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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 52. The Abdication of Charles, and his Cloister Life.


The abdication of Charles, and his subsequent cloister life, have a considerable interest for ecclesiastical as well as general history, and may by anticipation be briefly noted in this place.

In the year 305, the last of the imperial persecutors of Christianity, who was born a slave and reached his power by military achievements, voluntarily resigned the throne of the Caesars, and retired for the remaining eight years of his life to his native Salona in Dalmatia to raise cabbages. In the year 1555 (Oct. 25), Charles V., who was born an heir of three kingdoms, wearied of the race of politics, diplomacy, and war, defeated by the treason of Moritz, and tormented by gout, abdicated his crown to live and die like an humble monk.

The abdication of Charles took place in the royal palace at Brussels, in the same hall in which, forty years before, he had been declared of age, and had assumed the reign of Brabant. He was dressed in mourning for his unfortunate mother, and wore only one ornament,—the superb collar of the Golden Fleece. He looked grave, solemn, pale, broken: he entered leaning on a staff with one hand, and on the arm of William of Orange with the other; behind him came Philip II., his son and heir, small, meager, timid, but magnificently dressed,—a momentous association with the two youthful princes who were to be afterwards arrayed in deadly conflict for the emancipation of the Netherlands from the yoke of Spanish tyranny and bigotry.314314    "Ein Moment volt Schicksal und Zukunft!" says Ranke (V. 295)."Da war der mächtige Kaiser, der bisher die grossen Angelegenheiten der Welt verwaltet hatte; von denen, die ihm zunächst standen, beinahe der Generation, die ihn umgab, nahm er Abschied. Neben ihm erschienen die Männer, denen die Zukunft gehörte, Philipp II. und der Prinz von Oranien, in denen sich die beiden entgegengesetzten Directionen repräsentirten, die fortan um Weltherrschaft kämpfen sollten."

The Emperor rose from the throne, and with his right hand resting on the shoulder of the Prince of Orange,—who was one day to become the most formidable enemy of his house,—and holding a paper in the other hand, he addressed his farewell in French before the members of the royal family, the nobility of the Netherlands, the Knights of the Golden Fleece, the royal counselors, and the great officers of the household. He assured them that he had done his duty to the best of his ability, mindful of his dear native land, and especially of the interests of Christianity against infidels and heretics. He had shrunk from no toil; but a cruel malady now deprived him of strength to endure the cares of government, and this was his only motive for carrying out a long-cherished wish of resigning the scepter. He exhorted them above all things to maintain the purity of the faith. He had committed many errors, but only from ignorance, and begged pardon if he had wronged any one.

He then resigned the crown of the Netherlands to his son Philip with the exhortation, "Fear God: live justly; respect the laws; above all, cherish the interests of religion."

Exhausted, and pale as a corpse, he fell back upon his seat amid the tears and sobs of the assembly.315315    Sandoval, II. 597 sqq.; Gachart, Analectes belgiques, 87; Prescott, Philip the Second, I. 10 sqq.; Ranke, V. 293 sqq. Prescott calls this abdication one of the most remarkable scenes in history.

On the 16th of January, 1556, he executed the deeds by which he ceded the sovereignty of Castile and Aragon, with their dependencies, to Philip. His last act was to resign the crown of Germany into the hands of his brother Ferdinand; but, as affairs move slowly in that country, the resignation was not finally acted on till Feb. 28, 1558, at the Diet at Frankfurt.316316    The negotiations with Ferdinand and the German Diet are detailed by Ranke, V. 297 sqq.


His Retirement to Yuste.


On the 17th of September Charles sailed from the harbor of Flushing for Spain with a fleet of fifty-six sails, his two sisters (Mary, formerly queen of Hungary, and regent of the Low Countries, and Eleanor, the widow of King Francis of France), and a hundred and fifty select persons of the imperial household.

After a boisterous voyage, and a tedious land-journey, he arrived, Feb. 3, 1557, at the Convent of St. Gerome in Yuste, which he had previously selected for his retreat.

The resolution to exchange the splendors of the world for monastic seclusion was not uncommon among the rulers and nobles of Spain; and the rich convents of Montserrat and Poblet (now in ruins) had special accommodations for royal and princely guests. Charles had formed it during the lifetime of the Empress Isabella, and agreed with her that they would spend the rest of their days in neighboring convents, and be buried under the same altar. In 1542 he announced his intention to Francisco de Borgia; but the current of events involved him in a new and vain attempt to restore once more the Holy Roman Empire in the fullness of its power. Now his work was done, and he longed for rest. His resolution was strengthened by the desire to atone for sins of unchastity committed after the death of his wife.317317    He regretted that, from regard to his son, he had not married again. Ranke, V. 297.

Yuste is situated in the mountainous province of Estremadura, about eight leagues from Plasencia and fifty leagues from Valladolid (then the capital of Spain), in a well-watered valley and a salubrious climate, and was in every way well fitted for the wishes of the Emperor.318318    It is often miscalled Saint Yuste, or St. Justus, even by Robertson in Book XII., Eng. ed. III. 294; Amer. ed. III. 226, etc.; and more recently by Dr. Stoughton, Spanish Reformers, Lond., 1883, p. 168. Yuste is not named after a saint, but after a little stream. The convent was founded in 1404, and its proper name is El monasterio de San Geronimo de Yuste. It lies on the route from Madrid to Lisbon, but is somewhat difficult of access. It was sacked and almost destroyed by the French soldiers under Soult, 1809. The bedroom of Charles, and an overgrown walnut-tree under whose shade he used to sit and muse, are still shown. Yuste is now in possession of the Duke of Montpensier. See descriptions in the works of Stirling, Mignet, and Prescott, above quoted, and by Ford in Murray’s Handbook of Spain, I. 294 (sixth edition).

Here he spent about eighteen months till his death,—a remarkable instance of the old adage, Sie transit gloria mundi.


His Cloister Life.


There is something grand and romantic, as well as sad and solemn, in the voluntary retirement of a monarch who had swayed a scepter of unlimited power over two hemispheres, and taken a leading part in the greatest events of an eventful century. There is also an idyllic charm in the combination of the innocent amusements of country life with the exercises of piety.

The cloister life of Charles even more than his public life reveals his personal and religious character. It was represented by former historians as the life of a devout and philosophic recluse, dead to the world and absorbed in preparation for the awful day of judgment;319319    By Sandoval, Strada, and by his most elaborate historian, Dr. Robertson, who says: "There he buried, in solitude and silence, his grandeur, his ambition, together with those projects which, during almost half a century, had alarmed and agitated Europe, filling every kingdom in it, by turns, with the terror of his arms, and the dread of being subdued by his power." Sepulveda, who visited Charles in his retreat, seems to be the only early historian who was aware of his deep interest in public affairs, so fully confirmed by the documents. but the authentic documents of Simancas, made known since 1844, correct and supplement this view.

He lived not in the convent with the monks, but in a special house with eight rooms built for him three years before. It opened into gardens alive with aromatic plants, flowers, orange, citron, and fig trees, and protected by high walls against intruders. From the window of his bedroom he could look into the chapel, and listen to the music and prayers of the friars, when unable to attend. He retained over fifty servants, mostly Flemings, including a major-domo (who was a Spaniard), an almoner, a keeper of the wardrobe, a keeper of the jewels, chamberlains, secretaries, physician, confessor, two watchmakers, besides cooks, confectioners, bakers, brewers, game-keepers, and numerous valets.320320    "Aus den Legaten seines Testamentes lernt man die Mitglieder derselben kennen,—eine ganze Anzahl Kammerdiener, besondere Diener für die Fruchtkammer, Obstkammer, Lichtbeschliesserei, Aufbewahrung der Kleider, der Juwelen, meist Niederländer, jedoch unter einem spanischen Haushofmeister, Louis Quixada. Der Leibarzt und eine Apotheke fehlten nicht." Ranke, V. 305. The codicil of Charles, executed a few days before his death, specifies the names and vocations of these servants. Sandoval and Gachart give the list, the latter more correctly, especially in the orthography of Flemish names. Some of them lived in a neighboring village, and would have preferred the gay society of Brussels to the dull monotony of solitude. He was provided with canopies, Turkish carpets, velvet-lined arm-chairs, six cushions and a footstool for his gouty limbs, twenty-five suits of tapestry, sixteen robes of silk and velvet lined with ermine or eider-down, twelve hangings of the finest black cloth, four large clocks of elaborate workmanship, and a number of pocket-watches. The silver furniture for his table and kitchen amounted to fourteen thousand ounces in weight. The walls of his room were adorned with choice pictures, nine from the pencil of Titian (including four portraits of himself and one of the Empress). He had also a small library, mostly of devotional books.321321    These and other articles of furniture and outfit are mentioned in the inventory. See Sterling, Pichot, and Prescott, I. 302 sqq.

He took exercise in his gardens, carried on a litter. He constructed, with the aid of a skilled artisan, a little handmill for grinding wheat, puppet soldiers, clocks and watches, and endeavored in vain to make an two of them run exactly alike. The fresh mountain air and exercise invigorated his health, and he never felt better than in 1557.

He continued to take a lively interest in public affairs, and the events of the times. He greeted with joy the victory of St. Quentin; with partial dissatisfaction, the conclusion of peace with the Pope (whom he would have treated more severely); with regret, the loss of Calais; with alarm, the advance of the Turkish fleet to Spain, and the progress of the Lutheran heresy. He received regular dispatches and messengers, was constantly consulted by his son, and freely gave advice in the new complications with France, and especially also in financial matters. He received visits from his two sisters,—the dowager queens of Hungary and France, who had accompanied him to Spain,—and from the nobles of the surrounding country; he kept up a constant correspondence with his daughter Joanna, regent of Castile, and with his sister, the regent of Portugal.

He maintained the stately Castilian etiquette of dining alone, though usually in the presence of his physician, secretary, and confessor, who entertained him on natural history or other topics of interest. Only once he condescended to partake of a scanty meal with the friars. He could not control, even in these last years, his appetite for spiced capons, pickled sausages, and eel-pies, although his stomach refused to do duty, and caused him much suffering.

But he tried to atone for this besetting sin by self-flagellation, which he applied to his body so severely during Lent that the scourge was found stained with his blood. Philip cherished this precious memorial of his father’s piety, and bequeathed it as an heirloom to his son.322322    Prescott, l.c., I. 311.

From the beginning of his retreat, and especially in the second year, Charles fulfilled his religious duties with scrupulous conscientiousness, as far as his health would permit. He attended mass in the chapel, said his prayers, and listened to sermons and the reading of selections from the Fathers (Jerome, Augustin, Bernard), the Psalms, and the Epistles of Paul. He favored strict discipline among the friars, and gave orders that any woman who dared to approach within two bow-shots of the gate should receive a hundred stripes. He enjoyed the visits of Francisco Borgia, Duke of Gandia, who had exchanged a brilliant position for membership in the Society of the Jesuits, and confirmed him in his conviction that he had acted wisely in relinquishing the world. He wished to be prayed for only by his baptismal name, being no longer emperor or king. Every Thursday was for him a feast of Corpus Christi.

He repeatedly celebrated the exequies of his parents, his wife, and a departed sister.

Yea, according to credible contemporary testimony, he celebrated, in the presentiment of approaching death, his own funeral, around a huge catafalque erected in the dark chapel. Bearing a lighted taper, he mingled with his household and the monks in chanting the prayers for the departed, on the lonely passage to the invisible world, and concluded the doleful ceremony by handing the taper to the priest, in token of surrendering his spirit to Him who gave it. According to later accounts, the Emperor was laid alive in his coffin, and carried in solemn procession to the altar.323323    The story is told with its later embellishments by Robertson and many others. The papers of Simancas, and the private letters of the Emperor’s major-domo (Quixada) and physician, are silent on the subject; and hence Tomas Gonzalez, Mignet (1854 and 1857), and Maurenbrecher ("Studien und Skizzen." 1874, p. 132, note) reject the whole as a monkish fiction. But the main fact rests on the testimony of a Hieronymite monk of Yuste, who was present at the ceremony, and recorded the deep impression it made; and it is confirmed by Sandoval, who derived his report directly from Yuste. A fuller account is given by Siguença, prior of the Escorial, in his general history of the Order of St. Jerome (1605); and by Strada, who wrote a generation later, and leaves the Emperor in a swoon upon the floor. Stirling, Pichot, Juste, Gachard (1855), Prescott (Phil. II., Vol. I., 327 sqq.), and Ranke (Vol. V., 309 sq.), accept the fact as told in its more simple form by the oldest witness. It is quite consistent with the character of Charles; for, as Prescott remarks (p. 332), "there was a taint of insanity in the royal blood of Castile."

This relish for funeral celebrations reveals a morbid trait in his piety. It reminds one of the insane devotion of his mother to the dead body of her husband, which she carried with her wherever she went.


His Intolerance.


We need not wonder that his bigotry increased toward the end of life. He was not philosopher enough to learn a lesson of toleration (as Dr. Robertson imagines) from his inability to harmonize two timepieces. On the contrary, he regretted his limited forbearance towards Luther and the German Protestants, who had defeated his plans five years before. They were now more hateful to him than ever.

To his amazement, the same heretical opinions broke out in Valladolid and Sevilla, at the very court and around the throne of Spain. Augustin Cazalla,324324    Commonly called Dr. Cazalla. See on him Dr. Stoughton, The Spanish Reformers, p. 204 sq. who had accompanied him as chaplain in the Smalkaldian war, and had preached before him at Yuste, professed Lutheran sentiments. Charles felt that Spain was in danger, and repeatedly urged the most vigorous measures for the extermination of heresy with fire and sword. "Tell the Grand Inquisitor, from me," he wrote to his daughter Joanna, the regent, on the 3d of May, 1558, "to be at his post, and to lay the ax at the root of the evil before it spreads farther. I rely on your zeal for bringing the guilty to punishment with all the severity which their crimes demand." In the last codicil to his will, he conjures his son Philip to cherish the Holy Inquisition as the best instrument for the suppression of heresy in his dominions. "So," he concludes, "shall you have my blessing, and the Lord shall prosper all your undertakings."325325    Gachard, II. 461. Ranke, V. 308. Prescott, I. 325 sq.

Philip II., who inherited the vices but none of the virtues of his father, faithfully carried out this dying request, and by a terrible system of persecution crushed out every trace of evangelical Protestantism in Spain, and turned that beautiful country into a graveyard adorned by somber cathedrals, and disfigured by bull-rings.


His Death.


The Emperor’s health failed rapidly in consequence of a new attack of gout, and the excessive heat of the summer, which cost the life of several of his Flemish companions. He died Sept. 21, 1558, a consistent Catholic as be had lived. A few of his spiritual and secular friends surrounded his death-bed. He confessed with deep contrition his sins; prayed repeatedly for the unity of the Church; received, kneeling in his bed, the holy communion and the extreme unction; and placed his hope on the crucified Redeemer. The Archbishop of Toledo, Bartolomé de Carranza, read the one hundred and thirtieth Psalm, and, holding up a crucifix, said: "Behold Him who answers for all. There is no more sin; all is forgiven;" while another of his preachers commended him to the intercession of saints, namely, St. Matthew, on whose day he was born, and St. Matthias, on whose day he was in a few moments to leave this world.

"Thus," says Mignet, "the two doctrines which divided the world in the age of Charles V. were once more brought before him on the bed of death."

It is an interesting fact, that the same archbishop who had taken a prominent part in the persecution of English Protestants under Queen Mary, and who administered the last and truly evangelical comfort to the dying Emperor, became a victim of persecution, and that those very words of comfort were used by the Emperor’s confessor as one of the grounds of the charge of heresy before the tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition. Bartolomé de Carranza was seven years imprisoned in Spain, then sent to Rome, lodged in the Castle of St. Angelo, after long delay found guilty of sixteen Lutheranizing propositions in his writings, suspended from the exercise of his episcopal functions, and sentenced to be shut up for five years in a convent of his order. He died sixteen days after the judgment, in the Convent Sopra Minerva, May 2, 1576, "declaring his innocence with tears in his eyes, and yet with strange inconsistency admitting the justice of his sentence."326326    His long trial is told by Prescott, Philip the Second, I. 337, 437 sqq.; and by Stoughton, The Spanish Reformers, pp. 185 sqq.

In less than two months after the decease of the Emperor, Queen Mary, his cousin, and wife of his son, died, Nov. 17, 1558, and was borne to her rest in Westminster Abbey. With her the Roman hierarchy collapsed, and the reformed religion, after five years of bloody persecution, was permanently restored on the throne and in the Church of England. In view of this coincidence, we may well exclaim with Ranke, "How far do the thoughts of Divine Providence exceed the thoughts and purposes of men!"327327    Deutsche Gesch., vol. V. 311.


His Tomb.


From Yuste the remains of the once mighty Emperor were removed in 1574 to their last resting-place under the altar of the cathedral of the Escorial. That gloomy structure, in a dreary mountain region some thirty miles north of Madrid, was built by his order as a royal burial-place (between 1563 and 1584), and combines a palace, a monastery, a cathedral, and a tomb (called Pantheon). Philip II., "el Escorialense," spent there fourteen years, half king, half monk, boasting that he ruled the Old and New World from the foot of a mountain with two inches of paper. He died, after long and intense suffering, Sept. 13, 1598, in a dark little room facing the altar of the church.

Father and son are represented in gilt-bronze statues, opposite each other, in kneeling posture, looking to the high altar; Charles V., with his wife Isabella, his daughter Maria, and his sisters Eleonora and Maria; Philip II., with three of his wives, and his weak-minded and unfortunate son, Don Carlos.

The Escorial, like Spain itself, is only a shadow of the past, inhabited by the ghost of its founder, who entombed in it his own gloomy character.328328    The convent was robbed of its richest treasures by the French invaders in 1808, and by the Carlists in 1837. Some of the finest pictures were removed to the museum of Madrid. There still remains a considerable library; the books are richly bound, but their gilt backs are turned inside. The Rev. Fritz Fliedner, an active and hopeful Protestant evangelist in Madrid, with whom I visited the Escorial in May, 1886, bought there the ruins of a house and garden, which was built and temporarily occupied by Philip II. (while the palace-monastery was in process of construction), and fitted it up for an orphan-home, in which day by day the Scriptures are read, and evangelical hymns are sung, in the Spanish tongue.



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