Freelance Spain
Royal Centennial

The year 2000 marks the fifth centennial of the birth of Spain's King Carlos I - known to the rest of the world as Emperor Charles the Fifth

Charles was the grandson of Spain's "Reyes Católicos", Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, known in history for conquering Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain; expelling the Jews from Spain; and sponsoring Christopher Columbus's voyage, all in the same year, 1492.

Charles was born on February 24 1500 in Ghent, Flanders. Charles's mother was Fernando and Isabel's daughter, the deranged Juana la Loca (Joan the Mad). She had married Prince Phillip "The Handsome" of Burgundy, but in 1506, when Charles was six, the goodlooking consort died. Juana took to touring Spain with her dead husband's body, as visionary monk had led her to believe her husband would revive. The coffin was opened every so often to check, until the late Phillip was finally buried and Charles's mother retired into seclusion in the town of Tordesillas in central Spain, where she would remain until her death half a century later.

Charles, meanwhile, had remained in Burgundy for his education. When Fernando died in 1516, the sixteen-year-old Charles became heir to the Aragonese throne, as well as regent of Castile due to his mother's inability to govern. A year after King Fernando's death Charles sailed for Spain with a fleet of 40 ships, arriving at Santander on the northern Spanish coast, then set out for the castle at Tordesillas to visit his mother.

Charles received a chilly reception in Spain, being a foreigner who spoke no Spanish. Spaniards also objected to the Flemish aides who were appointed to high office. The Castillian parliament did not recognize him as king, but only as co-ruler with his mother. Members of the nobility promoted a tax revolt, known as the Revolt of the Comuneros, which dragged on until 1521.

When Charles was 19, the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I (Charles's paternal grandfather) died, and Charles was elected as the Holy Roman Emperor, controlling a vast empire that included most of the Iberian peninsula along with Spain's possessions in the New World, parts of Italy and France, the Low Countries, Austria, Bohemia and parts of Germany.

Charles ruled Spain for forty years, but only spent sixteen of them in Spain. War, especially with France, kept him occupied elsewhere, as did the struggle against the rising tide of Protestantism in northern Europe. The Turkish Empire, ruled by Suleiman the Magnificent, also posed a continuous threat to Charles's Mediterranean possessions, including the Spanish coast. The period also coincided with some of the great Spanish conquests in Mexico and Peru.

In Charles's absence, Spain was administered by Francisco de los Cobos, the finance minister, and the country enjoyed relative peace and prosperity in spite of its ruler's embroilments elsewhere. Two of Spain's most controversial monuments date from Charles's reign: the Palace of Carlos V in Granada, a brilliant Renaissance work but incongruous in its setting, the Alhambra (part of the famous Moorish palace was demolished to make way for the new edifice) and, even more unfitting, the cathedral which was erected in the middle of Cordoba's mosque (even Charles himself is said to have been outraged at the result when he saw it).

In fact, Charles was king of Castille for only nine months - from the death of his mother in April 1555, to his abdication in 1556 in favor of his son, who became Spain's King Phillip the Second. After a lifetime of international warfare and overindulging in beer (he was addicted to the drink, and one of the first laws passed in Spain when he arrived was to ensure the purity of the local beer) the gout-ridden Charles was carried in a litter to a peaceful valley in the north of the province of Cáceres in western Spain, where a small royal resdidnce was built for him adjoining the Monastery of Yuste. There, he spent his last days fishing or trying to synchronize his sizeable collection of clocks (he is said to have exclaimed once, "How could I have united all my dominions if I cannot even make these clocks strike the hour together?"). He died on September 21 1558, at age 58.

See also: 
"Heaven can wait" by Robert Latona, about Queen Isabel.
"The First Europeans" by Mark Little.
"Royal Centennial" by Mark Little, about King Carlos I.


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