Famous Men of Modern Times - John Haaren

Charles V of Germany


In 1500, eight years after the discovery of America by Columbus, a Spanish prince was born in the city of Ghent in the Netherlands. He was named Charles.

He was the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, and from them at the age of sixteen, he inherited the crown of Spain and the two Americas. From his father he inherited the kingdom of Naples and the Netherlands.

When he was about nineteen years old, his other grandfather the emperor of Germany died. Three great kings were then reigning Francis I, in France, Henry VIII, in England, and the young king Charles—and each of them wished to be chosen as the next emperor.

Charles was elected; and as he was the fifth German emperor who was so named, he assumed the title of Charles V.

With Germany thus added to his already vast domains, he was now the ruler of an empire greater than that of Charlemagne—greater even than that of Imperial Rome.

It is wonderful that Charles was able to attend to the affairs of countries separated from one another by such great distances. This was far more difficult then than it would be now; because at that time there were neither railroads nor steamships, neither telegraphs nor telephones. Carriage roads were few and most of them were bad. Yet Charles attended well to every part of his vast empire. Although he could not be present everywhere, his power was felt everywhere.

In 1518 Mexico was discovered by a Spaniard. An expedition was at once sent out from Cuba to take possession of the country. Ten vessels, carrying about seven hundred Spaniards, sailed under the command of Hernando Cortes. The noise of the Spanish guns and cannon made the Mexicans think that the Spaniards were gods, and could not be killed or even wounded.

The people of Tlascala (tlas ca' la) were enemies of Montezuma (mon te zoo' ma) king of Mexico; and Cortes persuaded them to join his forces. So the native and Spanish soldiers marched together to the city of Mexico.

Montezuma thought at first that Cortes was an ancient god of the Mexicans who had once been their king, and received him with great kindness. But Cortes made the king his prisoner and kept him closely guarded. Cortes also compelled him to give the Spaniards about half a million dollars in gold.

The Mexicans were very angry with Montezuma for giving up so much treasure, and some of them revolted. Montezuma tried to pacify them with kind words; but the rebels hurled stones at him and he was severely wounded and died soon afterwards as the result of his injuries.

Cortes at length succeeded in taking possession of the city of Mexico, and the whole country thus became a part of the great empire of Charles V.



One of Charles's neighbors was exceedingly jealous of him. This was Francis I, king of France. He laid claim to the province of Navarre, in Spain, and this brought on several wars between Francis and Charles which lasted through many years.

Francis was a brave enemy. Like Hannibal he crossed the snow-covered Alps and invaded Italy. But Charles was more than a match for him. In one battle he took Francis prisoner—in another he captured the Pope—and having taken possession of Rome he kept His Holiness a prisoner in the castle of St. Angelo which belonged to the Pope himself.

Francis was at last obliged to content himself with his own kingdom; and to leave Navarre in the hands of Charles.

One of the greatest difficulties which Charles had to deal with was the religious quarrel which was going on all over Germany.

The German Empire at that time consisted of. a great many separate states, such as Saxony, Bavaria and others. The rulers of these states had different titles. Some were called dukes, some princes, and some kings.

The rulers and people of the German states were divided into two great parties—the Roman Catholics, and the Lutherans or Protestants. The quarrel between them began about the time that Charles was born, and lasted for more than a hundred years. It was ended only by the terrible battles of the "Thirty Years' War," which came to a close in 1648.

Charles was very anxious to put a stop to the evils which arose from this quarrel. It seemed to him that the simplest way of doing so was to get rid of the Protestants altogether. But so many of the princes and people of Germany had become Protestants that he found it impossible to do this; and he was obliged to allow northern Germany to remain for the most part Protestant.

Charles V


While Charles was thus trying to make the great religious parties of Germany live in peace, a new difficulty arose.

Solyman the Sublime then ruled the great empire of Turkey; and, like Francis I, he was very anxious to get possession of a slice of Charles's domains.

In 1529 he raised an immense army and laid siege to Vienna, which was then the capital of the German empire. He was defeated and beaten back. This did not, however, altogether discourage him; but with a large army, he marched into southeastern Germany.

Charles then saw his opportunity to bring together the Catholic and Protestant Germans. He called upon them to unite for the defense of the empire against the common foe. All Germany at once responded; and one of the finest armies was assembled that Europe had ever seen.

Charles took command in person and marched against the Turks. When Solyman learned of this he retreated without a battle. He saw that the wisest thing for him to do was to leave Germany in possession of the Germans, and to look more closely after his own affairs.

The Turks still continued to be troublesome, however, both on land and at sea. Solyman employed a famous pirate named Barbarossa to attack all Christian merchant vessels that ventured to sail upon the Mediterranean. Barbarossa and his master were determined that none but Turkish ships should sail that sea without paying toll to the Turks. The pirates captured the vessels of the Christians, took possession of the cargoes, and made slaves of all whom they found on board.

Charles made up his mind to put a stop to all this. He therefore attacked Tunis, on the northern shore of Africa, which was Barbarossa's stronghold. Barbarossa was defeated, Tunis was captured, and thousands of Christian slaves were set free.

This caused great rejoicing all over Europe; and Charles was regarded as a benefactor of Christian seafaring people.

All these wars cost a great deal of money; and some of Charles's subjects made strong objections to paying the taxes levied upon them.

The Dutch people, in particular, complained bitterly. The people of Ghent, the very town in which Charles was born, positively refused to pay. They felt very much as our ancestors did who fought in the Revolutionary War. They thought that people who paid taxes should have something to say about the way in which the taxes should be spent.

Charles considered that it was not only the duty of the people to pay, but that it was his sole right to decide what should be done with the money. He therefore determined to punish the people of Ghent.

He took away the charter which gave the citizens the right to choose their own magistrates, and he appointed officers of his own choosing to manage their affairs. He also caused those persons who had advised the people not to pay to be treated as traitors and to be put to death.

In an attempt to take Algiers, in 1541, his fleet was wrecked and more than half his army perished; and although this was a favorite object with Charles the project had to be abandoned.

As he grew older, Charles found that it was quite impossible to manage his vast empire just as he wished to do. The pirates of Algiers still went on robbing, and more than half of his people in Germany would be Protestants in spite of all that he could say or do.

He was greatly discouraged; and, in 1554, he gave the Netherlands and the kingdom of Naples to his son Philip.

He then called together the "States General," or Congress of the Netherlands, at Brussels; and with his right hand resting upon a crutch, and his left upon the shoulder of the young Prince of Orange, he made a very solemn address.

He said that his infirmities made it necessary for him to give up the cares of government. He then asked the "States General" to forgive whatever errors he had committed during his reign, and to accept Philip as his successor.

The whole assembly burst into tears and sobs; and Charles himself, completely overcome, sank into a chair and wept like a child.

Two years after this he resigned the crown of Spain; and, after two years more, gave up his position as emperor of Germany.

Charles V


He caused a palace to be built near the monastery of Yuste (yoos' tay), in Spain; and there he spent the last days of his life.

The story is told that he amused himself with trying to make a number of clocks in different rooms of the palace keep the same time. Finding that he could not do this, he is said to have remarked that it was no wonder he could not make all the people in his kingdom live and act as he desired.

Although extremely ambitious and overbearing he managed to maintain a strong hold on his people; and some of the events of his career exercised a powerful influence upon the later history of Europe.

During his days of retirement he was very fond of attending the religious services of the monastery, and of listening to the reports of messengers who came to tell him the news from all parts of his former domain. His strength rapidly failed; and he died in 1558.