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Even as monarchs go, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was one lucky individual. He inherited Austria and the job of Holy Roman Emperor, as well as the Netherlands (including Belgium) through his father, whose parents were Maximilian of Austria and Marie of Burgundy (this province, but not the Netherlands, was lost to the French). On his mother's side, he inherited Spain through her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella.

When Charles V abdicated, he divided his holdings, with his brother Ferdinand inheriting Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. His son, Philip II, received Spain (which had come through Charles' mother), and the Netherlands (which had come through Charles' father).

Why did Charles V divide his Empire at all? Did the Spanish and German sides have trouble getting along? More to the point, why did he give the Netherlands, which had come through the German side of the family to Philip, along with Spain, instead of to Ferdinand, when the Holy Roman Empire was at least contiguous to the Netherlands? (Spain was not.)

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Makes me wonder, was it legal for him to do so? I mean, shouldn't the Archduchy of Austria and the other HRE titles pass by primogeniture? – Louis Rhys Jan 15 '14 at 7:02
@LouisRhys - In that mileu "legal" basically boiled down to "what other nobles won't use as a pretext for war over". The rest of Europe was quite happy to see those possessions split up rather than concentrated in the hands of one ruler, so it was perfectly "legal". :-) – T.E.D. Jan 15 '14 at 12:13
won't his son or his son' s allies be unhappy about that? – Louis Rhys Jan 15 '14 at 15:25
Awesome question. – Felix Goldberg Jan 15 '14 at 22:12
up vote 5 down vote accepted

After some reading up I have the beginnings of an answer here, I think.

  1. The partition of the Habsburg lands actually took place in 1521 (The pact of Worms) and 1522 (The pact of Brussels), way before Philip II was even born. By the Worms and Brussels agreements, which were actually family documents and not diplomatic instruments, Charles's brother Ferdinand became the ruler of the Austrian Habsburg lands, serving in fact as Charles's steward or viceroy. Charles reserved to himself the paramount authority as both emperor and head of the Habsburg house.

Since Ferdinand proved to be an able and successful ruler, it was quite obvious that he should retain the control of his territories upon Charles's retirement. In other words, the retirement just finalized and legalized the effective partition made ~35 years before it.

(So far my answer is based on pp. 26-45 of the book A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526-1918) by Kahn.

  1. However, what is not quite obvious to me from the previous explanation, is why Ferdinand rather than Philip succeeded to the Imperial title. My guess, based on the above source, but not quite stated there in so many words is that Ferdinand had become King of Bohemia in 1526 (the previous king, the hapless Louis II, was killed in the battle of Mohács and left no legitimate children, so Ferdinand who was Louis's brother-in-law succeeded to the Bohemian throne). This made him an elector of the HRE and a much more obvious candidate for the throne than the distant King of Spain.

But like I said, that's just my guess, not Kahn's (I got the Mohács connection from him, though).

  1. As for the Netherlands, I'd really go out on a limb and hazard a guess that for Charles this was less an issue of German/Spanish identity of the territory, but rather of his own emotional attachment to it. Charles himself grew up there and was raised as a Flemish prince (when he first took up his duties as King of Spain, he barely knew Spanish and was surrounded by Flemish advisors, which the Spaniards rather disliked). So it makes sense for him to have wanted to leave his "ancestral land" to his son, whether this was politically sound or not.

This is really just a guess, though.

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This all sounds very sound - I would add that in an age when the monarch is personally responsible for a lot, and communications are slow, Charles V's full holdings were unmanageably huge to be ruled by one man. If he had tried, much more than just the Netherlands would probably have been lost to Hapsburg rule. – Guy F-W Jan 17 '14 at 14:23
I tend to agree with Guy F-W. My understanding (gleaned in part from your answer) was that Charles V had "farmed out" pieces of his holdings to Ferdinand, or Philip earlier, and that the final division was part of the "farming out" process. My only quarrel is with your somewhat speculative last paragraph, but if you could tie Philip's inheritance of the Netherlands to an earlier "farming out" decision, that would make it a good answer. – Tom Au Jan 19 '14 at 20:04

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