spanish Society 1400-1600, Harlow : Pearson Education 2001, KMLA Lib.Sign. 306.0946 R934s

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 9th 2004

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