Duty and Dynasty

Duty & Dynasty

Extracts from the book ‘Charles V: Duty and Dynasty’

‘Charles V: Duty and Dynasty - The Emperor and his Changing World 1500-1558’ is available on Amazon

Extract One – Charles leaves his homeland for Spain

Extract One – Charles leaves his homeland for Spain.

As he set sail from Flushing (Vlissingen) on 8th September 1517 Charles must have experienced a cauldron of emotions. He was leaving his homeland for the first time, heading towards a new land whose language he did not speak and most of whose customs were unfamiliar. He knew that there would be many difficulties ahead, but he had been brought up for a life full of these very responsibilities and he had with him many of those who had shaped him since his early years. The voyage itself, with the danger of fires, shipwrecks and the ever present risk of disease, held fears for everyone. But he would also have been keen for new experiences and he knew that his future almost certainly held many more such journeys.

Charles was at first sea-sick, and then saw two of his ships destroyed by fire with over one hundred deaths. These had included some men known to him, though most of those lost were crew, along with some courtesans and stable boys who went down with their horses. The threat posed by privateers, though not as serious as in the Mediterranean, was one which could not be ignored, especially if a ship were to be isolated. Storms could easily break up a fleet and force an unplanned, unwelcome landing, as had happened to his parents eleven years before. The Channel was negotiated successfully but Charles’ worries increased as the fleet of 40 ships hit storms in the Bay of Biscay. The fleet was indeed scattered and his vessel, the Real, its sails decorated with religious and dynastic emblems, was blown off course, far to the west of Santander, their intended destination, landing at Villaviciosa on 18th September.

This was not the well planned arrival that one might expect for a new king. Charles and his immediate company had to undergo an arduous journey along the difficult northern coastline of Spain in order to reassemble his court. Many of the local inhabitants took these foreigners for pirates and ran to the hills for safety. This, together with the lack of suitable lodgings and the apparent reluctance of the party to make immediately for a city such as Leon or Burgos, deterred by rumours of epidemics, made for an inauspicious start in Spain. They made slow progress over the mountains and it was nearly six weeks before Charles reached his first destination, Tordesillas.

Extract Two: The Ottoman threat

It had been an expectation that the Holy Roman Emperor defended Europe against Muslim attacks, but Charles’ predecessors, Frederick III (r.1452-1492) and Maximilian I (r.1493-1519) had struggled to carry out this role effectively. With his extensive lands and large potential resources Charles was better placed to lead Christian forces, and others realised that Habsburg power was probably the best defence against the Ottomans. Charles recognised his responsibilities and was keen to fulfil them, after all this was the original purpose of the Order of the Golden Fleece which meant so much to him. As early as 1519, while in Barcelona, Charles spoke of the fight against the Muslims as being ‘the thing most desired by us in this world, in which we intend to employ all our realms’. He consistently stated that it was his wish to live in peace with his neighbours and lead a crusade against the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire had expanded considerably during the 15th and early 16th centuries. Originating in north-western Anatolia under Osman I around 1300, by 1450 they had expanded to establish a firm base in south-eastern Europe, controlling modern day Bulgaria, Greece and parts of Romania and Albania. Byzantium (Constantinople), unaided by the rest of Europe, then fell to Sultan Mehmet II in 1453. He quickly added Serbia and the remainder of Romania and Albania. The Ottomans also challenged Venetian power in the eastern and central Mediterranean, taking major bases around the Greek coast, such as Coron (now Koroni) and Modon (Methoni), known as the ‘eyes of the Republic’. After a peace agreed in 1503 Venice had a major commercial interest in maintaining a peaceful coexistence with the Ottomans. Under Selim I the Ottoman focus was on expansion to the south and east. During his short reign (1512 – 1520) Syria, Palestine and Egypt were over-run.

As Charles had been establishing himself as king in Spain and as Holy Roman Emperor, a new ruler came to the throne in Istanbul. He was to challenge Charles’ very right to call himself ‘Emperor’. Suleiman became sultan in 1520 on the death of his father and was to rule for 46 years. Now known in the west as ‘the Magnificent’ and to Turks as ‘the Law-maker’, Suleiman had ambitions in both east and west. He refused to refer to Charles as anything but the ‘king of Spain’. Charles for his part always wrote about Suleiman and the Ottomans as ‘the Turk(s)’. A Venetian ambassador, after expressing the hope of welcoming Suleiman to his city in the future, was told ‘Certainly, but only after I have captured Rome’. Fortunately for Christian Europe Suleiman, like Charles, had other commitments and other challenges to deal with. He spent considerable time in each decade of his reign on campaigns against the Safavid dynasty in Persia (Iran) led by Shah Tahmasp. However, whenever his eastern border was secure, he was in a position to lead troops into Europe to seize control of Hungary and threaten Austria, while by sea his fleet posed a challenge throughout the Mediterranean. There were many parts of Europe where the people had good reason to be fearful.

Extract Three: Luther and the Diet of Worms

On 31st October 1517, shortly after Charles had first arrived in Spain, Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, where Frederick III (the Wise) Elector of Saxony had amassed many thousands of holy relics. In fact he probably sent the "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," to Archbishop Albert of Mainz, though he may also have pinned it to the church door. This detail is of little significance when compared with the eventual consequences of his action. The problems of the Holy Roman Empire were about to become intertwined with religious divisions sparked by Luther’s protest and it was to fall to Charles to deal with the on-going upheaval thus caused. By the time Charles was elected and then crowned as Emperor this challenge had become an open wound that was threatening to poison the religious framework which for centuries had been fundamental to the structure of society. As Emperor, one of the ‘twin pillars’ of the Church together with the Papacy, Charles believed that it was his duty to deal with this danger. …..

Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’Medici), who had been elected pope in 1513 on the death of Julius II, eventually issued a rebuttal of Luther’s beliefs in a papal bull of June 1520. Forty-one lines from Luther’s writings were condemned; he was ordered to recant or face excommunication. His writings were to be burnt. This did little to stem the growth of interest in his ideas. When a symbolic book burning was carried out in Mainz, students substituted other religious texts for Luther’s works and the papal nuncio, Hieronymous Aleander, unwittingly threw these into the flames to the amusement of many. Luther continued to criticise abuses of power and call for reforms, refusing to be silenced. ‘I prefer the wrath of the world to the Wrath of God; they can do no more than take my life’, he wrote, adding that ‘a prince is a rare bird in heaven’. When in January 1521 he was finally excommunicated Luther’s followers reacted by publicly burning the order. Once the Church had decided upon excommunication the responsibility for his arrest and punishment fell to the secular authorities, ultimately the Emperor. ……..

Although never intended to be the main issue facing Charles and the German princes as they assembled in Worms, the Diet is remembered as a major turning point in religious history. In the months leading up to this meeting Charles had to decide how to deal with the ‘turbulent priest’. He was clearly in two minds. Aleander argued that Luther should be outlawed immediately on the basis of his excommunication. Elector Frederick of Saxony, on the other hand, reminded Charles of his agreement not to outlaw subjects without giving them a hearing. Luther was required to attend the Diet and promised safe conduct to and from the meeting. Aleander responded by pointing out to Charles the danger of giving Luther such a prominent forum for his heretical views, with the risk of him gaining more support, and that only the pope could make judgement on such matters. Charles withdrew the invitation to Luther before the end of 1520. However, in February 1521, when Aleander put forward the motion to outlaw Luther, there was uproar in the Diet and it was demanded that he be given a hearing and the chance to recant. It was argued that there was the risk of widespread revolt if they failed to do so. Charles did not wish to over-rule the clear wish of the Diet and Luther was summoned to appear. ……..

This is one of the most famous meetings in European history. Luther arrived in Worms on 16th April. Great excitement and expectation was reported in much of the town. His appearance before the assembled Diet with Charles at its head on the 17th was a disappointment to many: those who supported him had expected a forceful defence of his views; Charles had expected him to back down. Instead he asked for time to think, and was permitted to withdraw until the next day. It seemed that the grand setting or the seriousness of his position had overwhelmed him. It was on the 18th that he made his stand. Despite the fact that the questions put to him were intended to prevent him from providing a full explanation of his beliefs, he ignored them and put his case with knowledge, skill and vigour, concluding with the words: ‘I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen’. In later propaganda, probably produced by Luther’s supporter Philip Melanchthon, this was reported as being the memorable and resounding: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen’.