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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Thus assuring the Hapsburg supremacy in Europe


primogeniture, and left all

to Charles, eldest son of Philip the Handsome and Juana la Loca. Through his mother and Ferdinand, Charles inherited Castile, Aragon, and Navarre, the Castilian dominions in Africa and America (where the era of great conquests was just about to begin), the Roussillon and Cerdagne across the Pyrenees, and Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples in Italy; through his father he had already become possessed of the territories of the House of Burgundy, comprised of Flanders and Artois in northern France, Franche-Comt? and Charolais in the east, Luxembourg, and the Low Countries. This was not all, for Charles was heir of the Emperor Maximilian, and in addition to inheriting the latter's Austrian dominions might hope to succeed to the imperial title as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. To be sure, the system of electing the emperors by the electoral princes still obtained, but the Germanic states of the empire were almost certain to prefer a powerful Hapsburg, with such dominions as Charles had, to any other candidate, if only to serve as a counterpoise to the ambitions of France. Nevertheless, the electors did not miss the opportunity to make a profit out of the situation, and encouraged the candidacy of Henry VIII of England and especially of Francis I of France as well as that of Charles, receiving bribes and favors from all. In the end, following the death of Maximilian in 1519, they decided in favor of Charles. He was now ruler, at least in name, of one of the most vast empires in the history
of the world.

[Sidenote: Inherent weakness of his empire.]

The mere possession of such extensive domains inevitably led to an imperialistic policy to insure their retention. Each of the three principal elements therein, Spain, Burgundy, and the Austrian dominions, was ambitious in itself and especially hostile to France, and all of these aspirations and enmities were now combined in a single monarch. Charles himself was desirous not only of conquest but also of becoming the most powerful prince in the world, thus assuring the Hapsburg supremacy in Europe, and making himself the arbiter in European political affairs and the protector of Christianity; he may even have dreamed of a world monarchy, for if he did not aspire to such a state for himself he believed its attainment possible of realization. In the achievement of a less vast ideal, however, Charles was certain to experience many difficulties, and at some point or other was bound to encounter the hostility not only of France but also of the other states of Europe. If this were not enough there came along the unforeseen dilemma of the Reformation. Finally, his own dominions were none too strongly held together, one with another or within themselves. They were widely separated, some indeed entirely surrounded by French territory, leading to a multiplicity of problems of a military and a political nature. The imperial rank carried little real authority in Germany, and the Burgundian realms were not a great source of power. It appears, therefore, that the empire was more a matter of show than of strength, and that Spain, who already had a surfeit of responsibility, what with her conquests in Italy, Africa, and the Americas, must bear the burden for all. The reign of Charles would seem to be the parting of the ways for Spain. If she could have restricted herself to her purely Spanish inheritance, even with the incubus of her Italian possessions, she might have prolonged her existence as a great power indefinitely. A century ahead of England in colonial enterprise, she had such an opportunity as that which made the island of Britain one of the dominant factors in the world. Even as matters were, Spain was able to stand forth as a first rank nation for well over a century. Whatever might have happened if a different policy had been followed, it hardly admits of doubt that Spain's intervention in European affairs involved too great a strain on her resources, and proved a detriment politically and economically to the peninsula.


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