Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

Charles I and Philip II

Charles, elder son of Juana, and grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, was born in the year 1500, at Ghent, and all his life held an affection for the people of his native land, which the Spaniards never shared. Still, he was virtually King of Spain at the death of his grandfather Ferdinand, and his mother, owing to her lunacy, only nominally queen. Henceforth, for more than half a century, this grandson of the King of Aragon and Queen of Castile appears the dominant figure, the greatest ruler, in Europe. "It has been said that Charles had more power for good or ill in Europe than has been exercised by any man since the reign of Augustus; and that, on the whole, he did as much harm with it as could possibly be done."

This is the verdict of an impartial historian, and seems borne out by the facts, for his long reign was chiefly one of war, and waged more for personal aggrandizement than for reasons of state. He was seventeen years of age when he first entered Spain, the year following Ferdinand's death, and eighteen when proclaimed king at Valladolid. The interregnum had been skillfully bridged by Cardinal Ximenes, who had vigorously suppressed various insurrections caused by the dissatisfaction of the nobles and the people at the introduction of a host of foreigners, greedy and rapacious, from the Flemish country. Notwithstanding the great services of the octogenarian Ximenes, who had so faithfully served not alone the young prince, but before him his mother and grandparents, he sent him a frivolous letter containing implied reproof, which reached the cardinal either just before or just after his demise, which occurred in November, 1517. Adrian of Utrecht, subsequently Pope, succeeded Ximenes, under whom Charles's forces met and overcame the rebels, headed by Juan de Padilla, in 1522.

In January, 1519, another great personage departed this life, in the death of Maximilian, Emperor of Germany, paternal grandfather of the young King of Spain, upon whom, in June of the same year, was be stowed the imperial crown. He was thus at nineteen years of age, as Charles V of Germany and Charles I of Spain, sovereign over a vastly wider realm than any Castilian king had ever dreamed of conquering. From his father, Philip, he had inherited dominion over the Netherlands and Franche-Comte; through his mother and from Ferdinand the kingdoms of Spain; and now, by the Diet of Frankfort, he was made Emperor of Germany. It may be said that with his coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle, in October, 1520, his troubles really began; for Francis, the French king, also young and powerful, urged a right to the crown; and henceforth, until the death of the latter, in 1549, there was enmity between them.

That same year occurred the famous meeting on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, between French Francis and Henry VIII of England; but not long after Henry was fighting as an ally of Charles against the King of France. To recount their quarrels and battles would be too wearisome as well as fruitless a task; but they culminated at the famous battle of Pavia, when the French king's army was routed, and Francis himself taken prisoner by the Spaniards, in 1524. He was not released until he had forfeited his claims to Charles's possessions in Burgundy, etc., and returned to France in January, 1526, after signing the Treaty of Madrid, and leaving as hostages two of his sons.

But Francis did not respect his promises, and soon there was war again between the two, more battles, more signing of treaties, more shedding of blood and devastation of territories, until the war worn subjects of both sovereigns were weary of a conflict in which they obtained no gains and shared no profits. Especially were the Spaniards wroth at being repeatedly called upon to donate funds and men, men and funds, for the carrying on of foreign wars. Yet they rarely rebelled, and only grumbled and protested when the Cortes was called, knowing that meant only more money for the king and his favourites, more sacrifices at the feet of Moloch the insatiate. Through all the years of his reign Charles was carrying on war of another kind, also, with the enemies of the Romish Church. Simultaneously with his coronation as Emperor of Germany rose the apparition of Protestantism in the person of the redoubtable Luther; and the assembling of the Diet of Worms, for the discussion and extermination of Lutheranism, was one of the first acts of the young sovereign, in January, 1521. It was an unequal fight, that between the poor peasant-priest Luther and the mighty emperor; yet, though the former died in 1541, his cause eventually won—as all the world knows—and not all Charles's efforts could strangle in its cradle the young giant of Reformation.

At the age of twenty-six. Charles married Isabella of Portugal, a beautiful princess, to whom he was much attached, and who became the mother of his only legitimate son, Philip II, who was born in 1527. That same year Charles was called upon to wage another little war with Francis, who had broken his pledges and formed a league with Henry of England and the Pope. The Spanish armies, under lead of the recreant Constable of Bourbon, overran Italian territories, took and sacked the city of Rome, committing every imaginable excess, and ending by making the Pope himself a prisoner. Although his own army had committed this sacrilege, Charles pretended to be grieved at the event, particularly at the indignity offered to the person of the Pope; but only three years later he had the imperial crown set upon his brow by this same Pope Clement, who had only regained his liberty by the payment of a heavy ransom.

The treaty then signed by the hitherto hostile belligerents, called the Peace of Cambrai, was probably hastened by the threatened invasion of western Europe by the Mohammedans under Soleyman the Magnificent; and it was this fear also that caused Charles to treat his Protestant subjects so leniently in Germany, when in Spain they would all have been burned at the stake or put to the sword. But he needed their valiant arms in opposing the Moslems of Turkey in their victorious progress; hence they were temporarily spared, to grow eventually into a body politic of such proportions that, to his sorrow, they eventually overcame him. He, however, vindicated his claim to be considered the champion of Christendom, in 1535, by organizing an expedition against Barbarossa, the pirate king, and liberating hundreds of Christians confined in the dungeons of Tunis. Another attempt upon Algiers, in 1541, resulted in the dispersion of the Spanish fleet by a storm, and disastrous defeat. The year 1536 was made memorable to the citizens of Ghent because, having refused to furnish their quota for carrying on the wars in France, they were treated by Charles as rebels and punished with terrible severity.

In 1540 Loyola established in Spain the order of Jesuits, which subsequently came to have such influence in religious and political affairs. The French king in 1542 renewed hostilities, and after two years of warfare a peace was declared, in 1544. About this time it seemed to Charles that the occasion was ripe for a war of extermination against his Protestant subjects of Germany. At first he triumphed over their large and well-equipped armies, in 1547 defeating the Elector of Saxony and taking him prisoner. That year, also, Francis of France died, and thus the emperor was left freer to persecute those who differed from him in their religious beliefs. But a Protestant champion soon arose in the person of Prince Maurice of Saxony, whose vigorous action not only reduced the emperor to the humiliating necessity of signing a treaty of peace (August 2, 1552), but set in motion a train of events that forever made impossible his cherished project of the rooting out of Protestantism.

Three disastrous years of warfare followed the Peace of Passau, but nothing was gained for Charles, and in 1555, by the Peace of Augsburg, his hated enemy, Protestantism, scored a triumph through receiving legal recognition, by which its roots struck so deep into European soil that no efforts of the emperor's could avail to extricate them. It is thought that the humiliation of this defeat of his lifelong scheme in behalf, of the papists was the cause of his final determination to abdicate in favour of his son Philip, which he did in October of the same year, 1555. His mother, Juana, died this year, having passed the whole term of her son's brilliant reign in the gloom of insanity.

In January, 1556, he formally ceded all his Spanish possessions to Philip, and retired to the monastery of Yuste, where he passed three years more in the quietude of peaceful scenes, and finally expired on the 21st of September, 1558.

After forty years of fighting, he found nothing so delightful as the seclusion of a monastery; after mingling in the stirring scenes of a world of which he was at times the most prominent figure and centre around which it moved, he found nothing so conducive to tranquillity and happiness as the domestic avocations of gardening and carving simple toys. He had crossed central and western Europe forty times, had visited England, carried war into Africa, had battled with the French, the British, the Italians, and Turks; while at the same time his great captains had subjugated the natives of the two Americas, and deluged the western isles and continents with blood. Mexico, Peru, and Chili were reduced to submission during his reign. In 1521 the great navigator, Magellan, had passed through the straits that now bear his name and circumnavigated South America, on that same voyage discovering the Philippine Islands, which were afterward named in honour of Philip II.

We should pause here to note that it was during Charles's reign that Spain's history became inextricably mingled with or touched upon that of every great division of the world, and that the emperor held possessions in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America.

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