Lecture #9 - Emperor Charles the Fifth - 47:08 (mp3)
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Professor Mosse begins this lecture by pointing to three large empires, which largely dominated the known world in the 16th century. These were the Habsburg, Turkish and Muscovite empires. Each had universalist claims that transcended the boundaries of Continental Europe. Yet, it was the empire of Charles V that came the closest to universalism in both the Old and the New worlds. His empire dominated Western and Central European politics in first half of 16th century.
Mosse then proceeds to dedicate a large section of the lecture to a discussion of the personality of Charles V, as well as to how Charles’ personality influenced his rule, his successes and his failures. We learn that Charles V saw himself as the shepherd of his people (a topic Mosse picks up in the following lecture). He was deeply devout and his religious convictions largely guided his political decisions. As emperor, he saw himself as the moral ruler of Christendom against enemies such as the Turks and other Muslims, as well as against Lutheran heretics. Nevertheless, he was also influenced by the Christian Humanists of the Netherlands and believed in a degree of tolerance. This expressed itself in the extension of the most tolerant patent then in existence to the Jews. Due to this Christian Humanist influence, he also was convinced of the need for rational dialogue and persuasion. This was, in a sense, to provoke certain failures in his dynastic rule. Mosse points to three major failings that resulted from Charles’ over-trusting nature and from his belief in rational dialogue. First, Charles never acted against the Lutherans and Calvinists in the Netherlands. Secondly, he hesitated too long in Germany and gave the Protestants too much time to grow in strength and numbers. Thirdly and finally, he trusted Francis II of France too much, which permitted, Francis to gain tremendous power at the expense of the Habsburgs.
Charles V chose in the end to abdicate in favor of his son, Phillip II, but left the latter with a significantly weaker empire. The German princes had elected Charles’ brother, and not his son, as the Holy Roman Emperor, thereby dividing the House of Habsburg into Spanish and German factions. This further implied the triumph of the territorial state wherein the ruling prince determined the religion of the state. Further, France had been significantly strengthened and its rise would dominate the story of Europe thereafter.
Mosse ends this lecture by foregrounding the next. Nonetheless, his conclusion is in many respects more interesting for his lengthy discussion of historical processes. By attempting to explain the mechanisms for historical change, Mosse – as he does in several lectures, but not to this fullness – demonstrates his decidedly Hegelian perspective.