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  • Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World History, and today were going to

  • talk about the Holy Roman Empire.

  • Which as Voltaire famously pointed out, was not holy, or Roman, or an empire.

  • But the Holy Roman Empire can help us understand world history, especially during the reign

  • of its most powerful emperor, the smart, and sensible, and hard-working Charles Hapsburg,

  • known as Carlos I in Spain, and Charles V in the rest of Europe.

  • So, lets frame it this way. In soccer, the World Cup is like a pretty big deal, especially for me.

  • Mr Green? Mr Green? But I’m not even good at soccer

  • Youre actually not that bad Me From the Past, but the

  • only two things you put into your body are Wendy’s and cigarette smoke. And thatit’s not

  • great for your athletic career. In 2014, the final pitted Germany against

  • Argentina and if that game had been played in 1550, both of those teams wouldve had

  • the same head of state. The 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands,

  • again the same head of state - Charles V. Unfortunately, the 1550 World Cup had to be

  • postponed until after soccer was invented.

  • So, Charles V ruled one of the biggest empires in history, behind only Chinggis Khan, Joseph

  • Stalin and Stalin’s successors in the Soviet Union.

  • In addition to claiming to rule most of Europe, during Charleslifetime, (1500-1558), one

  • of his dominions, Spain, laid claim to nearly all of the New World outside of Brazil. And

  • a few of his subjects -- the miserable survivors of the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan -- became

  • the first known humans to circumnavigate the globe.

  • Under Charles, the template for the colonization of the Americas and the Christianization and

  • treatment of its indigenous people was laid down, and Charles gave his seal of approval

  • to the Jesuit Order to convert Asia. He underwrote the first Mission settlements to California,

  • and began the process of turning the islands known as the Philippines into Asia’s largest

  • Spanish-speaking country. But he wasn’t just a conqueror. Charles

  • also hosted the Valladolid debates, the first-known discussions of universal human rights -- and

  • he actively sought to end slavery for many. Although, not for all, and he didn’t really

  • succeed in ending it for anyone. Yet, for all that, Charles V isn’t known

  • as a giant of world history. I mean his realm, the Holy Roman Empire, was ultimately, a failed

  • state, and his reign a bitter disappointment, even to himself.

  • Trying to rule an empire stocked with rebellious subjects including Martin Luther and with

  • territory in two hemispheres, Charles V managed to totally bankrupt his realm and that was

  • kind of impressive. Because he had access to the silver and gold

  • of the new world, the Renaissance banking fortunes of Italy and the Netherlands, and

  • the military power of Spain. In short, Charles V was to the Holy Roman

  • Empire what Screech is to the Saved by the Bell alumni.

  • By the time he died, crippled with gout and malaria at the age of 58 - wait are we still

  • talking about Screech? No, apparently were talking about Charles V now.

  • Anyway, the Holy Roman Empire was defaulting on massive debts to its creditors.

  • So among historians, the debate over whether Charles could have been a successful emperor

  • tends to break into two schools of thought. One argues that the Holy Roman Empire was

  • doomed to fail largely because it lacked the nationalism that powered the rising nation-states

  • like France and England. But Voltaire was probably right, that the

  • Holy Roman Empire was doomed from birth. Over it’s 1004-year-history, the Holy Roman Empire

  • never had the means of levying direct taxes, or directly raising an army from its territory,

  • which nearly always included what are today Eastern France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria,

  • the Italian peninsula, and Czechoslovakia, and at times stretched to the Netherlands,

  • and Belgium, Hungary, Croatia, Poland, and western Ukraine.

  • Governing such a vast area is almost impossible, especially when you have to have like you

  • know people on horses to deliver messages. These days, even with the internet, governing

  • Europe isn’t that easy - Ask the European Parliamentg how it’s going.

  • So the HRE began in 800 CE as a marriage between the Germanic warlord, Charlemagne, and the

  • only sort of warlord-y Popes in Rome. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire

  • western Christendom was basically a flock of rural warriors who reveled in trials by

  • combat, Christian conversion through combat, and, just generally combat.

  • And Charlemagne shrewdly recognized that the Church’s mainly literate hierarchy and command

  • of tradition were his best possible instruments for governing his battle loving feudal lords.

  • So Charlemagne and Pope Leo III struck a deal; Leo would bestow upon Charlemagne the authority

  • and tradition of the Caesars, while Charlemagne acknowledged the Church’s spiritual superiority

  • over his secular power. And the name for the agreement reflected the

  • terms of the deal. Holy, because the Church wanted top billing, Roman, to give Charlemagne

  • maximum prestige among his feudal subjects, and Empire, because they wanted it to be an

  • empire. Here’s a lesson in romance from history:

  • marriages of convenience…. meh? So the relationship between the popes and

  • the emperors grew a bit rocky over time. In the centuries after Charlemagne, one European

  • warrior clan, the House of Hapsburg fought to claim the Emperor’s throne, and to establish

  • dominance over the Papacy. And one of the tactics used by the Hapsburgs

  • was to promote dynastic marriages between Hapsburg cousins, thus keeping inheritances

  • within the family and out of the hands of the Church.

  • This Hapsburg in-breeding worked politically, but, over centuries, it brought out recessive

  • family genes for mental illness and -- most famously -- these oversized lower jaws that

  • became Europe’s most-recognizable profile. In short, in-breeding - great way to keep

  • money in the family, maybe not the best way to keep A++ kings in the family.

  • The Papacy fought back and in 1356,the position of Holy Roman Emperor was turned into an elected

  • position. Candidates for the crown henceforth needed to win support from at least four of

  • sevenElectors.” Now this didn’t prevent the Hapsburgs from

  • reclaiming the throne, but it did force the family to pay fortunes in bribes and favors

  • to win it, because as always, money wins elections. Charles was no exception and the bribes he

  • paid to secure the his position as Emperor in 1521 meant that he started off his rule

  • in debt - which is never a great idea. But wait, you say, now that he is Emperor

  • he can just tap into a loyal group of subjects, who will be more than happy to pay tax increases

  • in order to pay off Charlesdebt. But yeah, that’s not how the Holy Roman

  • Empire worked. All right, let’s get to know this Emperor in the Thought Bubble

  • Charles’s parents came from two ambitious dynasties. His mother, Juana, was the daughter

  • of Ferdinand and Isabella, whom youve probably heard of. And from Juana, Charles laid claim

  • not only to Spain but to parts of Italy, including Naples and Sicily, as well as what became

  • known as the Americas. Charles’s father was the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Fair.

  • And through Philip, Charles could claim the German lands of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian

  • I, Phillip’s father. So Charles’s existence was pretty much a

  • genetic engineering job designed to produce a ruler of Spain and Germany. Only, Charles

  • was neither Spanish nor German himself. He grew up in Belgium, in the dukedom of Burgundy,

  • which technically made him a French subject. And ruling over so many disparate people was

  • a recipe for trouble. Like, German peasants in Frisia had revolted against the empire

  • in 1515, but they weren’t nearly as troublesome as the Germans living in towns. By the time

  • Charles bought his throne in 1521, German merchants had come to think of themselves

  • as being guaranteed the rights to speak in a parliament, to have a say in their taxes

  • and even to form their own militias. Protestantism was also a big headache for

  • Charles, especially when Luther and his followers claimed that they followed their consciences

  • in matters of religion rather than the emperor’s will. Charles thought that he solved this

  • problem when he faced Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1523, but that didn’t work out

  • quite as planned. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, at the Diet of

  • Worms Luther was so compelling when talking about his faith that he became more popular

  • - not less. And shortly thereafter he began his famous

  • German translation of the Bible. So obviously, governing most of Europe was

  • just a tremendous difficulty for Charles V, but he also had to be the ruler of all of

  • the Americas except for Brazil. I can’t help but notice, Stan, that Brazil

  • is always the exception in the Americas.

  • And with the Spanish Conquistadors subjugation

  • of the the American Indians by the late 1530s, Charles’s life got even worse or arguably

  • better. Because he was richer and had more subjects

  • which is the point of being an emperor I guess. So unlike most of the Spaniards in Spain’s

  • colonies, Charles actually showed some concern for his native subjects, but he couldn’t

  • really do much. Like in 1520, after receiving a steady stream

  • of complaints about how the native people were being abused, Charles banned the granting

  • of new encomiendas and ordered his officials to phase out the old ones.

  • And this workednot at all. Hernan Cortes and other leading conquistadors completely

  • ignored Charles orders and just kept doling out encomiendas.

  • And then Charles sent new orders saying that the Indians areto live in liberty, as

  • our vassals in Castile live...if you have given any Indians in encomienda to any Christians

  • you will remove them.” Cortes responded, “The majority of the Spaniards

  • who come here are of low quality, violent, and vicious.”

  • Well, I guess he was self-aware. Anyway, his response amounted to - we could only get Spanish

  • people to come here if they have the right to exploit other humans.

  • And then In 1526, Charles gave in and allowed Cortes, and, later, Pizarro, to issue temporary

  • encomiendas to their men. Now so far, Charles isn’t looking so good

  • in this story, so it might be useful to compare his record to those of his contemporaries,

  • who, in theory, ruled more coherent and governable states.

  • And it just so happens that Charles reigned at the same time as two of Europe’s most

  • notable proto-nationalistic leaders, England’s Henry VIII and France’s Francis I of France.

  • The bitterest rivalry was between Francis and Charles, because Francis believed that

  • Charles, as the Duke of Burgundy, which is in France, was his subject.

  • Charles, meanwhile, knew that Francis had attempted to win the title of Holy Roman Emperor

  • himself, and had warned the electors that Charles was an unfit and despotic man.

  • If we could just stop for a moment. Why on earth would anyone fight to become the Holy

  • Roman Emperor. The two monarchs fought four separate wars

  • against each other. And according to proponents of nationalism, Francis should have had the

  • advantage, right. Because he had unchallenged power of taxation in France, and a religious

  • class that was loyal to him, and a population, or at least an elite, that all spoke French.

  • But Charles’s troops won every war. Not only that, in the course of the wars Charles

  • troops managed to take Francis himself hostage at the siege of Pavia, and sack Rome in 1527,

  • ending the pope’s hope of becoming a real player in secular politics, and, according

  • to some scholars, ending the Italian Renaissance. Charles also fought a war against Suleiman

  • and the Ottomans, defeating them at Vienna, although he wasn’t able to stop Suleiman

  • from consolidating his control over the formerly Habsburg territory of Hungary.

  • But despite ruling this fractious, polyglot empire rather than a compact national state,

  • Charles did okay for himself. Well at least by some measures - by other

  • measure he was a total failure. Oh, it’s time for the open letter.

  • But first, let’s see what’s in the globe today. Oh, it’s all of my past romantic

  • relationships. An open letter to failure. Dear failure, youre so often in the eyes

  • of the beholder, like what looks like failure at one point in your life can later look like

  • a wonderful success. I mean Charles V had a lot of successes but ultimately

  • he viewed his reign as a terrible failure. That’s why he eventually abdicated and retired

  • to a life of full time beer-drinking. And then he split up his empire with his brother

  • getting the Holy Roman Empire and his son getting Spain.

  • And that was probably marginally at least a good thing for both the Holy Roman Empire

  • and Spain. In short, failure almost no person is merely

  • a failure or even merely a success. So enough with all these falsely constructed

  • dichotomies failure, they are complete failure. Best wishes, John Green.

  • So, the story of Charles V reminds us of something we learn again and again when studying World

  • History: that there are multiple sides to every piece of history.

  • Yes, the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V ceased to be Holy in the sense that it was

  • no longer 100% Catholic, it was never Roman since Latin wasn’t among the many languages

  • spoken thereAnd it wasn’t much of an empire because

  • it was too diverse and spread out for Charles really to have the power of an emperor.

  • But as with most history, and many facebook relationship statuses, and one Meryl Streep

  • movie - it’s complicated. But perhaps the one concrete lesson we can

  • take away from the history of Charles V is the benefits of acknowledging the limits of

  • one’s power. Charles never did. His imperial motto was plus ultra. And that

  • meansfurther beyond,” but it could also mean limitless. Charles sought to fuse Atlantic

  • and Central Europe into seamless whole on a scale the size of today’s European Union.

  • He tried to stamp out the Protestant Reformation and make his response, the

  • Catholic Counter-Reformation global. He tried to create new policies in the New

  • World, while still defending old policies in the Old World.

  • And by trying to be the most powerful Emperor in the most powerful empire in the history

  • of the world he failed spectacularly. There’s a lesson in that for all empires,

  • and all nation-states, and even all people. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week.

  • Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz studio in Indianapolis and

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  • hometown, “don’t forget to be awesome.”

Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World History, and today were going to

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Charles V and the Holy Roman Empire: Crash Course World History #219

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