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Charles I will be the first king of a new dynasty, the Habsburgs.

Due to a very well programmed marriage policy Charles I will inherit a wide range of territories and he will also become emperor of the West.

Here you have a list and a map with the territories that he inherited.

-From his mother’s side:

-From Isabella, his grandmother: Castile, Navarre, Granada, Canary islands, some territories in North Africa and the new territories recently discovered in America.

-From Ferdinand, his grandfather: Crown of Aragon, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia.

-From his father’s side:

-From Mary of Burgundy: Artois, Flanders, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Charolais and the Franche-Comté. 

-From Maximilian, Emperor of Austria: Austrian territories and the title of Emperor. (That means that he could be chosen Emperor).

Charles didn’t inherit all the territories at the same time, this is the real order.

  1. Internal Problems

When Charles I arrived to Spain he was a very young prince (he was only 16 years old) who couldn’t speak Spanish or Catalan and who didn’t know how the institutions worked.   

He was surrounded by Flemish (flamencos) counsellors who were given important ecclesiastical and political positions. These counsellors received many rents and benefits from these privileges.

He only stayed for three years and in these years he was not a wise ruler. He gave privileges to foreigners, he didn’t listen to the “Cortes”, he couldn’t speak Spanish and Catalan, and he abandoned the territories in 1519, in order to claim his right as emperor, asking for more money from the Cortes.

Many social groups were very angry and many revolts occurred in Castile and Aragon. These are the revolts.

The revolt of the Comuneros in Castile (1520-1521)

This revolt started because Charles I was not respecting the legality of the Cortes, because he gave privileges to foreigners, because he was asking for money for his coronation as emperor and because he was abandoning the territories of Castile. 

The cities that revolted were many; some examples are Toledo, Salamanca, Segovia, Zamora, Madrid…

The social groups that took part in this revolt were the low nobility and the bourgeoisie of the cities. The high nobility didn’t support the revolts in the beginning and in the end they chose to help the king.

Some leaders that you may have heard of are Juan de Padilla and his wife María Pacheco, Juan Bravo and Francisco Maldonado. All of them, except María Pacheco who could escape to Portugal, were executed after the defeat of Villalar in 1521.

In the battle of Villalar in 1521 the comuneros were defeated by the royal army and the revolt was finally suffocated. 

The revolt of the Brotherhoods (Germanías) 1521-1523.



  1. International Relations

The vast empire that Charles I had inherited implied a very complex foreign policy with different conflicts with France, the Lutherans and the Ottoman Empire.

France, common interests and personal rivalry

The conflict with France was based on a personal rivalry between Francis I (Francisco I), king of France and Charles I. Both were interested in controlling the same territories. There were many confrontations and alliances, with important victories and defeats for both opponents. 

One important battle was the battle of Pavia (1525), when Francis I was taken prisoner and sent to Madrid as a hostage. Later, the Pope also was taken hostage and the Spanish troops sacked the city of Rome.

Finally the situation of this first war was solved diplomatically in 1529 thanks to the Treaty of Cambrai, also known as “The Ladies’ Peace” where the hegemony of Charles was imposed.  Charles will keep control of Milan, Flanders, The Netherlands, Artois, the Franche-Comté and the city of Tournay,  while Francis I will control the Duchy of Burgundy.

Three more wars will take place during Charles’ reign against France, and Francis will ally Charles’ enemies, the German princes, trying to destabilise Charles’ position. In the end, a fifth and last war would take place at the beginning of Philip II’s reign, in which France was definitely defeated and that put an end to these disputes.

The Ottoman Empire

The other source of problems for Charles I was the Ottoman Empire. The emperor was Suleiman, the Magnificent and he ruled a vast and prosperous empire that stretched from Asia to Africa and Europe.

This empire caused many problems in the Mediterranean, in North Africa and in continental Europe.

  • In the Mediterranean and North Africa there were constant confrontations between the navies of Charles I and Suleiman. In these confrontations Alger and Bougie were lost.

  • In continental Europe the Ottoman Empire was a serious threat. After the battle of Mohacs in 1526 the Turks incorporated many territories of Hungary, and in 1529 they sieged (sitiar) the Imperial city of Vienna.

  • The German princes and the Lutherans

    The problem with the Protestants started in 1517, when Luther wrote his 95 theses. It was not only a religious problem, but also a political problem, because many German princes supported the new faith because they would be able to control more easily the religious institutions and taxes, and also because they could gain more independence from the emperor.

    Charles V tried to achieve consensus and convoked the Diet of Worms where many religious personalities could discuss this religious problem. Luther was invited to this Diet, but he didn’t change his mind and finally he was excommunicated.

    The emperor also fought against the Protestant German princes. In the battle of Mühlberg (1547) the Protestants were defeated by the Imperial army. 

    Anyway this problem was not really solved and finally the religious division of Germany was accepted and confirmed in 1555. (Any prince could follow in his kingdom the religion that he wanted)




  1. 3.1. Philip II’s Government

As we have seen before Philip II didn’t inherit the title of emperor, thanks to that he was able to focus all his attention on the rest of his possessions, especially the Spanish territories. - Politics

He developed an authoritarian monarchy, that was a very centralised administration where the king is the highest authority and controls domestic and international policy. He established the capital city in Madrid where bureaucracy developed. 

The institutions that represented the power of the monarch were Councils (Consejos, they were like ministries), “Corregidores” (they represented royal authority in local areas) and an increasing team of civil servants. 

As the power of the king was increasing at the same time the power of the Cortes was decaying. They were rarely convoked and their decisions were not considered.

  1. b) Religious issues

Regarding religious issues Philip II was also a defender of the Catholic religion inside and outside his possessions. Because of these ideas in the Iberian Peninsula he followed these three objectives:

  • He fought against Protestantism

  • He supported the Inquisition that persecuted Protestants and Converts. (“Conversos”, former Jews and Moors converted to Catholicism)

  • He repressed the Moriscos. They were forbidden to use their language, clothes and traditions. Due to this policy there was a rebellion in Granada, “The Rebellion of Las Alpujarras” which lasted three years and was finally repressed. 

  1. c) Annexation of Portugal

Another important matter was the annexation of Portugal (1580). When the king of Portugal died without an heir, Philip II claimed the throne of Portugal, due to his dynastic rights. 

With the annexation of Portugal the Spanish Monarchy also incorporated its overseas territories (territorios de ultramar) in Africa, Asia and America.

  1. c) Revolts in Flanders

The northern part of Flanders adopted the Calvinist religion, also known as Puritanism. 

Philip II repressed these religious ideas in 1566, but the Northern provinces will resist in a long struggle that lasted more than 80 years and three reigns. 

Many soldiers were sent to Flanders and they were known as the “Tercios de Flandes”. These soldiers created many problems due to the frequent pillaging and looting (saqueos) and also because they caused many deaths.





d) Economy

Referring to the economy, during the 16th century (kingdoms of Charles V and Philip II) the prices of products rose (this phenomenon is called inflation). This inflation was caused by the constant arrival of gold and silver from America and the consequence was that  purchasing power was reduced and standards of living decreased.

  1. e) Society

Concerning society the population grew during all of  the 16th century. 

The social groups were the privileged class (composed by the nobility and the clergy) and the non-privileged class (composed by peasants, artisans and bourgeoisie). 

Other groups were the Moriscos (Muslims converted to Catholicism) and converted Jews (judíos conversos), these two groups suffered discrimination and repression.

- Foreign Policy

The main problems that Philip II will have to confront during his kingdom were the rivalry with France, the attacks of the Ottoman Empire, the confrontation with England, and the revolt in Flanders.

a) France

The rivalry with France is a conflict inherited from the kingdom of Charles V. 

France wants to get territories that belong to the Habsburgs and also longs for the European supremacy. This conflict is not going to last long and France will accept the supremacy of the Spanish Monarchy for one century.

The Spanish Imperial army defeated the French army in the battle of Saint Quentin (1557).

Two years later the Peace of Cateau Cambrésis (1559) was signed. Thanks to this treaty the confrontation with France was finally solved. 

b) Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was a powerful empire and a prominent major power during this period.

It supposed a menace to the Spanish possessions in the Mediterranean.

Philip II created a Holy League of many states that defeated the navy of the Ottoman Empire in the famous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571.

    1. d) Rivalry with England

    The Spanish control of the Atlantic was seen as a menace by queen Elizabeth I. Because of that England promoted on one side the corsairs that attacked the Spanish ships and on the other side they helped the Puritans of The Netherlands.

    These both strategies caused the deterioration of the Spanish power and encouraged the king to prepare an invasion of England with the Spanish Armada, but the fleet was destroyed in a storm.