By Periklis Deligiannis
A Spanish tercio in a modern artwork (source: Desperta Ferro). The Spanish army was the strongest European army of the mid 16th century, belonging to the Hapsburgs.
Charles V Hapsburg was the most powerful European monarch of the first half of the 16th century. The Hapsburg family/dynasty (known also as Habsburg) was able to expand rapidly its territories and to become possibly the strongest dynasty ever in the thrones of Europe, in a unique way: not so much through waging wars and conquests but mainly through dynastic marriages and choosing spouses for their brood, who would be classified today as “very wealthy brides.” Their dowries were not simply money and wealth but thrones, kingdoms and the treasures that accompanied them. But this policy of the Hapsburg dynasty does not reduce the competence and the fighting ability and spirit of the Austrian-Hapsburg imperial army, who was one of the strongest and most effective in European history. The immense Hapsburg Empire had to be supported by an army of a similar level, mostly in quality. In the period that this article is referred to, the Hapsburgs controlled not only the Austrian army, but a “multitude” of several European military forces (mercenaries in a great percentage) and mostly an imperial army stronger than the Austrian, the Spanish one.
Α modern representation of a harquebusier of the 1st half of the 17th cent. (copyright: Francisco Galiano).
In 1550 the Hapsburg
His empire was essentially created by the concentration of the inheritance of the royal dynasties of the Hapsburgs, the Valois-Burgundians and the Trastamara (Dynasty of Aragon-Castile). As it was rightly observed on the policy of the Hapsburgs and their Austrian homeland: “Let others wage wars / you happy Austria make marriages / because what Mars gives to others / is provided to you by the divine Venus.”
Although Charles V was strongly pressed by other envious European monarchs, he finally managed to turn the already strong Hapsburg monarchy into a “global empire” which controlled for decades much of Europe (some of her most civilized regions) and the Spanish colonies around the globe, being an empire where the sun was never setting (a characteristic credited firstly to the Spanish Empire and not to the British).
Map of the Hapsburg European territories of the Emperor Charles V, in 1547 (green color). Apart from these, he ruled over the colonies of Spain in America, in the Philippines, etc. Charles was also the monarch of the Holy Roman Empire, here not marked in green because the empire did not belong to his essential dominions, being in reality a confederation of independent states. But he was the head of this confederation and affected the foreign policy of its members.
THE PHASES OF EXPANSION
The Austrian Core and Germany
The first Hapsburgs of the 11th century AD were Swabian German aristocrats of modern Northern Switzerland. The fort Hapsburg, from which they took their name, was built in AD 1020. Subsequent allegations that they were related with the royal family or aristocratic families of the Ostrogoths who fled to the area north of the Alps when Justinian’s Roman/Byzantine army destroyed their kingdom in Italy (6th century AD), have no historical basis (although this claim is possibly true concerning some other Swabian/Swiss and Austrian families). During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Hapsburgs acquired by imperial concessions, intermarriages and expansion at the expense of the Slavs, a large territory in the SE of the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”, acquiring the Archduchy of Austria (the “Eastern State” which is the meaning of the name, in relation to the rest of Germany). Vienna became their base. Thereby the (Proto-)Swiss Hapsburgs became the founders of the Austrian nation (the Austrians have predominately Boiovarian/Bavarian origins). Simultaneously or shortly thereafter, they acquired or founded the Duchies of Carinthia, Styria, Tyrol and Carniola which together with the Archduchy became the Hapsburg territorial core.
Because of the potential for expansion to the SE, the Hapsburgs gained wealth and power affecting more and more the politics of the Holy Roman Empire. Eventually in 1438, the Hapsburg Archduke managed to gain the throne. The Hapsburgs kept the throne till the abolition of the Empire by Napoleon in 1806-7, except for a small break in the years 1740-1745. But in reality, they lost him forever in 1740 because the Later Hapsburgs (1740 till today) were not essentially Hapsburgs but mere bearers of the name.
In 1369, the French king Charles V married his brother Philip the Bold to Margaret Dampierre, the only daughter and heiress of Louis, Count of Flanders, Artesia and Palatine Burgundy (also known as Franche Comté). With this marriage, the French hoped to expand their borders to the west, up to the Rhine as it was their ultimate plan for centuries. Indeed, when Louis of Burgundy died in 1384, his realm came under the rule of the bridegroom, Philip. The French king Charles had also endowed his brother giving him earlier the French Burgundy, but had made a mistake. His brother instead of going along with France, he joined both Burgundies and founded a new Burgundian dynasty, competitive to the French.
A modern representation of the pikemen of a tercio.
The new Burgundy of Philip and his son, Philip the Good, enjoyed considerable territorial expansion thanks to dynastic marriages and political circumstances. Philip the Good inherited from his father and his mother the united Burgundy and the Duchies of Artois, Flanders, Rethel and Nevers while he annexed the Duchies of Brabant, Luxembourg and Limburg and the Counties of Zeeland, Holland, Hainaut and Namur. His son, Charles the Bold, was the most active Burgundian duke waging expansionist wars. Having regained the Duchy of Limburg he then conquered the Principality-Bishopric of Liège, and the Lorraine in 1475. Thus Charles created a Burgundian state truly competitive to the French, who became nervous by the march of the events. However Charles’ death during the siege of Nancy in 1477 was a salutary event for the French who immediately rushed to recapture the Duchy of Burgundy (French Burgundy) which their King Charles had given to his brother Philip the Bold, and simultaneously invade the Burgundian Netherlands. At the same time Liège and the Duchy of Gelre rebelled and expelled the Burgundian garrisons.
Mary, Charles’ successor, watching her unstable Burgundian state being dissolved, had no choice but to marry in August 1477, a brood of the competitors of France, the Hapsburgs. She was married to Maximilian, who was destined to become later the Austrian Archduke and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Thus the Hapsburgs absorbed the Burgundian dynasty and put under their control its rich possessions, which Maximilian managed to maintain mainly through diplomacy. But he failed to recover the Duchy of Burgundy, although his army defeated the French in the Hapsburg-French war which followed. Since then, France has become the biggest enemy of the Hapsburgs for centuries. Their legendary rivalry led to several major wars.
By 1469, the Iberian Peninsula was divided in the following major realms: the great kingdom of Castile in the center, the kingdom of Portugal in the west and that of Aragon in the east. The latter also included Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Malta and about half the area of modern Italy (i.e. Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy). In the NE of the Iberian Peninsula lied the little kingdom of Navarre and in the SE the Emirate of Granada was the last vestige of the Muslim rule in Iberia.
In 1469 Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of their respective monarchs, Ferdinand of Trastamara and Isabella, establishing essentially modern Spain. This royal couple was one of the most successful in World history. Isabella was not only holding an equal role with her husband (which was not especially customary for this era) but substantially more active. The year 1492 was probably the most important of their reign, because in this year the Arabo-Berbers were permanently expelled from the Iberian Peninsula after the Spanish annexation of Granada, and Columbus, sent by the two kings, discovered America. The riches and resources that flowed from the conquests of the Conquistadores in America and the unification of the Iberian Peninsula (except Portugal and Navarre) gradually made Aragon-Castile the strongest kingdom in Europe in the 16th cent.
France ‘worked’ again involuntarily as a “lever” for the expansion of the Hapsburgs in Spain, when she collided with Aragon-Castile for the control of the Kingdom of Naples (Southern Italy) because the French contested the Aragonese rights on it. The Spanish (Castilian) Trastamara Dynasty found willing allies in the anti-French Hapsburgs and an alliance was concluded between the two royal families in order to repel together the French geo-strategic pressure on the Spanish Italy and on the Hapsburg Netherlands. Thereby Philip the Handsome of the Hapsburgs, son of the aforementioned Emperor Maximilian I, married Joan of Trastamara (daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand) while John (Juan) Trastamara was married to Maximilian’s daughter, Margaret of Austria. The dowry that Philip was given by his father was the Hapsburg Netherlands (approximately modern Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).
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