24th February was an important date in the life of Charles V, the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1546 and ruler over vast swathes of Europe, including Spain, plus Spain’s Latin American colonies.
24th February was the date of his birth in 1500, to the interestingly nicknamed Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad. It was from their union that the Spanish provinces were united and became part of the Hapsburg Empire under Charles. By the age of 19 he was master of more land in Europe that anyone since the emperors of ancient Rome.
24th February 1525 was not only Charles’s 25th birthday but also the day on which he won a decisive victory at the Battle of Pavia in northern Italy. His opponent was King Francois I of France who was to spend the next year as Charles’s prisoner in Madrid.
Traditionally, Holy Roman Emperors were crowned by the Pope, but Charles delayed this event for more than ten years, to his 30th birthday on 24th February 1530. The event took place in Bologna rather than Rome. For one thing, much of Rome still lay in ruins after Charles had sacked it in May 1527 with considerable savagery and taking of innocent lives; for another, he was worried about the advance of the Ottoman Turks from the east and did not want to travel too far south into Italy.
Charles was crowned by Pope Clement VII, whom he had held prisoner in Rome and forced into exile for a time due to the destruction of the Papal apartments. It was while Clement was in this humiliating situation that he was approached by envoys from King Henry VIII of England to ask for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who was Emperor Charles’s aunt. Being in no great hurry to antagonise Charles any further, Clement refused, and the end result was the English Reformation.
Charles V’s coronation, conducted by a Pope under severe duress, would prove to be the last such ever held. Although the Holy Roman Empire would continue for nearly another 300 years, its claim to be “holy” really ended with that final coronation on 24th February 1530. Given the previous track record of the emperor it was a mockery of the word in any case.
© John Welford