Monday, February 25, 2013
Monarch Profile: Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
Religious matters would dominate a great deal of his reign and one of the first problems he had to address was the growing controversy over a certain man named Martin Luther. At the famous Diet of Worms the Emperor met Luther face to face and listened to him make his case. Needless to say, the Emperor was not impressed and gave a quite eloquent response based on history and tradition, saying, “For it is certain that a single monk must err if he stands against the opinion of all Christendom. Otherwise Christendom itself would have erred for more than a thousand years”. Luther, we now know, did not actually say, “Here I stand, I can do no other” but, in any event, he refused to recant his beliefs and the Emperor refused to break his word and have him arrested on the spot. So, Luther was free to go and continued to spread his new religious ideas, which would ultimately lead to the creation of the Lutheran church, the Protestant movement and the further splitting of Christendom. This was, obviously, a major concern for Charles V who, as Emperor, saw himself as the chief guardian of Christendom and while he did not try to rule everyone directly, he would take swift action against any threat to his authority. The spread of Protestantism was definitely such a threat and he wanted the Church to do something about it.
In 1522 pro-Lutheran nobles rose up in the Knights’ War which Charles V had to put down, followed by the even nastier Peasants’ Revolt in 1524 which even Luther was horrified by. To make matters worse, as far as the Emperor was concerned anyway, while Protestant rebellions were becoming a major problem in Germany, the Catholic south was coming under renewed attack by the Ottoman Turks who were never more effective than at that time under the skilled leadership of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In 1522 they launched a massive attack on the island of Rhodes, defended by the Knights of St John. The island fell and Emperor Charles allowed the Knights to relocate to Malta. On land, by 1526 the Turkish armies had penetrated far into Europe, wiping out the Hungarian army and killing King Louis of Hungary at the battle of Mohacs. And if that was not enough bad news for Charles V, German possessions in northern Italy were attacked by the French under King Francis I in 1524. The Emperor moved to meet this threat in person, aware of the fact that Pope Clement VII had allied with the King of France in an effort to prevent the German domination of Italy. The result was the battle of Pavia which was a smashing success for Emperor Charles V who totally defeated the French army and took Francis I prisoner. He gave up claims to imperial territories while in captivity but, after being released, said he was not bound by agreements signed while he was a prisoner and renewed his campaign against Charles V in alliance with the Pope.
The result was the horrific “sack of Rome” in which the Swiss Guard were wiped out, fighting to the last man to defend the Pope, who was himself nearly killed. Clement VII barricaded himself inside Castel Sant Angelo with as many Roman refugees as could be fit in while the imperial troops went on the rampage, committing acts of destruction, pillage, murder and sacrilege that are truly too terrible to repeat. It was worse than anything the barbarian invaders of Imperial Rome had ever done and a witness who was a veteran of the wars against the Muslims remarked that no Muslim was ever so cruel or vicious toward an enemy as the imperial troops were toward the helpless Romans. It was sadism and bloodlust run rampant. Now, to be fair, it must be said that Charles V could not have known that such an infamy would have happened, he certainly did not order it and he was horrified in the aftermath when he learned of the details. However, as it was he who sent the army to conquer Rome in the first place, he must accept the ultimate and theoretic responsibility for that. Still, he was aghast at what happened but still enough of a man of the world to use it to his advantage and in the aftermath of such an atrocity Pope Clement VII agreed to all of his demands and was then released from captivity by the end of the year. His power was unquestioned but, that being so, he was able to be magnanimous and restored the Papal States to Clement VII and Florence to the Medici family. Some may say it was largely symbolic but it was something a vindictive man would never have done and something he did not have to do in light of his victory.