Tangled Empires

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It’s good to be king!

It’s even better to be emperor. The title of Holy Roman Emperor was bestowed on King Charles I of Spain in 1519 and he took the new title ‘Emperor Carlos V’. He was not yet 20 years old!

His empire was vast. It encompassed much of Europe including Spain and most of Italy, among many other countries, but it also included ‘The New World’ that his grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella had passed on to him.

But this was clearly not enough. During his reign he fought repeatedly with King Francois of France and his son King Henri II. The kings of France fiercely fought to gain parts of northern Italy, while Carlos was trying to gain large portions of eastern France.

Many of the kingdoms at that time were the result of strategically arranged marriages of very young royal children. During one of the episodes of peace between wars King Francois of France married the Emperor’s sister. Peace was necessary periodically to refill the royal treasuries. And even though Francois’ mother and his wife (the Emperor’s own sister) tried to intervene war resumed between France and the Emperor. Neither side won a final victory. There was a long series of treaties, marriages, captivities, and ransoms that formed even more tangled empires.

Palacio de Carlos V, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

During this time Carlos decided he needed another palace and that it would be pleasant to take advantage of the splendid grounds of the Moorish Palaces at The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. He initiated his palace construction there in 1527. The outside of the palace has strong rectangular features formed by textured blocks. But the upper level has contrasting round openings and the interior courtyard is circular. (See Granada Moon in this blog.) Carlos never used this palace because construction was delayed. He enjoyed his other palaces but his court was mainly located in Madrid. Two years after Carlos started construction at Granada, King Francois began construction of his palace at Fontainebleau.

Palacio de Carlos V, The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

What Francois could not accomplish on the battlefield he attempted to arrange with the marriage of his son Henri to Catherine de Medici of Italy. Henri and Catherine were teenagers when they were married in an extravagant ceremony in Marseilles. Catherine fell in love with Henri, but unfortunately, Henri had already given his chivalric devotion and his heart to the wise and beautiful Diane de Poirtiers. He dutifully created heirs with Catherine, but all knew that his life was dedicated to Diane. Their ménage à trois is a very famous story and is described from an insider’s viewpoint by Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent in the book The Serpent and the Moon.

King Henri II of France continued his father’s campaigns and defended France against the Emperor and his allies, including the King of England. This was not enough to fully occupy King Henri so he spent his idle time moving his entourage of thousands of people from palace to palace as the seasons and game dictated. Henri loved to hunt when he was not at war.

So while Carlos was building palaces in Spain, Francois and Henri were building their own palaces in France. Henri gave Diane de Poirtiers one of his most beautiful chateau. But in the end Catherine de Medici took it back abruptly upon Henri’s death.

The arranged empires that so many died for have passed away. But some of the palaces remain to show us the splendor that kings and emperors lived in. Outside the palace walls people lived in primitive poverty. Their lives were dictated by the needs and entanglements of the royal families. The peasants could create the beautiful stonework of the palaces, but they returned to stone age dwellings at the end of the work day.




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