"I speak Spanish to God, Italian to Women, French to Men, and German to my Horse"

         A young Charles V         [painted c.1516]

   Charles V in his prime    [painted c.1533]

       An ageing Charles V         [painted by Titian 1548]

Charles V, future king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, was born in the Flemish city of Ghent on the 24th of February 1500. His father was Philip of Hapsburg (known to history rather flatteringly as Philip the Handsome), son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg. His mother was Joanna of Castile (known to history rather unkindly as Joanna the Mad), the eldest daughter of the king and queen of Spain.

From his father and grandfather, Charles inherited Austria, Burgundy and the Low Countries whilst through his mother he ruled Spain and Spain's overseas possessions. These included the Italian kingdoms of Naples, Sardinia and Sicily, as well as the Duchy of Milan, and Spain's new colonies in The Americas.

When Charles was elected to the imperial throne in 1519, the kingdoms of Germany and Lombardy were added to the immense Hapsburg empire but Charles hardly looked the part of an all powerful potentate. Generations of inbreeding had given Charles the prominent 'Hapsburg Jaw' that made it difficult for him to chew his food. He also suffered from epilepsy and painful attacks of gout but at least he was spared the madness that afflicted his unfortunate mother.

Despite his illnesses and deformities, Charles was an able, intelligent and pious ruler who believed he'd been chosen by God to preserve his family's lands and honour. He travelled extensively throughout his dominions and did not hesitate to make war on the Turkish sultan, the king of France or even the pope when they questioned his divine right to rule. In 1525 Hapsburg armies crushed the French at the Battle of Pavia and, even though Charles was a devout Catholic, imperial landsknecht mercenaries sacked Rome in 1527.

Perhaps to make amends for pillaging the capital of Western Christendom, and besieging the pope in his own palace, Charles devoted much of his later life to turning the Protestant tide that was engulfing his Catholic empire. He funded the Counter-Reformation that sought to restore the majesty of the Catholic church and was the driving force behind the Council of Trent that endeavoured to reform the church's liturgy and institutions.

Soon after he was elected emperor, Charles realised that his empire was far too large for one man to rule and so he gradually divided his lands between his son Philip and his brother Ferdinand. In 1521 Ferdinand was created Archduke and given the Hapsburg's ancestral lands in Austria to rule. Ferdinand also served as Charles' deputy in the Holy Roman Empire and was elected emperor in his own right after Charles' death in 1558.

Between 1554 and 1556 Charles transferred his Spanish Empire to his 29 year old son who was crowned Philip II. Thirty years later, Philip would launch the Spanish Armada against the Hapsburg's former English allies but his father spent his last years in the secluded monastery of Yuste. Even in retirement, Charles took an interest in imperial affairs, and frequently wrote to his son, but his private chamber was filled with clocks to remind him of how little time even emperors had on earth.

The Full Titles of Charles V

Charles, by the grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, of Hungary, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Hapsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen.