THE EMPEROR AND THE KING

In some of my earlier posts, I talked about how the monarchs of medieval Europe feuded against one another. Another example is the feud between Francis I, King of France, and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. These two royal titans were among the most powerful rulers of the Renaissance.

Their feud started because they both wanted to become the next Holy Roman Emperor. Being the Holy Roman Emperor was the most coveted title of medieval Europe because it not only came with immense wealth and vast lands, but it gave its wielders absolute power, which normal monarchies don’t allow. The only person who outranked the Holy Roman Emperor was the Pope.

Unlike other royal titles and positions, the role of Holy Roman Emperor was not inherited but awarded through elections. These elections were decided by a council of bishops and princes and their choices were often swayed by whichever candidate could provide the biggest bribes. Both Francis and Charles took sizable loans from the wealthiest banker in Europe, but Charles was the one who raised the biggest bribe, therefore securing his ascension as Holy Roman Emperor.

Embittered by his loss, Francis attempted to form an alliance with Henry VIII of England in an attempt to supplant Charles. The alliance broke down before it began after Francis humiliated Henry in a wrestling match. Out of spite, Henry formed an alliance with Charles, who happened to be his nephew through his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Outraged, Francis went to war with Charles. Charles siding with Henry also gave Francis a pretext to seize land Charles had that he desired, which included the Duchy of Milan and the Netherlands.

As enraged and ambitious as Francis was, he was up against the largest and most powerful empire in Europe and the odds were stacked against him from the start. Even though France was wealthy, fertile, and powerful in its own right, it was nothing compared to the Holy Roman Empire during this time. In addition to the usual lands that came with the Holy Roman Empire, Charles possessed so much more. Charles was originally King of Spain, but with the death of his grandfather, the previous Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I, Charles’s empire exploded! Charles V ruled not only Spain and the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, but he also inherited lands in Italy, the Netherlands, and all the conquered land of the Americas. It was a regime that came to be known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” It was one of the largest post-Roman empires that ever existed. Compared to Francis, Charles was wealthier, more influential, and could summon much larger armies.

Francis tried to take the lands he desired from Charles, but he was defeated and captured. Charles eventually released Francis on the condition that Francis forfeit all claim to the lands he craved. To ensure Francis’s good behavior, Charles held Francis’s two sons hostage. Shortly after, Francis defied his pact with Charles and reignited his claim to his desired lands. In response, Charles stripped the captive princes of all forms of comfort. The conditions the princes were living in were so extreme that the younger prince forgot his native language. Eventually, Francis raised another army and tried to take his sons back by force, resulting in both France and the Empire reaching bankruptcy. Desperate for both money and peace, Charles offered a ransom for the release of the two French princes. After temporary taxes, Francis raised the money he needed to get his sons back and an accord was achieved between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Francis never got the lands he desired and his kingdom was bankrupt from war, but he secured the future of his dynasty when he got his sons back.

I like the rivalry between these two powerful monarchs. In my upcoming third fantasy book, the main character, who is the Emperor of Gradaia, goes to war with one of his vassal kings. The rebellious vassal king just happens to be one of the emperor’s cousins, which makes the feud all the more awkward.

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