|Youre here: Home » eDigg Biographies » Biographies A-F » Charles V. Of Germany|
Charles V. Of Germany
Charles V., who ruled over more kingdoms than any other European monarch before or since, who was the most powerful ruler of his century, and who, on the whole, used his great power wisely and well, was born at Ghent, February 24, 1500. His parents were the Archduke Philip, son of the Emperor Maximilian, and Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. To those united kingdoms Charles succeeded on the death of his grandfather Ferdinand, in 1516. The early part of his reign was stormy; a Flemish regency and Flemish ministers became hateful to the Spaniards, and their discontent broke out into civil war. The Castilian rebels assumed the name of The Holy League, and seemed animated by a spirit not unlike that of the English Commons under the Stuarts. Spain was harassed by these internal contests until 1522, when they were calmed by the presence of Charles, whose prudence and, we may hope, his humanity, put an end to the rebellion. He made some examples, but soon held his hand, with the declaration, that "too much blood had been spilt." An amnesty was more effectual than severities, and the royal authority was strengthened, as it will seldom fail to be, by clemency. Some of his courtiers informed him of the place where one of the ring leaders was concealed. His answer is worthy of everlasting remembrance: "You ought to warn him that I am here, rather than acquaint me where he is."
Charles V. on his way to the convent.
Charles, notwithstanding his victory at Pavia, did not invade France, but, as the price of freedom, he prescribed the harshest conditions to the captive king. At first they were rejected, but his haughty spirit and conscience were at length both reconciled to the casuistry that the fulfilment of forced promises may be eluded. Francis, therefore, consented to the treaty of Madrid, made in 1526, by which it was stipulated that he should give up his claims in Italy and the Low Countries; surrender the Duchy of Burgundy to Spain; and return into captivity if these conditions were not fulfilled in six weeks. When once at large, instead of executing the treaty, he formed a league with the Pope, the King of England, and the Venetians, to maintain the liberty of Italy. The Pope absolved him from his oaths, and he refused to return into Spain. The passions of the rival monarchs were now much excited, and challenges and the lie were exchanged between them. No duel was fought, nor probably intended; but the notoriety of the challenge went far to establish a false point of punctilio, we will not call it honor, among gentlemen, and single combats became more frequent than in the ages of barbarism.
In 1529, the course of these calamities was suspended by the treaty of Cambray, negotiated in person by two women. The Duchess of Angouleme and Margaret of Austria, governess of the Low Countries, met in that city, and settled the terms of pacification between the rival monarchs.
For Charles's honorable conduct on Luther's appearance before the diet of Worms, the reader may refer to the life of the reformer in the present volume. The cause of Lutheranism gained ground at the diet of Nuremberg; and if Charles had declared in favor of the Lutherans, all Germany would probably have changed its religion. As it was, the Reformation made progress during the war between the emperor and Clement VII. All that Charles acquired from the diet of Spire, in 1526, was to wait patiently for a general council, without encouraging novelties. In 1530, he assisted in person at the diet of Augsburg, when the Protestants (a name bestowed on the reformers in consequence of the protest entered by the Elector of Saxony and others at the second diet of Spire) presented their confession, drawn up by Melancthon, the most moderate of Luther's disciples. About this time Charles procured the election of his brother Ferdinand as king of the Romans, on the plea that, in his absence, the empire required a powerful chief to make head against the Turks. This might be only a pretence for family aggrandizement; but the emperor became seriously apprehensive lest the Lutherans, if provoked, should abandon the cause of Christendom, and policy therefore conceded what zeal would have refused. By a treaty concluded with the Protestants at Nuremberg, and ratified at Ratisbon in 1531, Charles granted them liberty of conscience till a council should be held, and annulled all sentences passed against them by the imperial chamber; on this they engaged to give him powerful assistance against the Turks.
In 1535, Muley Hassan, the exiled king of Tunis, implored Charles's aid against the pirate Barbarossa, who had usurped his throne. The emperor eagerly seized the opportunity of acquiring fame by the destruction of that pest of Spain and Italy. He carried a large army into Africa, defeated Barbarossa, and marched to Tunis. The city surrendered, being in no condition to resist, and while the conqueror was deliberating what terms to grant, the soldiery sacked it, committed the most atrocious violence, and are said to have massacred more than thirty thousand persons. This outrage tarnished the glory of the expedition, which was entirely successful. Muley Hassan was restored to his throne.
In 1536 a fresh dispute for the possession of the Milanese broke out between the King of France and the Emperor. It began with negotiation, artfully protracted by Charles, who promised the investiture, sometimes to the second, sometimes to the youngest, son of his formerly impetuous rival, whom he thus amused, while he took measures to crush him by the weight of his arms. But if misfortune had made the King of France too cautious, prosperity had inspired Charles with a haughty presumption, which gave the semblance of stability to every chimerical vision of pride. In 1536 he attempted the conquest of France by invading Provence; but his designs were frustrated by a conduct so opposite to the national genius of the French that it induced them to murmur against their general. Charles, however, felt by experience the prudence of those measures which sacrificed individual interests to the general good by making a desert of the whole country. Francis marked his impotent hatred by summoning the emperor before parliament by the simple name of Charles of Austria, as his vassal for the counties of Artois and Flanders. The charge was the infraction of the treaty of Cambray, the offence was laid as felony, to abide the judgment of the court of peers. On the expiration of the legal term, two fiefs were decreed to be confiscated. A fresh source of hostility broke out on the death of the young Dauphin of France, who was said to have been poisoned, and the king accused Charles V. of the crime. But there is neither proof nor probability to support the charge; and the accused could have no interest to commit the act imputed to him, since there were two surviving sons still left to Francis.
But the resources even of Charles were exhausted by his great exertions; arrears were due to his troops, who mutinied everywhere from his inability to pay them. He therefore assembled the Cortes, or states-general, of Castile, at Toledo, in 1539, stated his wants, and demanded subsidies. The clergy and nobility pleaded their own exemption and refused to impose new taxes on the other orders. Charles, in anger, dissolved the Cortes, and declared the nobles and prelates forever excluded from that body, on the ground that men who pay no taxes have no right to a voice in the national assemblies. But the people of Ghent made a more serious resistance to authority, on account of a tax which infringed their privileges. They offered to transfer their allegiance to Francis, who did not avail himself of the proposal, not from either conscientious or chivalrous scruples, but because his views were all centred in Milan; he therefore betrayed his Flemish clients to the emperor, in hopes of obtaining the investiture of the Italian duchy. By holding out the expectation of this boon, Charles obtained a safe-conduct for his passage through France into Flanders, whither he was anxious to repair without loss of time. His presence soon reduced the insurgents. The inhabitants of Ghent opened their gates to him on his fortieth birthday, in 1540; and he entered his native city, in his own words, "as their sovereign and their judge, with the sceptre and the sword." He punished twenty-nine of the principal citizens with death, the town with the forfeiture of its privileges, and the people by a heavy fine for the building of a citadel to coerce them. He broke his word with Francis by bestowing the Milanese on his own son, afterward Philip II.
Our limits will not allow of our detailing the circumstances of the emperor's calamitous expedition against Algiers; but his courage, constancy, and humanity in distress and danger, claim a sympathy for his misfortunes which is withheld from the selfish and wily career of his prosperity.
Francis devised new grounds for war, and allied himself with Sweden, Denmark, and the Sultan Soliman. This is the first instance of a confederacy with the North. But he had alienated the Protestants of Germany by his severe measures against the Lutherans, and Henry VIII. by crossing the marriage of his son Edward with Mary of Scotland, yet in her cradle. Henry therefore leagued with the emperor, who found it convenient to bury the injuries of Catherine of Aragon in her grave. The war was continued during the two following years with varying success: the most remarkable events were the capture of Boulogne by the English, and the great victory won by the French over the Imperialists at Cerisolles, Piedmont, in 1544. In the autumn of that year a treaty was concluded at Crespi, between Charles and Francis, involving the ordinary conditions of marriage and mutual renunciations, with the curious clause that both should make joint war against the Turks. In the same year the embarrassments created by the war, and the imminent danger of Hungary, increased the boldness of the German Protestants belonging to the league of Smalkald, and the emperor, while presiding at the diet of Spire, won them over by consenting to the free exercise of their religion.
The Catholics had always demanded a council, which was convened at Trent in 1545. The Protestants refused to acknowledge its authority, and the emperor no longer affected fairness toward them. In 1546 he joined Pope Paul III. in a league against them, by a treaty in terms contradictory to his own public protestations. Paul himself was so imprudent as to reveal the secret, and it enabled the Protestants to raise a formidable army in defence of their religion and liberties. But the Electors of Cologne and Brandenburg, and the Elector Palatine, resolved to remain neuter. Notwithstanding this secession, the war might have been ended at once, had the confederates attacked Charles while he lay at Ratisbon with very few troops, instead of wasting time by writing a manifesto, which he answered by putting the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse under the ban of the empire. He foresaw those divisions which soon came to pass by Maurice of Saxony's seizure of his cousin's electorate.
Delivered by the death of Francis in 1547, in which year Henry VIII. also died, from the watchful supervision of a jealous and powerful rival, and relieved from the fear of the Turks by a five years' truce, Charles was at liberty to bend his whole strength against the revolted princes of Germany. He marched against the Elector Frederick of Saxony, who was defeated at Mulhausen, taken prisoner, and condemned to death by a court-martial composed of Italians and Spaniards, in contempt of the laws of the empire. The sentence was communicated to the prisoner while playing at chess; his firmness was not shaken, and he tranquilly said, "I shall die without reluctance, if my death will save the honor of my family and the inheritance of my children." He then finished his game. But his wife and family could not look at his death so calmly; at their entreaty he surrendered his electorate into the emperor's hands. The other chief of the Protestant league, the Landgrave of Hesse, was also forced to submit, and detained in captivity, contrary to the pledged word of the emperor; who, fearless of any further resistance to his supreme authority, convoked a diet at Augsburg in 1548. At that assembly Maurice was invested with Saxony, and the emperor, in the vain hope of enforcing a uniformity of religious practice, published by his own authority a body of doctrine called the "Interim," to be in force till a general council should be assembled. This necessarily was unsatisfactory to both parties, but its observance was enforced by a master with whom terror was the engine of obedience.
These measures, however, did not preserve tranquillity long in Germany. Maurice of Saxony and the Elector of Brandenburg urged the deliverance of the Landgrave of Hesse, as having made themselves sureties against violence to his person. Charles answered by absolving them from their pledges. The Protestants, of course, charged him as arrogating the same spiritual authority with the popes. And Maurice, offended at the slight put upon him, directed his artful policy to the humiliation of Charles. He had compelled his subjects to conform to the Interim by the help of the timid Melancthon, who was no longer supported by the firmness of Luther. On the other hand, he had silenced the clamors of the more sturdy by a public avowal of his zeal for the Reformation. In the meantime the diet of Augsburg, completely at the emperor's devotion, had named him general of the war against Magdeburg, which had been placed under the ban of the empire for opposition to the Interim. He took that Lutheran city, but by private assurances regained the good-will of the inhabitants. He also engaged in a league with France, but still wore the mask. He even deceived the able Granville, Bishop of Arras, afterward cardinal, who boasted that "a drunken German could never impose on him;" yet was he of all others most imposed on. At last, in 1552, Maurice declared himself; and Henry II. of France published a manifesto, assuming the title of "Protector of the liberties of Germany and its captive princes." He began with the conquest of the three bishoprics of Toul, Baden, and Metz. In conjunction with Maurice he had lain a plan for surprising Charles at Innspruck, and getting possession of his person, and the daring attempt had almost succeeded. Charles was forced to escape by night during a storm, in a paroxysm of gout, and was carried across the Alps in a litter. These disputes were adjusted in 1555, at the diet of Augsburg, by the solemn grant of entire freedom of worship to the Protestants. The King of France was abandoned by his allies, and scarcely named in the treaty.
Henry resolved to defend his acquisition of the three bishoprics, and Charles to employ his whole force for their recovery. The Duke of Guise made adequate preparations for the defence of Metz, the siege of which the emperor was compelled to raise after sixty-five days spent in fruitless efforts, with the loss of 30,000 men by skirmishes and battles, and by diseases incident to the severity of the season. "I perceive," said he, "that Fortune, like other females, forsakes old men, to lavish her favors on the young." This sentiment probably sunk deeper into his reflections than might be inferred from the sarcastic terms in which it was clothed: for in the year 1556, after various events of war, alternately calamitous to the subjects of both nations, he astonished Europe by his abdication in favor of his son. In an assembly of the states at Brussels, he addressed Philip in a speech which melted the audience into tears. The concluding passage, as given by Robertson, is worth transcribing. "Preserve an inviolable regard for religion; maintain the Catholic faith in its purity; let the laws of your country be sacred in your eyes; encroach not on the rights and privileges of your people; and if the time should ever come when you shall wish to enjoy the tranquillity of private life, may you have a son endowed with such qualities that you can resign your sceptre to him with as much satisfaction as I give up mine to you!" Charles retired into a monastery, where he died after more than two years passed in deep melancholy, and in practices of devotion inconsistent with sound health, when only between fifty-eight and fifty-nine years of age. His activity and talents had been the theme of universal admiration, the ardor of his ambitious policy had been extreme, and his knowledge of mankind profound; but he should have followed up the objects of his high aspirations by a straighter road. His glory would have been truly enviable had he devoted his efforts to the happiness of his subjects, instead of harassing their minds by dissensions, and mowing down their lives by hundreds of thousands in war.
To the statesman or the politician the history of this period is an inexhaustible fund of instruction and interest, and to the general reader it is rendered more than usually attractive by the almost dramatic contrast of character among the principal actors in the scene. Francis seems to have been the representative of the expiring school of chivalry; Charles was not the representative, but the founder of the modern system of state policy; Henry was the representative of ostentation, violence, and selfishness, to be found in all ages.
|Copyright © 1999-2008 eDigg.com. All rights reserved.|