The Purchased Emperor
Charles V’s Coronation and a Changing World
7 October 2020 – 10 January – 2021
23rd October 1520: Charles V is crowned King of Germany in Aachen Cathedral – like more than 30 other German monarchs in the period from 931 to 1531. The “Autumn of the Middle Ages” is radiant in a final blaze of glory, full of pomp and splendour. But the ascent of Charles V to the office of most powerful ruler in the world – as successor to “The Last Knight”, Maximilian I – marks the beginning of an era of upheaval, of progressive disintegration of the facade of a universe previously deemed unshakeable.
Even his election by the Electoral Princes is anything but plain sailing. It is only through a hitherto unparalleled campaign of bribery – financed primarily by Jakob Fugger – that Charles manages to boot out his rival, Francis I, King of France, and secure the German crown for himself – along with his confirmation as Holy Roman Emperor Elect. (Admittedly, he would only actually be ceremonially crowned as such by Pope Clement VII in 1530 in Bologna.)
In its exhibition “The Purchased Emperor – Charles V’s Coronation and a Changing World”, the Centre Charlemagne will focus on the Aachen coronation of Charles V as King of Germany and “Holy Roman Emperor Elect” – and on the decline of the first global empire.
The exhibition will offer details about Aachen, the coronation venue, around 1520 and the
importance of Charlemagne, Charles V’s namesake, for the history of coronations. Significant relics of the coronation ceremony have been preserved in Aachen. And – for the very first time as far as Aachen coronations are concerned – an abundance of evidential images and texts is available. Special highlights of the show will include, for example, the Charles’s original, magnificent Coronation Robe, the wooden seat boards of Charlemagne’s Throne, and the Aachen Replica of the Imperial Crown.
Charles, born in 1500 as the first son of Philip I and Joanna of Castile, grew up in Mechelen in the Netherlands, at the court of his aunt, Archduchess Margaret of Austria. In 1506, on the premature death of his father, who was at that time Regent of the Netherlands, six-year-old Charles inherited the throne. Initially, he remained in the Netherlands, where his aunt in her capacity as his guardian ruled as acting regent. Charles V’s childhood and adolescence in the Netherlands will form another of the main topic sections of the exhibition.
Ruler of an empire “on which the sun never sets”
In 1516, his grandfather, Ferdinand, died, and Charles inherited the united kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Granada – along with the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Charles also became ruler over the enormous Spanish colonial territories in South and Central America. It was under his rule that the destruction of pre-Columbian cultures – and exploitation and enslavement of indigenous Americans – by the Conquistadors reached its lamentable climax.
Wares and acquisitions from the “New World” rapidly became a self-evident part of European daily life, as a third main topic section of the show will illustrate.
Charles V ruled over a global empire that would later come to be called “the empire on which the sun never sets”. But at the same time he was in a constant struggle with his aspiration to achieve a universal monarchy, and with the challenges involved in implementing this mission in the different parts of his vast empire – particularly in an era of such manifold and fundamental upheavals. The military revolution and the media revolution of the Early Modern Era were heralding in a paradigm shift.
Old worldviews were shattering on the path toward the First Globalisation. The advancing Turks posed a looming external threat – and then, of course, there was the rupturing of unity of faith in Christian Europe through the Reformation. Charles’s global empire would eventually became ungovernable. In 1556, at the age of 55, the most powerful man in the world would renounce his crown and his offices.
A monastery west of Madrid would become the emperor’s final refuge. There, he would die, physically and emotionally exhausted, on 21st September 1558.
The exhibition in the Centre Charlemagne will occupy a floor space of 600 square metres extending over two floors.
Prof. Dr. Frank Pohle
As a companion to the exhibition, a catalogue will be produced offering a reliable compilation of research work conducted in the past decades and findings, particularly the most recent ones, which are often only to be found in rather inaccessible specialist publications.
There will also be a scientific preliminary and accompanying programme.
In addition to the exhibition in the Centre Charlemagne, original settings can also be viewed: the Throne in Aachen Cathedral (location of the coronation); and the Banquet Hall in Aachen Town Hall (location of the Coronation Banquet). To avoid disappointment, please check the specific opening hours of these two locations before your visit!