June 28, 1519 – Charles V (not Henry VIII) Elected Holy Roman Emperor

The Holy Roman Empire Circa 1600 by Ssolbergj (Creative Commons Attribution License)

The Holy Roman Empire was a “complex of territories in central Europe.” The Kingdom of Germany was the largest of them; others included the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Burgundy and Italy – and the Duchy of Cleves (!). When the Emperor Maximilian died in January of 1519, there was no German contender – so an election was scheduled to determine the next Holy Roman Emperor.

The main candidate was Maximilian’s grandson, Charles V of Spain. But Francis I was also in the running – France’s Charlemagne had been the greatest of the Holy Roman Emperors and Francis was heir to that tradition (enough to make it worth his while to bribe a ton of people). Even Henry VIII thought he might have a chance. That’s where this post comes in.

How could he think that?

In 1519, Henry was 27 and still in his prime. Catherine had given him a daughter (Mary) and was still getting pregnant regularly, Henry FitzRoy was born in June. He was at the top of the world – along with his huge ego. How could no one have discouraged him from wasting the money on the bribes that were required to pursue this position? How did no one warn him just how unlikely he was to win? Or maybe they did. Maybe he joined the contest just to bother Charles and Francis, in keeping with the great rivalry that existed among the three great monarchs of the era – all relatively close in age, all acceding to their thrones around the same time, all dying around the same time.  This is how Alison Weir explains it – she describes his easy acceptance of his loss as evidence that his involvement was a token one.

Still, the election took place on Henry’s birthday. You know there was a part of him that truly believed God would give this to him ….



As always, Wikipedia has a number of useful articles including ones concerning the Holy Roman Empire,  the Imperial Election, Henry VIII and Charles V.  And if you really want to dive into things, Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: The King and his Court  is always a wonderful source for all things Henry.


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February 24, 1500 – Birth of Charles V

A Young Charles V, by Bernard van Orley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

A Young Charles V, by Bernard van Orley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The reign of Charles V was a momentous era for Spain, indeed, all of Europe. It was also especially momentous for England: it was entirely because of Charles that the Pope refused to grant Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This should have been a slam dunk for Henry (it was relatively standard practice when a monarch’s marriage did not produce an heir), except that Catherine was Charles’ aunt – and Henry was not looking to replace her with another political marriage…

Charles V is also of particular interest to Tudor enthusiasts because of the way his reign can be viewed in tandem with Henry VIII’s. Indeed the sixteenth century saw a rare parallel of monarchs: Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain, and Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire were all born around the same time (Henry – 1491, Francis – 1494, Charles – 1500, Suleiman – 1494), acceded to their thrones around the same time (Henry – 1509, Francis – 1515, Charles – 1516, and Suleiman – 1520), reigned for similar lengths of time (35-45 years or so) during which they oversaw enormous cultural advances, then died around the same time (Henry and Francis – 1547, Charles – 1558 and Suleiman – 1566).

Of the European rulers, Charles V was the most powerful. As the heir to three of Europe’s leading dynasties (Hapsburg, Valois-Burgundy and Trastamara), Charles governed the Spanish Empire, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire (covering key parts of Germany, Italy…). As Wikipedia puts it, “his domains spanned nearly four million square kilometers, and were the first to be described as ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’. He might well have annexed France and England (though I could get beat up for saying this…), were it not for his ongoing border disputes with Suleiman, who ruled over 20-30 million people, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa.

In terms of looks, Charles was on the short side and inherited the unfortunate Hapsburg jaw. Perhaps this is why Henry was not as obsessively jealous of, and competitive with, him the way he was with Francis. It also helped that they began their respective reigns as allies, with Charles carefully deferring to his “elder uncle” for a time. Whatever the reason, the two countries spent more time as allies than as enemies over the Henry/Charles years, and set the stage for the marriage of Mary I with Charles’ son Philip II (though as a child she had been promised to Charles…talk about a limiting precontract!).


For this article, my immediate sources came from Wikipedia – their many entries about Charles V, Henry VIII, Francis I, Suleiman the Magnificent, and so many more. I can’t tell you who first led me to see the four monarchs as contemporaries that shaped each others’ lives…

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