Charles - Struggling for Survival



Age of 22 ruler of 2 territories. Most sig ruler in Europe

Perceived a visitor rather than monarch - made amends by keeping in touch via courier

Acutely aware of alternative faiths - failed to suppress Luther in Germany but determined wouldn't spill into Spain. Removed Erasmian scholars from unis

Elevation to HRE accidental rather than intentional

HRE difficult - fractured political condition (300 states)

Maltby: Although size of HRE created problems, diifficult for princes to form a united front

Historians: vast role of HRE meant he was never really in control. Had to rely on his son as Regent

Maland: hoped that 'as a busy Spanish king he might leave German affairs to his younger brother Ferdinand'

Became less democratic in the 1530s, 1540s and 1550s when faced with range of problems

Treaty of Ausburg 1555- compromise to religion

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Charles as an Absentee Monarch

In Spain: 1533 to 1535, 1536 to 1538, 1538 to 1539, 1541 to 1543, 1556 to 1558. Only 6 years out of a possible 20. Needed to spend time in Empire to establish relationship with Princes

Fortunate with strong Spanish system - trustworthy officals

No fixed Spanish capital and councils still followed King/Regent on progress - Cobos at Simancas

Admiral of C: 'protracted absences... is a thing to which your subjects can hardly reconcile themselves'.

Chose mainly Spainards for court postions

Cortes of C became more able to bargain with monarchy after agreement made with them in 1534 Madrid that alcabala and tercias reales = set figure (encabezamiento). Amount collected from this only rose by 2.5% (1536 to 1548). By 1550 accounted for 70% taxes collected

Cortes had right to refue impose increases on taxes. 1553 prices rising by 33%, amount tax collected only risen by 21% (monarchy had less to spend)

Taxes heavily supplemented by state borrowing via juros. Necessary when income fell drastically short of expenditure (1530s and 1540s). Repayment took a lot of revenue (36% 1522 and 68% 1556)

1546 Cobos concerned about growing financial difficulties

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Charles as an Absentee Monarch cont

International bankers charged high rates of interest - reached 48.8% by 1550s

Asiento - contracts whereby banker led money to gov with the expectation they'd be reinbursed when next treasure fleet came in

Mulgan: bullion 'poisoned chalice' as increased coinage in circulation - those selling raised prices to acquire more coinage

Bullion exported from Spain and casued inflation in Northern Europe

Luis Ortiz: 'real wealth came... from labour and higher output' not bullion

Became difficult to control

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Charles as an Absentee Monarch cont

Conflict with Cortes

Not broken enirely free from crown control

Needs of crown for finance gave them oppurtunity to 'flex their muscles' (McClive)

C Cortes held in Toledo 1538 tax on food requested - when not granted, Cortes was dismissed. Cardinal Tavera 'your lordships are not required any longer'

Elliott: Cortes turned into a 'rubber stamp' (change as demands for 'redress of grievances' not automatically accepted and pay up with the min of negotiation)

Charles only managed to increase tax by 50% whereas prices risen by 100%

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Philip as Regent from 1543

Charles wrote out copious instructions to help him - only 16.

  • 'Give special care to finance, which is today the most important department of the state'
  • 'Trust the Duke of Alva as commader-in-chief'

Philip conscientious and kept father informed - also critical and concerned about subjects. 1545, regarding ordinary people, 'they are unable to pay their rents since the lack of means, and the prisons are full'. 'common people... reduced to such distress'

Had excellent support from from Cobos (previously worked with F), audiencias and appointments such as Perez

Population tripled between 1534 and 1561

New tax sisa put forward 1538 to solve gov revenue problems (raised on food and everyone liable to pay it) - nobles refused

Gov mainly relied on - taxes raised from ordianry folk (e.g. servicios), sale of juros or gov bonds (slow to come in), borrowing

Charles borrowers 39 million ductas to repay the interest. 1543 repayments accounted for 23-65% revenue. Least 40% went straight to German bankers. 1557 Philip suspended all payments from C treasury

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Abdication of Charles 1556

Result of 'apathy and despair' - concerning problems such as spread of Protestantism. Length of struggle (fighting it since 1520s - weary)

1545 most of north-east and north-west Germany= protestant (even archbishop Elctor of Cologne looked as if he might switch)

2 kingdoms heavy burden despite some responsibility given to son and wife (late 1540s). Didnt want Spain to be sidelined and didn't want fmaily's power & authority to diminsh in EU. Wanted Ferdinand to suceed as HRE (already elected King of Romans 1531)

Philip and Mary Tudor's marriage not successful - no heir or rights to rule England

1548-49 Philip accepted as father's heir to Netherlands

Francis I of France agreed not to help Protestants despite Charles being enemy. Bought off Maurice of Saxony

1547 Protestants in HRE severly defeated at Battle of Muhlberg

Abdication came as suprise to contemporaries. Pope: 'strangest thing to ever happen'

Took almost a year to abdicate - Philip only didnt inherit Imperial Vicariate in Italy

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Difficulties created by Charle's Responsibilities

Expected to:

  • champion Christianity
  • defend customs, rights and priveleges of his territories
  • consult with appointed lay and military officals (when appropriate)
  • pritect and defend his territories from attack
  • secure sucession

Brought him into conflict rather than 'fostering peace'. 6 seperate conflicts e.g. Habsburg-Valois War which made French afraid Charles wanted 'universal monarchy'. Success but remained wary of French

Turks besieged Vienna 1529 - foothold in Balkans and Mediterranean

Conflicts continuous & diverted him from Spain gov, consumed resources, created heavy financial burden

Also generated respect and frear of Spain - considered one of most powerful EU states

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  • Chosen/elected by princes
  • Secular head of Christian world (partneship with Pope)
  • Could raise money and armies
  • Set agenda for meetings of Diet or parliament
  • Supreme legal authority
  • Could give honours, offices and titles to those who supported him


  • Princes powerful in their own states e.g. administered justice, held own courts
  • Princes belonged to one of 10 leagues that controlled law and order e.g. Schmalkaldic (Protestant)
  • Diet didn't meet regularly
  • No permenant army or system for raising taxes as well as no body existing that authority over whole empire
  • As economy of Germany declined, lesser nobles & knights teamed with more powerful nobles
  • Regency Council, although shortlived, made princes more resentful to Charles' power
  • Charles not always present in Germany
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Charles: 'to settle this matter, I am determined to use my kingdoms and dominon, my friends, my body, my life, my soul'.

1530 coronation tries to get Pope to agree on a General Council fo the Church to deal with some religious problems - Pope not interested in conciliation so Charles summoned Duet at Ausburg - neither side prepared to make concessions. Simply increased aggravtion and led to formation of Schmalkaldic league

Took noe effective action in suppressing Protestants - feared failure. Did pressure Pope for General Council although also pressured by France not to

1541 Diet at Regensburg to resolve issue once and for all. 2 months but collapsed as no common ground could be found

1546: Protestants feared empire forming military campaign and gathered forces; Charles allied with Eng, made peace with FRance and agreed Pope would provide troops to fight them

As Protestants grew in numbers, Turks waiting to attack, campaign scaled down to deal with them

Struggle lasted 1546-1555 and 1555 defeated at Muhlberg 1547 and terms for compromise set out in Interim of Ausburg 1558 - no offical agreement and Lutheranism survived

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Charles: 'My intention is not to go to war against Christians, but against the infidel'. Fight against Muslims = 'the thing most desired by us in this world' (1519)

Turks feared (exotic and different) and vast empire was envied. Non-Christian status, apparent greed for land and consequent threat to Mediterranean coast diversion that prevented Spain from other imperial ventures

On-land threat grew closer in 1520. Suleiman the Magnificent dangerously close to Vienna which besieged with approx 100,000 troops. Saved due to distance from Ottoman bases

Brother Ferdinand keen to pursue Turks but 1540 failed to gain Transylvania

20+ years of sporadic conflict resulted in limited gains but brought relative stability to the area

Turks more enlightened in treatment of peasantry than previous Christian rulers. Sultans removed obligations e.g. forced labour. In its place was poll tax (gave peasant greater security)

More threatening to EU at sea - 1516+ Barbarossa attacked Spain & Italy, 1529 seized Algiers (near southern coast), 1540 attack failed. Destroyed Spanish fleet near Ibiza. 1534 captured Tunis (reconquered although he escaped)

Allied with French 1536 but truce meant Spain allied with papacy & Venice

Kamen: conflict did have distinct effect on pre-eminence of Spain. Even struggles with Barbarossa successors (post 1546)

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Consequences of Charles' Responsibilities

  • Turks constant diversion from 1551 (attacks all the way through). French support of Ottomans isolated Spain but Malta retained. Although Turks remained constant issue, never gained complete control.
  • German Protestant princes had alliance with French 1552 (Treaty of Chambord)
  • Pope anxious of Charles' growing power due tot hreat to papacy therefore less cooperative about Church reform
  • Loyalty of Protestant cause not diminshed throughout Germany
  • Attempts to impose Augsburg Interim raised objections amongst both sides
  • Maurice of Saxony changed sides again 155, 1552 forced Charles to leave empire
  • Charles short of money. By 1555 borrowed 29 million ducats at high interest

Explanation of failure of HRE:

  • Too many responsibilities and too little power
  • Protestant nor Catholics willing to make concessions to another
  • Policy sometimes confusing (concessions to Protestants kept changing - inconsistent)
  • Pursued military solution rather than peaceful one
  • Resources limited - shouldnt have pursued open war

Tried to enure same dilemma wasnt passed on to son

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