Charles V: Europe's Last Emperor?

The city of Ghent in modern Belgium, birthplace of Charles V, is currently celebrating the 500th anniversary of his birth on February 24th, 1500.

'I speak German to my horse, French to my ministers and Spanish to my God’, Charles V once remarked, neatly encapsulating the complexity of his inheritance. The lottery of Charles's birth, in the city of Ghent, modern Belgium, on February 24th, 1500, placed him at the centre of a genealogical network which covered half Europe. His father, Philip, was Duke of Burgundy. His grandfather was Emperor Maximilian of Austria. His mother, the wretched Joanna the Mad, was daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, Spain’s redoubtable ‘Catholic Monarchs’. Through his mother he would inherit Spain and the bloodstained kingdom of Naples as well.

He was heir also to the fabulous possessions of the New World, and through his father he would become one of the great magnates of France as Duke of Burgundy. In due course, aged nineteen, he added the imperial crown to his glittering regalia. To be exact, he purchased it, backed by the great banking dynasty, the Fuggers, to outbid his two powerful contemporaries, Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. Henry accepted his defeat with good grace -- there was no way he could raise the colossal stakes.

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