Romance of Spanish History - John S. C. Abbott

Charles V and His Son Philip

(From 1516 A.D. to 1558 A.D.)

Reign of Charles V.—Election as Emperor.—His melancholy Temperament.—Death of his Mother.—His Abdication.—The Monastery of St. Just.—Cloister Life.—The mock Burial.—Death.—Wretchedness of the Nations.—Early Life of Philip.—His Marriage with Mary of Portugal.—Death of Mary.—Marriage with Mary of England.—Joylessness of the bridal Couple.—Nuptial Rtes.—Philip summoned to the Abdication.

Charles V was sixteen years of age when the united sceptre of Castile and Aragon, with the kingdom of Naples and immense dependencies in the New World, passed into his hands. Though nominally he shared the throne with his mother, yet, in consequence of her incapacity, he was the real sovereign. He had previously, through his father, inherited that portion of the dukedom of Burgundy which comprehended Franche Comte and the Netherlands. Three years after, when but nineteen years of age, upon the death of Maximilian, he was elected Emperor of Germany. Then, for the first time, appeared upon the globe an empire of which it could be said that the sun never set within the borders of its dominions.

Under the long reign of Charles V. but little transpired in Spain worthy of special notice. Charles V. spent but little time in the peninsula. He was born in the Netherlands; his early attachments were there: he was more familiar with the German than with the Spanish language; and throughout all his reign, as in subsequent times, he has been renowned rather as Emperor of Germany than as King of Spain. Indeed he regarded the crown which he inherited from his mother as chiefly valuable for the resources it afforded him in the prosecution of his ambitious plans. Consequently the wonderful career of Charles V. does not justly pertain to Spanish history. The closing events of his life, however, must be recorded.

Charles V. undoubtedly inherited from his mother a disordered intellect. Joanna terminated her sad life of delirium and of gloom on the 4th of April, 1555. About six months afterwards, in the month of October, Charles resolved to abdicate the throne. He had not unfrequently, during his long reign of thirty-nine years, developed traits of character indicative of insanity. When but thirty years of age he was attacked by the gout, and rendered so helpless that he nearly lost the use of his limbs. The deepest melancholy oppressed his mind. He secluded himself from all society, spent his whole time in reading books of devotion, and for several months refused to pay any attention to public affairs.

The death of his mother affected him deeply. He imagined that he continually heard her voice calling upon him to follow her. His religious interests absorbed his thoughts. His shattered health led him to feel that death could not be far distant. Though but fifty-five years of age, he was prematurely old, worn down with care, toil, and disappointment. In one of his hours of weariness and dejection, when travelling in Spain, he came upon the Convent of St. Justus, in Estramadura. It was beautifully situated in a vale secluded from all the bustle of life. Forest-covered hills encircled it, and a rivulet murmured by its massive walls. Silence and solitude reigned there unbroken. As the world-weary monarch gazed upon the enchanting scene he exclaimed, "Behold a lovely retreat for another Diocletian!"

For years he had contemplated resigning the crown and seeking these cloistered solitudes in which to prepare for his latter end. After the death of his mother, and when his son Philip had attained sufficient age to assume the cares of empire, Charles decided upon the act of abdication. The imposing ceremony took place at Brussels, on the 25th of October, 1555, in the great hall of the royal palace. Careful arrangements were made to invest the scene with dramatic effect. The large apartment was gorgeously furnished for the occasion, and was crowded with the dignitaries of the realm. A platform about five feet high was erected at one end of the room, upon which there was placed a throne for the emperor, and other seats for the great lords.

After attending mass, Charles, accompanied by his son Philip and a numerous retinue, entered the hall. Charles was so infirm that he needed the double support of a staff and the arm of the Prince of Orange. He was dressed in deep mourning for his mother. In a somewhat boastful speech he recapitulated the acts of his administration, his wars, his weary journeys, his innumerable cares. In conclusion, he said:

"While my health enabled me to perform my duty, I cheerfully bore the burden. But as my constitution is now broken by an incurable distemper, and my infirmities admonish me to retire, the happiness of my people influences me more than the ambition of reigning. Instead of a decrepit old man, tottering on the brink of the grave, I transfer your allegiance to a sovereign in the prime of life, vigilant, sagacious, active, and enterprising. With respect to myself; if I have committed any error in the course of a long administration, forgive me, and impute it to my weakness, not to my intention. I shall ever retain a grateful sense of your fidelity and attachment, and your welfare shall be the great object of my prayers to Almighty God, to whom I now consecrate the remainder of my days."

As the emperor, deadly pale, and exhausted by his efforts, sank back upon his seat, exclaiming, in broken accents, while he gazed upon his people, "God bless you! God bless you!" "nothing was to be heard throughout the hall," says an eye-witness, "but sobs and ill suppressed moans." Charles V., having thus descended to the rank of a private gentleman, embarked with a numerous retinue, in a fleet of fifty sail, for Spain. The passage was stormy. On the 28th of January, 1556, he landed at Loredo, in Biscay. As he stepped upon the shore he prostrated himself upon the ground, exclaiming, "Naked I came into the world, and naked I return to thee, thou common mother of mankind." Then, holding a crucifix before him, with streaming eyes, and all unmindful of the group around, he uttered an impassioned prayer for the divine guidance and blessing. By slow stages, and with some delays, Charles reached the convent.

There is considerable diversity in the accounts transmitted to us of the cloister life of Charles V. The narrative given by Robertson, carefully collated from original manuscripts, is different, in some of the details, from those given by Prescott and Motley, who were no less painstaking and careful in their investigations. We tell the story here in accordance with the best evidence which can be found.

The emperor, in preparation for his retirement, had caused a small building, two stories high, with four low rooms of moderate size on each floor, to be erected against the south wall of the monastery. The house faced the south, with a hall passing through the centre. Piazzas ran along the east and west sides. A window of the chamber which Charles occupied opened into the chapel of the monastery, so that Charles could attend mass without leaving his chamber, or even his bed.

The rooms were comfortably furnished, and the emperor's wardrobe was ample. His bed-chamber was tapestried, in mourning, with black cloth of the finest texture. Large clocks were in the rooms, and the emperor was not only served from silver plate, but the meanest utensils of his chamber and kitchen were also silver. A choice collection of paintings adorned the walls. A pleasant garden, with a high inclosure, which sheltered the recluse from all observation, invited the emperor, beneath those sunny skies, to shady walks, over-arched with chestnut, walnut, and other trees of dense foliage, and to the culture of fruits and flowers. Though fond of art, Charles was not of a literary turn of mind, and his library was meagre, consisting mostly of books of devotion. The retinue which accompanied him to this retreat consisted of about fifty persons.

As Charles entered the chapel of this his last earthly home, the whole brotherhood chanted the Te Deem. The emperor then knelt in prayer before the altar, and all the monks gathered reverentially around him. Charles, who could not lay aside his life-long airs of a sovereign, received them graciously, and expressed himself as well-pleased with the arrangements which had been made for his accommodation. Indeed Charles was still officially emperor. Though the throne of Spain had passed entirely from his hands, renunciation of the imperial crown of Germany had not taken effect, as the Diet had not yet held its session.

The life of the emperor in the convent was methodical and monotonous. He attended mass every morning in the chapel, and dined at an early hour at the refectory of the convent. After dinner, which with its conversation generally occupied much time, the emperor listened to the reading of some book of devotion. As the evening drew on, he listened in the chapel to the preaching of a sermon from one of three or four clergymen who, in consequence of their eloquence, had been brought to the convent for the benefit of the emperor. He was attentive to all the fasts and festivals of the Church, and imposed upon himself vigorous penances. He scourged himself with such severity of flagellation that the cords of the whip were stained with his blood. No woman was allowed to approach within two bow-shots of the gates of the convent under penalty of two hundred stripes.

Being naturally fond of mechanical pursuits, Charles beguiled many hours in carving puppets and constructing children's playthings, and even some articles of household utility. He was much interested in the mechanism of watches, and his rooms were filled with time-pieces of every variety of construction. It is said that when he found how impossible it was to make any two of them keep precisely the same time, he exclaimed upon the folly of attempting to compel all men to think alike upon the subject of religion. Occasionally some of the nobles residing in the vicinity were admitted to the presence of the emperor, and he conversed with them with interest and animation. Charles had two sisters, dowager-queens of France and Hungary, both of whom visited him in his retirement.

There was also a bright little boy, twelve years of age, in the imperial household, who was an object of especial interest and attachment to Charles. This child, who afterwards obtained renown as Don John of Austria, it was subsequently ascertained was a natural son of the emperor, though at the time the fact was known only to one member of the imperial family. It seems to be pretty well established, though such has not been the general impression, that Charles took a lively interest in the progress of public affairs. His son Philip constantly consulted him upon great questions of public policy. The emperor's daughter Joanna was appointed regent of Castile. She resided at a distance of about fifty leagues from the convent, and kept up a constant correspondence with her father, soliciting his advice. The income which Charles settled upon himself was twenty thousand ducats (about $40,000), payable quarterly in advance.

Charles, a very severe sufferer from general debility, was quite helplessly crippled, and endured the severest pangs of the gout. Under the pressure of this bodily suffering and perhaps of constitutional gloom, inherited from his insane mother, he sank gradually into a state of the profoundest dejection. It was evident to all that his life could not be much prolonged. Under these circumstances he adopted the extraordinary idea of rehearsing his own funeral. Quite different accounts are given of the details of this act. Indeed modern researches have thrown doubt upon the whole statement. But the act was in harmony with the character of Charles; and it seems incredible that such a narrative as a mere fabrication, could have obtained such credence. Some represent the emperor as placed in the coffin, and thus passing through the whole ceremony until deposited in the tomb. Others represent him attending as a spectator, muffled in a dark mantle. The mock burial, as usual in the monastery, took place at night. The chapel was lighted with tapers, and hung in black. The monks were all present in their monastic garb. A huge catafalque shrouded in black, in the centre of the chapel, supported the coffin, which held, or was supposed to hold, the body of the emperor. The death-knell was tolled by the convent bells, requiems were chanted by the choir, and the burial service was performed.

After the service was closed, and the procession had retired from the chapel, the emperor, either rising, in his shroud, from his coffin, or emerging from some place of concealment knelt before the dimly-lighted altar in prayer, and then, exhausted by emotion and chilled with sepulchral cold, returned from his burial to his chamber, to pass the remainder of the night in prayer. The shock of this solemn scene was too much for the old monarch's enfeebled frame and weakened mind. He was soon after seized by a fever, and it became evident that his end was approaching.

When informed of this, he expressed much satisfaction, saying that it was what he had long desired. The devout, prayerful, shall we say conscientious bigot, with dying breath urged his son Philip to extirpate heresy from his realms by all the energies of the Inquisition, without favor or mercy to any one. "So," says he, "you shall have my blessing, and the Lord shall prosper all your undertakings." Philip fulfilled these injunctions with cruelty which one would think must have flooded with tears the eyes of angels. The emperor found consolation in having passages of Scripture read to him: the ceremony of extreme unction was performed, and he partook, after it, of the communion, saying that it was a good provision for the long journey upon which he was about to set out. He knelt at his bedside, uttering such expressions of contrition, and pleading so earnestly for the forgiveness of his sins, as to bring tears to the eyes of all who were present.

On the 21st of September, two hours after midnight, the emperor perceived that the death-summons had come. "Now is the time," he exclaimed. A lighted taper was placed in his right hand. With his left he feebly held a silver crucifix. The empress had held it in her dying hour. Both earthly and heavenly love were blended in the gaze which he fixed upon the sacred emblem. The archbishop was reading the solemn words of the Psalm, "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord," when the dying man, slightly raising his head, pressed the crucifix to his lips, and saying, in feeble accents, "Yes, Jesus," sank back dead. It is well that God, who is to pass judgment upon such a character, is infinite in wisdom and in love. Human judgment is here quite bewildered. But one thing is certain. As with Charles V., so with every other man, there can be no true repose in death, but in the well-grounded assurance that one's peace is made with God.

Charles V. died the 21st of September, 1558, in the fifty-ninth year of his age. His pathway through life, along the summits of power, was ever enveloped in clouds and storms. He could seldom have experienced an emotion of joy. In resigning his crown, he said to his son, "I leave you a heavy burden; for since my shoulders have borne it I have not passed one day exempt from disquietude."

Indeed there could have been but little happiness for any one in those dark days of oppression and blood. Europe was as the crater of a volcano, ever in violent eruption. The Turks were advancing upon Europe by the valley of the Danube, sparing neither age nor sex, burning the cities and devastating the country. The Christian nations were also engaged in incessant wars with one another, baron against baron, duke against duke, king against king. From all lands an almost incessant wail of misery ascended to the ear of God.

The son of Charles V., Philip II., who succeeded his father upon the throne of Spain, was born at Valladolid, in 1527. His mother Isabella was the daughter of Emanuel, King of Portugal. She died when thirty-six years of age. Charles V., who was but four years her senior, was thrown into an agony of grief by her death, and testified to the devotion of his attachment by never marrying again. All contemporaneous history describes Isabella as worthy of this love. She seems to have been one of the noblest of women, Philip, at the time of his mother's death, was but twelve years old. In December, 1543, Philip married Mary, daughter of the King of Portugal. His destined bride, whom Philip had never yet seen, left Portugal for Castile, accompanied by the Archbishop of Lisbon and a numerous train of nobles. A splendid embassy was sent out to meet her, and to accompany her to Salamanca. The palace at Badajoz was decorated for her reception with Oriental magnificence.

As Mary, with an escort which numbered thousands, approached Salamanca, Philip, eager to catch a sight of his bride, sallied out in disguise, with a few attendants, to meet her a few miles from the city. He wore the dress of a huntsman, with a slouched hat and a gauze mask. Thus he could mingle with the crowd, draw near the princess, and examine her person and features at his leisure.

Mary was beautiful, having a pleasing countenance and a very fine figure. She was dressed in cloth of silver embroidered with golden flowers. Her mantle and hat were of violet-colored velvet, figured with gold. She was mounted upon a mule with a silver saddle and housings of rich brocade. A numerous procession from the city, composed of the professors of the university, in their academic gowns, the judges and municipal officers, in their gorgeous robes of office, the military, horse and foot, in very brilliant uniform. Thus accompanied by the peal of martial bands and the shouts of the populace, Mary entered the gates of the gorgeous and sumptuously-furnished palace of Badajoz.

The next evening they were married. The marriage festivities were prolonged for a week. The proudest aristocracy of Europe vied with each other in the display, as feasts and tournaments succeeded each other. Both bride and bridegroom were eighteen years of age. The new-married pair soon repaired to Valladolid. A few months passed swiftly away, when Mary gave birth to a son, Don Carlos, and sank herself into the grave. Thus rapidly did the dirge succeed the merry ringing of the marriage bell. The body of Mary, beautiful even in death, was conveyed to Granada, and was afterwards removed to a magnificent mausoleum reared by her husband to her memory in the Escurial. The babe of this young mother lived to endure a fate more sad than has often fallen to the lot of humanity.

It will be remembered that Catharine of Aragon, youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, married Arthur, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VII. of England. Five months after their marriage Arthur died. She then married Arthur's brother Henry, who subsequently became Henry VIII. After a union of twenty years Henry obtained a divorce, that he might marry the beautiful Anne Boleyn, one of the queen's maids of honor. Mary, the daughter of Catharine and Henry VIII., succeeded to the throne of England in 1553. She was an earnest Roman Catholic, as was also her mother Catharine.

Charles V., an ambitious father, who was then upon the throne, influenced solely by affairs of state, without consulting the inclinations of his son, chose this maiden queen for the next bride of Philip. She was unattractive in person, gloomy in disposition, eleven years older than Philip, and austerely a religionist. The cruelty with which she pursued heresy has given her the unenviable title of "Bloody Mary." Philip, though zealous for the Church, placed but little restraint upon his sensual indulgences. He loved power, was accustomed to obey his father, and made no objections to the match.

The marriage contract was settled without either of the parties having seen each other. It was fitting that the son of the emperor should go in great state to obtain his bride. A fleet of a hundred sail was riding at anchor at Corunna, ready to receive him. Four thousand of the best troops in Spain were embarked in splendid uniforms. In addition to these, there was a numerous retinue of all the flower of the Spanish nobility, with their wives, vassals, minstrels, and merry-makers. A prosperous sail brought this fleet within sight of the shores of England, where it was met by the combined fleet of England and Flanders. On the 19th of July, 1554, the squadron anchored in the port of Southampton. A number of gorgeously-decorated barges immediately put out from the shore, conspicuous among which was the royal barge, with a very rich silken canopy embroidered with gold. It was manned by sailors in the royal livery of white and green. This, which was called the queen's barge, conveyed Philip to the land, while the rest took the nobles and their retinues.

A large assemblage of English nobles met Philip on the shore. The prince was dressed in a suit of black silk velvet, richly decorated with ornaments of gold. Carriage-roads were then rare in England. A very handsome horse was provided for him, which he mounted and, being a very fine rider, he attracted much admiration by the grace with which he managed his spirited steed. In accordance with the religious customs of the times, the procession at first moved to the church, where mass was performed, and thanks offered to God for the prosperous voyage.

Philip remained for several days in Southampton, gracefully receiving and requiting the attentions which were lavished upon him, until the Earl of Pembroke arrived with a brilliant company of two hundred mounted gentlemen to escort him to Winchester. The splendor of the escort was also increased by a large body of English archers showily dressed in uniform of yellow and red, the livery of the house of Aragon.

The appointed day for the journey was unpropitious. A fierce storm raged of wind and rain. Regardless of the tempest, Philip wrapped his red coat around him, and, with a broad slouched hat over his eyes, galloped on to Winchester, a distance of about twenty miles. As he advanced, his retinue rapidly increased by accessions from the neighboring gentry until it amounted to several thousands. Late in the afternoon they reached Winchester, spattered with mud and drenched with rain. That evening Philip had his first private interview with Mary, who had come there to meet him. The next day there was a public reception in the great hall of the palace. The courtiers from England, Spain, and Flanders thronged the hall, while Philip and Mary conversed side by side under a stately canopy. On the next ensuing day the marriage took place. Mary had provided her youthful husband with his bridal suit. It was composed of white satin, embroidered with gold, and richly frosted with precious stones. Mary also was dressed in white satin, richly decorated with golden embroidery, studded and fringed with the most costly jewels. With this dress, bright red slippers and a mantle of richly-embroidered black velvet formed rather a curious contrast.

The marriage ceremony was performed in the cathedral, with pompous rites, which occupied four hours. Philip and Mary were seated beneath a royal canopy upon a platform, with an altar before them. The remainder of the vast edifice was thronged with the nobility of England, Flanders, and Spain. After the utterance of the marriage vows mass was performed, and then Philip led his faded bride from the church. "The effect of the spectacle," it is said, "was heightened by the various costumes of the two nations; the richly-tinted and picturesque dresses of the Spaniards, and the solid magnificence of the English and Flemings mingled together in gay confusion. The glittering procession moved slowly on to the blithe sounds of festal music, while the air was rent with the loud acclamations of the populace, delighted, as usual, with the splendor of the pageant."

A sumptuous banquet was prepared in the great ball of the episcopal palace. Philip and Queen Mary, with the officiating bishop, sat under a gorgeous canopy upon a dais. The royal table was spread with dishes of gold. The nobles sat at tables below; which also glittered with gold and silver plate. Exquisite music enlivened the repast. Feasting was succeeded by a ball. And yet all the nuptial festivities were closed by nine o'clock in the evening. After a few days of rejoicing at Winchester the bridal couple repaired to London. They made their public entry on horseback, greeted by all the customary demonstrations of popular joy. Weary of these pageants, the royal pair sought a brief period of retirement at Hampton Court. Both Philip and Mary were earnest Christians, in accordance with the views of the Catholic Church at that time. Heresy was deemed the greatest of crimes. "Better not reign at all," said Philip, "than reign over heretics." Henry VII, the father of Mary, had broken off from the Holy Father at Rome, and had virtually announced himself as Pope of the English Church. Both Philip and Mary were very anxious to re-establish the relations of the English Church with Rome. Successfully in pursuit of this end they made use of all the influences of bribery and persuasion.

Parliament met at Whitehall. Mary, the queen, sat with Philip under a canopy. The Pope's legate sat by the side of the queen. A petition was then presented by the chancellor of the realm, praying, in behalf of the lords and commons of England, for reconciliation with the Papal See. The whole assembly kneeled before the Papal legate, re-receiving absolution and benediction. Thus was England purified from heresy and restored to the communion of Rome. The event was hailed with rejoicing in all the great capitals of Christendom. There were of course in the nation dissentients. The fires of persecution against such raged fiercely. Many perished at the stake.

The health of the queen became feeble. It was supposed that she was about to give birth to an heir to the throne. It proved but an attack of dropsy. Philip soon tired of his unattractive spouse, whom he had married without love, influenced solely by ambition. His position was uncongenial. He was not King of England, but merely husband of the queen. His Spanish and Flemish followers quarrelled with the English. There was no happiness in the palace. Such was the state of affairs when Philip, to his great relief, and to the joy of his followers, was summoned by his father to Flanders to attend the ceremony of abdication, which we have already described.

Mary loved her young and handsome husband, and bitterly mourned over his departure. With a heavy heart she accompanied him down the Thames as far as Greenwich, where they parted. Philip passed on to Dover, and crossed to Calais, which was then held by the English. A military escort, sent forward by his father, met him on the road, and in the latter part of September, 1555, he entered Brussels in truly imperial splendor.