The Purchased Emperor
Charles V’s Coronation and a Changing World

7 October 2020 – 10 January – 2021

23 October 1520: Charles V is crowned king at the cathedral of Aachen – as were more than 30 other German kings between 931 and 1531. The “autumn of the Middle Ages” shines in all its splendour and glory, yet the facade of this world, hitherto imperturbable, is already crumbling. Charles V is about to become the most powerful ruler of the world, yet he represents an era of upheaval as he succeeds “the last knight” Maximilian I. His ascension to the throne doesn’t go smoothly. He only manages to secure the Prince Electors’ votes by launching a bribery campaign on an unprecedented scale – mainly funded by Jakob Fugger. After defeating his rival Francis I of France, Charles V secures the crown and the title emperor-elect. (In 1530 pope Clement VII will finally crown him emperor in Bologna.)

With the exhibition “The Purchased Emperor – The Coronation of Charles V and the change of the world” the Centre Charlemagne focusses on how Charles V was crowned king and elected Holy Roman Emperor and zooms in on the fall of this first global empire.

A first focus will be placed on the coronation ceremony held in Aachen around 1520 and the historical significance Charlemagne had. Aachen is still in possession of important relics used during the coronation ceremony of Charles V. His coronation in Aachen is also the first from which numerous written and illustrated testimonials survived. Special highlights of the exhibition are i.a. the magnificent coronation robe, the inserts of the throne and Aachen’s copy of the Imperial Crown. Charles, eldest son of Philip I and Johanna of Castile, is raised at the court of his aunt archduchess Margaret, who resides in Mecheln, the Netherlands. After the early death of his father in 1506 – until then regent of the Netherlands – Charles inherits his throne. Initially he stays in the Netherlands with his aunt, who becomes his guardian and is empowered to exercise the regency of the Low Countries. The exhibition’s second focus is placed on how Charles V spent his childhood and youth in the Netherlands.

Ruler of an empire “on which the sun never sets”

After his grandfather Ferdinand dies in 1516 Charles inherits the kingdoms of Castile, Aragon and Granada. At the same time the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia are added to his crown. But that’s not all: In South and Central America Charles rules over Spain’s huge colonial empire. Under his reign the conquistadors display the full force of their devastating power: they all but annihilated the native cultures, as they exploited and enslaved its indigenous people.

Goods and acquisitions from the “New World” are quickly becoming visible in everyday life throughout Europe. This is shown by the exhibition’s third focus.

Charles V governs a global realm that later became an empire “on which the sun never sets”. At the same time he struggles with this global claim and the challenge to realise his vision of a universal monarchy in the different parts of his empire. Times are changing: military and media revolutions in the early modern period lead to a paradigm shift.

The old world disintegrates with the first steps of globalisation. The Turkish advance poses an outer threat. Meanwhile the Reformation poses an inner threat as it divides the Christians in Europe. Charles’ empire has become ungovernable. In 1556, at the age of 55, the most powerful man in the world renounces his crown and resigns from his offices.

A monastery west of Madrid will become the emperor’s last refuge. Here he dies, physically and mentally exhausted, on the 21st September.

The exhibition in the Center Charlemagne will cover 600 square meters on two floors.


Prof. Dr. Frank Pohle

Curatorial assistant

Dilara Uygun


A catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition. The anthology comprises of cuttingedge research from the last decades, particularly of recent findings that are currently only published in academic and scientific journals. Additionally a scientific programme will be organised around the exhibition.


In addition to the exhibition in the Center Charlemagne you can visit the throne in the cathedral (place of the coronation) and the banquet hall in the town hall (place of the coronation meal) in Aachen. As these original sites are not part of the exhibition, please check the opening hours first.

Centre Charlemagne
Neues Stadtmuseum Aachen
Katschhof 1 | 52062 Aachen
Phone +49 241 432-4919