the charisma of charles -- 7/28/20

Today's selection -- from Emperor: A New Life of Charles V by Geoffrey Parker. The charisma of Emperor Charles V:

"Charles, too, used his personal charisma to create consensus across his empire, and like Augustus he began with his extended family, favouring not only his siblings, nieces and nephews, but also members of his household. In the Netherlands, he granted pensions to his first wetnurse, Barbe Servels, and to the mothers of two of his illegitimate children, Jeanne van der Gheynst and Barbara Blomberg, as well as providing jobs for members of their families. In Spain, he publicly honoured his first preceptors: in 1519 he granted Juan de Anchieta an annual salary for life, even though he was then 'too old' to serve at court, 'because of the many excellent services the said Juan has performed for us'; and in 1523, Charles appointed Luis Cabeza de Vaca bishop of the Canaries, promoting him in 1530 to Salamanca and making much of him on his visit to the city four years later.

"Such gracious acts could create lifelong devotion among recipients. The ingenious inventor from Cremona, Janello Torriani, 'told the emperor one day that he owed more to him than to his natural parents, because the latter had merely given him a short life whereas the emperor would make him immortal.'

Charles V

"In 1548 the count of Buren, commander of the Netherlands contingent that had crossed the Rhine to reach Charles at Ingolstadt two years before, learned that he only had a few hours to live and immediately sent for his closest colleagues in the imperial entourage, as well as his finest clothes and his insignia of the Golden Fleece. He then called for a 'fine goblet' (perhaps the one presented to him by Charles that depicted the Rhine crossing), drank his master's health, made a speech thanking him for all his favours, and 'wrote with his own hand two entire sheets to the emperor' before he died.

"In 1550, Fray Domingo de Soto, back in Spain after serving eighteen months as Charles's confessor, assured Secretary of State Francisco de Eraso 'that I have never in my life felt such deep love [tan entrañable amor] as I do' for the emperor and that 'the modesty and sweetness of his conversation gives me an infinite desire to see him again and serve him'. Two years later, Soto assured Eraso that news of the emperor's flight from Germany 'has truly awakened a great desire in me to go and die with him, if only my journey would do some good'.

"Some held up Charles's behaviour as an example for others. In January 1552, Perrenot rejected the request of a Spanish bishop to leave the council of Trent and go home on the grounds that he was semi-paralyzed with gout, because 'His Majesty himself suffers from several maladies, especially gout, and he believes that if someone is ill he can find a cure wherever he may be.' The following October, during the siege of Metz, Marie rejected a request from William of Orange to leave his unit on the French frontier 'because of the bad weather'; instead he should 'follow the example of His Majesty, and of so many excellent nobles with him, who remain in the field despite the contrary weather'.

"Charles's efforts to project an imperial charisma drew strength from the fact that many of his subjects shared both his values and his outlook. In the Americas, the chronicles written by the Spanish conquistadors invoked God, on average, three times in every thousand words: God gave them strength, courage, consolation, inspiration, aid, support, victory and health; He delivered, preserved, rewarded, foresaw and forgave; He led, saved, wished and directed. The only words used more frequently in the chronicles of conquest were 'war', 'gold' and, above all, 'the king' or its equivalents ('His Majesty: 'emperor' and 'royal'), which appeared eight times in every thousand words.

"In Europe, Gattinara constantly urged his master to place God first, and his own conduct provided a striking practical example: in August 1517, just before Charles left the Netherlands for Spain, his future chancellor entered the Carthusian convent of Scheut, a ducal foundation just outside the walls of Brussels, and spent seven months secluded there to fulfil a vow. Even hard-nosed merchant bankers began their business letters with 'Jesus' and the sign of the cross, peppered the contents with 'God willing', and ended 'Christ be with you'. The Memoirs of Fery de Guyon, a professional soldier from Burgundy, described the multinational armies in which he served as 'the emperor's men', never happier than when fighting 'the infidel'. Guyon devoted several pages to 'one of the best tournaments ever seen' (staged by the marquis del Vasto in Milan) and included details on the pilgrimage he undertook with three companions from the imperial court to Santiago de Compostela, 'witnessing many fine devout acts along the way'."



Geoffrey Parker


Emperor: A New Life of Charles V


Yale University Press


Copyright 2019 Geoffrey Parker


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