Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

Charles the First

A. D. 1517-1558

The successor of Ferdinand and Isabella was their grandson Charles, son of their poor crazy daughter Juana and her husband, Philip of Burgundy. He was born on February 24th, 1500. By a strange concurrence of fortunes he was heir to a number of thrones. From his father, who died when he was a child, he inherited the dukedom of Burgundy, which included Flanders, the Low Countries, Holland, Burgundy, Dauphiny, and parts of Languedoc, Provence, and Savoy. At the death of one grandfather, he became Grand-Duke of Austria; at the death of another, King of Spain. To cap the climax, when the Emperor of Germany died, he was elected to succeed him. Thus, with the exception of England, France, Portugal, and Northern Italy, he ruled over all Western Europe.

He was seventeen when he came to Spain to take possession of his throne. He was a dull boy, expert at manly exercises, but slow at his books. He had been brought up by a priest named Chievres, who was a cold, calculating ecclesiastic. Charles was cold, too, and sparing of his words. He spoke little while he was in Spain, as the knew the language imperfectly. It was observed of him that his only speeches were to ask for money—Spain being rich, and his own Flanders, where he lived, poor.

He remained three years in his kingdom. They were not altogether pleasant years. The sturdy Spaniards of Aragon and Valencia did not take kindly to a king who, though born in Spain, was a foreigner in speech and thought; it gave him some trouble to persuade them to acknowledge him as their monarch, and, above all, to give him money to spend in Flanders. But in the end they sullenly submitted, and he sailed for the Low Countries in May, 1520, leaving a Flemish priest, Cardinal Adrian, as regent in his place, with two viceroys to assist him. Castile protested violently against the king going out of his kingdom; but Charles sailed, none the less, on the day appointed.


Charles the Fifth and His Friends in Marble.

He had been chosen, as I told you, Emperor of Germany, and had serious work before him. Martin Luther was thundering at the Church of Rome, and all Germany was applauding him for his war upon corrupt and vicious priests. The great work of the Reformation had begun. In Germany and Switzerland the Papal Church was tottering; a few more sledge-hammer blows by Luther and it would fall.

The Emperor Charles—in Germany he was fifth emperor of the name, while he was first of the name among the kings of Spain—summoned Luther to Worms to explain himself. The intrepid monk obeyed the summons, though he was warned that the priests would make away with him if they got him in their power. They did indeed propose to burn him as a heretic, but Charles, though he hated Protestants to the full as much as they did, was afraid of the vengeance of the people if anything happened to their favorite preacher, and let him return home safely.

At the very time when Luther was founding the Protestant Church, another Catholic monk, equally vigorous and just as sincere, was founding a Catholic brotherhood which was destined to be the most powerful sect in the Papal Church. This was Ignatius Loyola, who had been a soldier in his youth. Wounded at a siege, he spent his time while his wound was healing in studying religion, and when he got well he established the order of the Jesuits—priests who were to lead pure lives, to devote themselves to the spread of religion, and to have no care or thought for anything but the good of the Church. You will perceive that Luther and Loyola worked for the same object, though by different means. You will see by-and-by the mistakes which Loyola made, and the evil consequences which followed.

In the meantime all Spain was in an uproar. The cities of the north, with Toledo at their head, declared that "the Fleming" should have no more of their money; that they wanted no Flemings to reign over them; that the King of Spain must live in Spain, and respect the rights of the fueros. A mob arose in Segovia, and hanged a king's officer with his head downward. Burgos flew to arms. The people of Valladolid, which was then the capital, rose in the same manner, and burned the house of the general of the king's troops. Charles's mother, poor crazy Juana, was found by the mob at Tortesillas, and was proclaimed queen. In a moment of sanity she promised to rule the kingdom justly; but in a few hours her mind deserted her again, and she would not speak or recognize any one.

The end of it was that the king's troops, who had been joined by the principal nobles, came up with the insurgents at Villalar, and being better led, better armed, and better disciplined than the levies of the cities, won a complete victory. The rebellion came to a sudden end, Charles, returning from Germany, refused to punish the rebels, and even granted some of their demands, which reconciled them to his authority.

There is a story which I like to believe of a courtier who went to the king to tell him where a certain leading rebel was bid.

"I am not afraid of him," said Charles, "but he has some reason to be afraid of me; you would be in better business if you told him I am here, than in telling me where he is."

Charles restored peace to Spain; but I am sorry to say that in the pacification the chartered cities lost their liberties, and did not regain them for many a long year.

In the wars which at that time were incessantly raging in Italy, there was a battle at Pavia between the French under their king, Francis the First, and the Germans under skilful generals serving the Emperor Charles. The latter won, and Francis the First was taken prisoner, having lost, as he said, all but honor. He was shut up in a castle at Madrid, and was there so harshly treated by Charles's jailers that his health gave way, and he nearly died. Fearful lest he should die on his hands, Charles released him after a captivity of a year. He was escorted by horsemen to the river Andaye, which separates France from Spain. When the river was reached, eight Spanish gentlemen with the king entered a boat on the Spanish side, and eight French gentlemen came out in a boat on the French side; the boats met in the middle of the river, Francis jumped into the French boat, landed, and mounted a horse, shouting, "I am yet a king."

As he had just stated in writing that he intended to break the promises he had made in order to induce Charles to release him, I hardly think that his statement of his losses at Pavia was quite correct. The pope, however, said he was quite right, and absolved him from his bargain.

Charles the First reigned thirty years after the release of his prisoner Francis. But the story of these years is one endless succession of intrigues, wars, treaties made and treaties broken, in which I do not think you could take much interest, and I will leave you to find them in larger books than this. Charles reigned over so vast a realm that trouble was always breaking out somewhere or other, and the emperor-king had to go journeying to set matters to rights. He was never still for a month at a time. He lived on the high-roads and the seas. He married in 1526 a beautiful girl of the reigning house of Portugal; the wedding was celebrated with pomp and splendor in the lovely town of Seville. But the bride saw little of her husband.

In these thirty years he visited Spain many times, but never succeeded in making the Spaniards like him. He never saw Spain except when he wanted money, and the Spaniards raged when they saw their hard-earned wages taken from them to pay troops in Germany or Italy or Flanders. If the nobles had stood by the cities when the latter rebelled in 1518 they might have held their own against the king; but they had taken his side, and he requited them by forbidding them to send deputies to the Cortes of the fueros. By setting nobles against people he was enabled to tax both classes unmercifully.

His endless labors broke him down at last, and in 1556, when he was fifty-six years old, he gave up his throne to his son Philip, and retired to a monastery at Yuste, in Estramadura. It was a lovely spot, high up in the mountains; the air was pure, and the days and nights cool; groves of lemon and myrtle and walnuts surrounded the monastery; from seats under their shades the ex-king could look over a wide stretch of rich plain, dotted with gardens and gaudy flowers.

Though he was in retirement, the retirement was splendid. Handsome tapestries hung on the walls, and against these fine paintings were suspended. He was served on silver plate. He had sixteen different robes of silk and velvet, many of them trimmed with ermine. Fifty gentlemen, chiefly Flemings, waited upon him. His time he spent in wood-carving, and in making watches and clocks and ingenious toys.


Charles the First

He was a voracious eater, and he loved rich food. Before he got up he ate part of a potted capon, with a sauce of sugar, milk, and spice. At noon he had a regular dinner, and a supper at six, at which a variety of dishes were served. In the evening, before going to bed, he ate a plate of anchovies, or some other savory food. His orders to his cook were to vary his diet; the servant once complained that he did not know what new dish to serve, unless he prepared a fricassee of watches. In the morning he drank iced-beer. At his meals he preferred Rhine wine, of which he consumed a quart at a sitting. You will not be surprised to hear that he was troubled with gout and indigestion.

He was a careful observer of the forms of religion, and was indeed a fanatical bigot, who believed that all mankind should go to the same church under penalty of death. As his end approached, his intolerance increased with his superstition. He drew a will bidding his successors east out heresy. He said he was sorry he had spared Luther.

The Archbishop of Toledo, Carranza, better known as the Black Friar, came to hear him confess, and to give him absolution. At the last, the archbishop held a silver crucifix before the dying king, who cried "Now it is time," and closed his eyes forever with a long-drawn sigh.

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