TW Viewpoint | The Restoration of Rome Part 4 - Charles V

December 06, 2019 | Michael Heykoop

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At a time when bloodlines determined kings and kingdoms could be acquired through marriage, it was predictable that someone would find a way to hack the system. Through generations of inbreeding and politically motivated marriages, the house of Habsburg cobbled together one of the largest, yet least unified empires the world has ever known.

The power held by the Habsburgs would peak in the 1520s and 1530s under Charles V, it's helpful to begin several generations earlier, in 1356, when Charles IV issued a decree known as the "Golden Bull" of 1356 distancing Germany, more formally known as the Holy Roman Empire, from the influence of the Papacy. The relationship between European ruler and the papacy had been essential to previous empires lead by Charlemagne and Otto as explained in Parts 2 and 3 of our Restoration of Rome series. This Bull established how German kings would be chosen for the next 450 years.

The "king of the Romans" was thereafter to be elected by the majority vote of seven electoral princes. By omitting any mention of the papacy, the document virtually nullified papal claims to intervene or confirm an election.

More than 150 years later, in 1520, Charles V is crowned King in Aachen Germany. Charles had begun his political career 5 years prior, assuming rule over the Netherlands as the Duke of Burgundy. A year later, following the death of his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand II, Charles was proclaimed king of Aragon and Castile, eventually controlling all of Spain and its territories in the New World. After the death of his paternal grandfather, Emperor Maximilian I, Charles was elected King of Germany.

He now controlled an immense portion of Europe and beyond. However, there was little to unify this emerging empire. What common purpose could be held by conquistadors in the New World, princes in Germany and noblemen in Spain or the Netherlands? At this time, Charles assumes the title of Roman Emperor but was not yet crowned as such by the papacy—the rift established with the Golden Bull still existed. Charles recognized that religion stood as his best opportunity to create a cohesive empire.

"A fervent Roman Catholic, Charles hoped to unite all Europe in a Christian Empire."

However, a continent-wide crisis was fermenting which would cause both Church and State to renew their historic interdependence.

Only a month after Charles V moved to Spain, Martin Luther nails a document to door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. Europe was thrown into crisis. Fast forward just 3 years and Luther is excommunicated. Having added ruler of the German states to his impressive resume, Charles seeks to end the crisis by calling Luther to the Diet of Worms.

Charles promises Luther safe passage and an opportunity to defend his ideas. It was his hope that Luther would back down.

After Luther refused to recant the substance of his writings and left the Diet, Charles drew up the Edict of Worms. With it, he rejected Luther's doctrines and essentially declared war on Protestantism. His efforts in fighting Protestantism were not enough to keep Pope Clement VIII on his side. More concerned with maintaining his own fragile rule over parts of Italy, Clement shifted his support between Charles and his primary rival, King Francis I of France, eventually siding with the French King in an attempt to slow the spread of Habsburg rule.

Uniting his empire under the banner of Christianity would prove difficult with the head of the Catholic Church supporting his enemy. In 1527 Spanish and German troops sacked Rome.

"The pope, having surrendered to the mutinous troops, was ready for compromise. . . . having made peace with Charles, met him in Bologna; there he crowned him emperor in February 1530. It was to be the last time that a Holy Roman Emperor was crowned by a pope."

Charles was a guiding influence on the counter-reformation, which sought to rectify some of the issues in the Catholic Church which had led to the reformation. While this would greatly alter the Church, his dream of re-unification would not be achieved.

Overextended, in debt and facing external threats both from European rivals such as France and the rise of the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Habsburg Empire had reached its zenith and began to wane. Charles would abdicate the throne dividing his empire between his son and brother.

Charles was not the first, nor would he be the last, to attempt binding ill-fitting divisions of Europe into a type of revived Roman Empire. While religion had previously been seen as the ideal unifying agency, it too had become a divisive one. Any future government attempts to unite the continent will have to find a way to overcome the divisive force of religion.

Watch The Restoration of Rome Part 4 - Charles V on YouTube at Tomorrow's World Viewpoint