1. The Revolt of the Comuneros: 1520–22
It was a questionable boon for Spain that her King Charles I (1516–56) became the Emperor Charles V (1519–58). Born and reared in Flanders, he acquired Flemish ways and tastes, until in his final years the spirit of Spain conquered him. The King could be only a small part of the Emperor who had his hands full with the Reformation, the papacy, Suleiman, Barbarossa, and Francis I; the Spaniards complained that he gave them so little of his time and spent so much of their human and material resources on campaigns apparently foreign to Spanish interests. And how could an emperor sympathize with the communal institutions that had made Spain half a democracy before the coming of Ferdinand the Catholic, and that she so longed to restore?
Charles’s first visit to his kingdom (1517) earned him no love. Though king for twenty months past, he still knew no Spanish. His curt dismissal of the devoted Ximenes shocked Spanish courtesy. He came surrounded by Flemings who thought Spain a barbarous country waiting to be milked; and the seventeen-year-old monarch appointed these leeches to the highest posts. The various provincial Cortes, dominated by the hidalgos or lower nobility, did not conceal their reluctance to accept so alien a king. The Cortes of Castile refused him the title, then grudgingly recognized him as co-ruler with his demented mother Juana; and it let him understand that he must learn Spanish, live in Spain, and name no more foreigners to office. Other Cortes laid down similar demands. Amid these humiliations Charles received the news that he had been elected emperor, and that Germany was summoning him to show himself and be crowned. When he asked the Cortes at Valladolid (then the capital) to finance the trip, he was rebuffed, and a public tumult threatened his life. Finally he secured the money from the Cortes of Corunna, and hurried off to Flanders. To make matters trebly perilous he sent corregidores to protect his interests in the cities, and left his former tutor, Cardinal Adrian of Utrecht, as regent of Spain.
Now one after another of the Spanish municipalities rose in the “Revolt of the Comuneros” or commune members. They expelled the corregidores, murdered a few of the delegates who had voted funds to Charles, and leagued themselves in a Santa Comunidadpledged to control the King. Nobles, ecclesiastics, and burghers alike joined the movement, and organized at Ávila (August 1520) the Santa Junta, or Holy Union, as a central government. They demanded that the Cortes should share with the royal council in choosing the regent, that no war should be made without the consent of the Cortes, and that the town should be ruled not by corregidores but by alcaldes or mayors chosen by the citizens.29 Antonio de Acuña, Bishop of Zamora, openly advocated a republic, turned his clergy into revolutionary warriors, and gave the resources of his diocese to the revolt. Juan de Padilla, a Toledo noble, was made commander of the rebel forces. He led them to the capture of Tordesillas, took Juana la Loca as a hostage, and urged her to sign a document deposing Charles and naming herself queen. Wise in her madness, she refused.
Adrian, having no soldiery strong enough to suppress the uprising, appealed to Charles to return, and frankly blamed the revolt on the King’s arbitrary and absentee government. Charles did not come, but either he or his councilors found a way to divide and conquer. The nobles were warned that the rebellion was a threat to the propertied classes as well as to the Crown. And indeed the working classes, long oppressed with fixed wages, forced labor, and prohibition of unions, had already seized power in several towns. In Valencia and its neighborhood a Germania or Brotherhood of guildsmen took the reins, and ruled the committees of workingmen. This proletarian dictatorship was unusually pious; it imposed upon the thousands of Moors who still remained in the province the choice of baptism or death; hundreds of the obstinate were killed.30 In Majorca the commons, whose masters had treated them as slaves, rose in arms, deposed the royal governor, and slew every noble who could not elude them. Many towns renounced their feudal ties and dues. In Madrid, Sigüenza, and Guadalajara the new municipal administration excluded all nobles and gentry from office; here and there aristocrats were slain; and the Junta assessed for taxation noble properties formerly exempt. Pillage became general; commoners burned the palaces of nobles, nobles massacred commoners. Class war spread through Spain
The revolt destroyed itself by extending its aims beyond its powers. The nobles turned against it, raised their own forces, co-operated with those of the King, captured Valencia, and overthrew the proletarian government after days of mutual slaughter (1521). At the height of the crisis the rebel army divided into rival groups under Padilla and Don Pedro Girón; the Junta also split into hostile factions; and each province carried on its revolution without co-ordination with the rest. Girón went over to the royalists, who recaptured Tordesillas and Juana. Padilla’s dwindling army was routed at Villalar, and he was put to death. When Charles returned to Spain (July 1522) with 4,000 German troops, victory had already been won by the nobles, and nobles and commoners had so weakened each other that he was able to subdue the municipalities and the guilds, tame the Cortes, and establish an almost absolute monarchy. The democratic movement was so completely suppressed that the Spanish commons remained cowed and obedient till the nineteenth century. Charles tempered his power with courtesy, surrounded himself with grandees, and learned to talk good Spanish; Spain was pleased when he remarked that Italian was the proper language to use to women, German to enemies, French to friends, Spanish to God.31
2. The Spanish Protestants
Only one power could now challenge Charles in Spain—the Church. He was pro-Catholic but anti-papal. Like Ferdinand the Catholic he sought to make the Spanish Church independent of the popes, and he so far succeeded that during his rule ecclesiastical appointments and revenues were in his control, and were used to promote governmental policies. In Spain, as in France, no Reformation was needed to subordinate the Church to the state. Nonetheless, during the half of his reign that Charles spent in his kingdom, the fervor of Spanish orthodoxy so worked upon him that in his later years nothing (except the power of the Hapsburgs) seemed more important to him than the suppression of heresy. While the popes tried to moderate the Inquisition, Charles supported it till his death. He was convinced that heresy in the Netherlands was leading to chaos and civil war, and was resolved to circumvent such a development in Spain.
The Spanish Inquisition abated its fury, but extended its jurisdiction, under Charles. It undertook the censorship of literature, had every bookstore ‘arched, and ordered bonfires of books charged with heresy.32 It investiated and punished sexual perversions. It instituted rules of limpieza (purity of blood), which closed all avenues of distinction to descendants of Conversos and to all who had ever been penanced by the tribunal. It looked upon mystics with a stern eye, for some of these claimed that their direct intercourse with God exempted them from attending church, and others gave their mystical ecstasies a suspiciously sexual flavor. The lay preacher Pedro Ruiz de Alcaraz announced that coitus was really union with God; and Friar Francisco Ortiz explained that when he lay with a pretty fellow mystic —even when he embraced her naked body—it was not a carnal sin but a spiritual delight.33 The Inquisition dealt leniently with these Alumbrados (Enlightened Ones), and kept its severest measures for the Protestants of Spain.
As in northern Europe, an Erasmian skirmish preceded the Protestant battle. A few liberal churchmen applauded the humanist’s strictures on the faults of the clergy; but Ximenes and others had already reformed the more palpable abuses before the coming of Charles. Perhaps Lutheranism had seeped into Spain with Germans and Flemings in the royal entourage. A German was condemned by the Inquisition at Valencia in 1524 for avowing Lutheran sympathies; a Flemish painter was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1528 for questioning purgatory and indulgences. Francisco de San Roman, the first-known Spanish Lutheran, was burned at the stake in 1542, while fervent onlookers pierced him with their swords. Juan Díaz of Cuenca imbibed Calvinism at Geneva; his brother Alfonso rushed up from Italy to reconvert him to orthodoxy; failing, Alfonso had him killed (1546).34 At Seville a learned canon of the cathedral, Juan Gil or Egidio, was imprisoned for a year for preaching against image worship, prayer to the saints, and the efficacy of good works in earning salvation; after his death his bones were exhumed and burned. His fellow canon, Constantino Ponce de la Fuente, continued his propaganda, and died in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Fourteen of Constantino’s followers were burned, including four friars and three women; a large number were sentenced to diverse penalties; and the house in which they had met was razed to the ground.
Another semi-Protestant group developed in Valladolid; and here influential nobles and high ecclesiastics were involved. They were betrayed to the Inquisition; nearly all were arrested and condemned; some, trying to leave Spain, were caught and brought back. Charles V, then in retirement at Yuste, recommended that no mercy be shown them, that the repentant should be beheaded, and the unrepentant burned. On Trinity Sunday, May 21, 1559, fourteen of the condemned were executed before a cheering crowd.35 All but one recanted, and were let off with beheading; Antonio de Herrezuelo, impenitent, was burned alive. His twenty-three-year-old wife, Leonor de Cisneros, repentant, was allowed life imprisonment. After ten years of confinement she retracted her recantation, proclaimed her heresy, and asked to be burned alive like her husband; her request was granted.36 Twenty-six more of the accused were displayed in an auto-da-fé on October 8, 1559, before a crowd of 200,000, presided over by Philip II. Two victims were burned alive, ten were strangled.
The most famous prey of the Inquisition in this period was Bartolomé de Carranza, Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. As a Dominican friar he was active for many years in hounding heretics. Charles appointed him envoy to the Council of Trent, and sent him to England to attend the marriage of Philip and Queen Mary. When he was elected archbishop (1557) only his own vote kept the choice from being unanimous. But some of the “Protestants” arrested at Valladolid testified that Carranza had secretly sympathized with their views; he was found to have corresponded with the Spanish Italian reformer Juan de Valdés; and the influential theologian Melchior Cano accused him of upholding the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith. He was arrested only two years after his elevation to the highest ecclesiastical dignity in Spain; we may judge from this the power of the Spanish Inquisition. For seventeen years he was kept in one prison or another while his life and writings were subjected to scrutiny at Toledo and Rome. Gregory XIII proclaimed him “vehemently suspected” of heresy, ordered him to abjure sixteen propositions, and suspended him for five years from the exercise of his office. Carranza accepted the sentence humbly, and tried to perform the penances assigned to him; but within five weeks, exhausted by imprisonment and humiliation, he died (1576).
With him ended all danger of Protestantism in Spain. Between 1551 and 1600 there were some 200 executions there for Protestant heresies—i.e., four per year. The temper of the people, formed by centuries of hatred for Moors and Jews, had congealed into an unshakable orthodoxy; Catholicism and patriotism had merged; and the Inquisition found it a simple matter to stamp out in a generation or two the passing Spanish adventure with independent thought.
3. The Emperor Passes: 1556–58
On September 28, .1556, Charles V made his final entry into Spain. At Burgos he dismissed with rewards most of those who had attended him, and took leave of his sisters, Mary of Hungary and Eleonora, widow of Francis I. They wished to share his monastic retreat, but the rules forbade it, and they took up their residence not too far from this brother whom they alone now seemed to love. After suffering many ceremonies en route, he reached the village of Juandilla in the valley of Plasencia, some 120 miles west of Madrid. There he tarried several months while workmen completed and furnished the accommodations that he had ordered in the monastery of Yuste (St. Justus), six miles away. When he made the last stage of his journey (February 3, 1557) it was not to a monastic cell but to a mansion spacious enough to house the more intimate of his fifty servitors. The monks rejoiced to have so distinguished a guest, but were chagrined to find that he had no intention of sharing their regimen. He ate and drank as abundantly as before—i.e., excessively. Sardine omelets, Estremadura sausages, eel pies, pickled partridges, fat capons, and rivers of wine and beer disappeared into the Imperial paunch; and his physicians were obliged to prescribe large quantities of senna and rhubarb to carry off the surplusage.
Instead of reciting rosaries, litanies, and psalms, Charles read or dictated dispatches from or to his son, and offered him advice on every aspect of war, theology, and government. In his final year he became a merciless bigot; he recommended ferocious penalties to “cut out the root” of heresy, and he regretted that he had allowed Luther to escape him at Worms. He ordered that a hundred lashes should be laid upon any woman who should approach within two bowshots of the monastery walls.37 He revised his will to provide that 30,000 Masses should be said for the repose of his soul. We should not judge him from those senile days; some taint of insanity may have come down to him with his mother’s blood.
In August 1558, his gout developed into a burning fever. This returned intermittently, and with rising intensity. For a month he was racked with all the pains of death before he was allowed to die (September 21, 1558). In 1574 Philip had the remains removed to the Escorial, where they lie under a stately monument.
Charles V was the most impressive failure of his age, and even his virtues were sometimes unfortunate for mankind. He gave peace to Italy, but only after a decade of devastation, and by subjecting it and the papacy to Spain; and the Italian Renaissance withered under that somber mastery. He defeated and captured Francis, but he lost at Madrid a royal opportunity to make with him a treaty that could have saved all faces and a hundred thousand lives. He helped to turn back Suleiman at Vienna, and checked Barbarossa in the Mediterranean. He strengthened the Hapsburgs but weakened the Empire; he lost Lorraine and surrendered Burgundy. The princes of Germany frustrated his attempt to centralize authority there, and from his time the Holy Roman Empire was a decaying tissue waiting for Napoleon to pronounce it dead. He failed in his efforts to crush Protestantism in Germany, and his method of repressing it in the Netherlands left a tragic legacy to his son. He had found the German cities flourishing and free; he left them ailing under a reactionary feudalism. When he came to Germany it was alive with ideas and energy beyond any other nation in Europe; when he abdicated it was spiritually and intellectually exhausted, and would lie fallow for two centuries. In Germany and Italy his policies were a minor cause of decline, but in Spain it was chiefly his action that crushed municipal liberty and vigor. He might have saved England for the Church by persuading Catherine to yield to Henry’s need for an heir; instead he forced Clement into a ruinous vacillation.
And yet it is our hindsight that sees his mistakes and their enormity; our historical sense can condone them as rooted in the limitations of his mental environment and in the harsh delusions of the age. He was the ablest statesman among his contemporaries, but only in the sense that he dealt courageously with the profoundest issues in their widest range. He was a great man dwarfed and shattered by the problems of his time.
Two fundamental movements pervaded his long reign. The most fundamental was the growth of nationalism under centralized monarchies; in this he did not share. The most dramatic was a religious revolution rising out of national and territorial divisions and interests. Northern Germany and Scandinavia accepted Lutheranism; southern Germany, Switzerland, and the Lowlands divided into Protestant and Catholic sections; Scotland became Calvinist Presbyterian, England became Anglican Catholic or Calvinist Puritan. Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal remained loyal to a distant or chastened papacy. Yet amid that double fragmentation a subtle integration grew: the proudly independent states found themselves interdependent as never before, increasingly bound in one economic web, and forming a vast theater of interrelated politics, wars, law, literature, and art. The Europe that our youth knew was taking form.