The Knight of the Black Eagle

Titian‘s Equestrian Portrait of Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire (1548) celebrates Charles’ victory at Mühlberg
“Battle of Mühlberg, 1547”, Ángel García Pinto

If there is no way to avoid an engagement before I arrive, I cannot enjoin you too strongly to inform me post haste.


War marked Europe in the late 1540s. It was the first time that a major European war had been fought in Germany. On the one side was a Catholic emperor standing not only for the unity of Christendom but for universal Christian power and, on the other, the Protestant states articulating special particularism. Charles, now a widower and usually melancholy in time of peace, was happy to be in an army again: “There goes the happiest man in the world,” his brother Ferdinand’s ambassador Martín de Salinas had written in 1536 about Charles and the war in Provence. (It was Salinas who ensured that Ferdinand received so much information about the Indies.)

On June 26, 1546, the Farnese pope, Paul III, signed a treaty agreeing to support Charles against the Protestants. But France and England on June 6 had concluded a treaty at Guînes, in the Pas de Calais, then, of course, an English possession, which freed them both from obligations to Charles. On July 26, an army of Protestant princes reached the Danube and threatened to cut off Charles, who, in his litter, marched to the river Inn, and on August 13, joined with papal troops. Next day, the Protestant Schmalkaldic League formally challenged him, sending him a herald in the traditional manner. Charles assembled his army of thirty thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry. He then amalgamated these forces with those of the Dutch count Egmont, who had five thousand cavalry. The first battle was on August 31 at Ingolstadt, Charles taking part at the head of his men, supported by Alba and Egmont. Through his victory there, Charles won control of south Germany by the end of 1546. This was the victory of Alba, then at his best as a commander.

At Christmas 1546, Charles was at Heilbronn in Württemberg. He was then weary, having slept in forty different places since August. Next spring, in April—supported by his brother, Ferdinand, with his son Maximilian, and by the treacherous Maurice of Saxony—he defeated the elector John Frederick of Saxony at Mühlberg, near Leipzig, on the Elbe. Charles commented “Vine, vi y Dios conquistó.” John Frederick was not aware that Charles could cross the Elbe at Mühlberg. Alba brought the elector as a prisoner to Charles, who treated him scornfully. The Emperor then continued north to Wittenberg, the scene of Luther’s first challenge, which John Frederick surrendered on June 4 to avoid a siege. This marked Charles’s greatest triumph and enabled him to summon a diet at Augsburg. The Battle of Mühlberg is known as the occasion for Titian’s masterpiece; it is a unique example of a great victory inspiring a great picture.

Early in 1548, Charles wrote to his son and regent, Philip, who was then just twenty-one: “Seeing that human affairs are beset with doubt, I can give you no general rules save to trust in God. You will show this by defending the faith … I have come to the conclusion that a general council [of the Church] is the only way ahead … Peace will depend not so much on your actions as on those of others. It will be a difficult task for you to preserve it, seeing that God has bestowed so many great kingdoms and principalities on you … You know yourself how unreliable Pope Paul III [Farnese] is in all his treaties, how, sadly, he lacks all [real] zeal for Christendom, and how badly he has acted in this affair of the council [of the Church] above all. Nevertheless, honour his position. He is old [he had been born in 1468, so he was eighty]. Therefore, take careful heed to the instructions which I have given my ambassador [the clever Diego Hurtado de Mendoza] in case of a [papal] election … France has never kept faith and has always sought to do me harm … Never yield to them so much as an inch … Defend Milan with good artillery, Naples with a good fleet. Remember that the French are always discouraged if they do not succeed immediately in anything which they undertake. The Neapolitans, remember, are much given to revolt. Let them be constantly reminded how the French once sacked their city … You can never manage without Spanish troops in Italy … To preserve peace, I have allowed my demands for our ancient hereditary land, for the duchy of Burgundy, to lapse. But do not altogether forget your rights there … And do not at any time be persuaded to renounce Piedmont.”

It was an emperor who wrote and one who did not forget his more remote possessions. For he went on to advise Philip to keep a watch over his fleet. It was his best defense against pirates in the Mediterranean, and it would also keep the French from interfering in the Indies. Philip should cultivate Portugal for the same reason: “Do not cease to keep yourself well informed of the state of those distant lands, for the honour of God and the care of justice. Combat the abuses which have risen in them.” Charles also urged Philip to marry again soon, since he would need more children. (His first wife, María, had died.) He suggested Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of the new king Henry of France, or Jeanne d’Albret, daughter of King Henry of Navarre, who was “very attractive and clever.”

“And as for the Indies, take care to keep a good watch to see if the French want to send an armada there, dissimulating or otherwise, and ensuring that the governors of those parts keep a good look out so that, when it is necessary, they can resist the said French; … and you should establish good intelligence with Portugal … And as for the division of the Indians, about which there have been so many conflicting reports and advice, we have even consulted Don Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain, so as to be properly informed.”

The princely recipient of this letter was, however, himself now on the move. Though quite unconvinced of the need to travel as his father had done, or in the same restless fashion, he had decided to visit his future dominions in the north of Europe. On October 2, 1548, Philip left Valladolid, ignoring the determined opposition of the cortes to such a journey. With him there were the Duke of Alba, both his and his father’s chief military adviser; Ruy Gómez da Silva, the future prince of Eboli, a Portuguese courtier who would become in effect a chief minister; his longtime secretary, Gonzalo Pérez; Honorat Juan, who had been his tutor in mathematics; the clever and original Fray Constantino Ponce de la Fuente; and Juan Cristóbal Calvete de Estrella, the Prince’s learned majordomo, who would write an account of the journey. There were also the musician Luis Narváez and the blind composer Antonio de Cabezón. Vicente Álvarez, the steward, would write an account. They were a strange gathering: Alba represented the hereditary nobility, Silva the noblesse de robe; Honorat Juan was a learned preceptor of the Prince from the Borgias’ town of Játiva; Ponce de la Fuente was Christophorus Fontanus, an Erasmian preacher, a converso, and one who as a result would die in prison; and Calvete was Philip’s teacher in Latin and Greek, who wrote a fine account of La Gasca’s triumph over Gonzalo Pizarro.

The Prince’s court spent three nights at Montserrat; they stayed at Barcelona with Estefanía de Requessens, widow of Juan de Zúñiga and a foster mother to Philip, and subsequently went to Rosas, in the Ampurdán, where on November 2, 1548, they boarded a vessel in a fleet of fifty-eight galleys commanded by the unconquered Andrea Doria. Then they set off for Genoa, stopping at Cadaqués, Collioure, Perpignan, Aigues-Mortes (where they waited six days because of the wind), Hyères, Savona, and then Genoa itself (on November 25), where Philip was put up by Doria in his palace for sixteen days.

At Savona, Columbus’s father’s town, the Regent was introduced to the famous bankers Lomellini, Pallavicino, and Grillo—all of whom, or their families, were to become important in the Indies. On December 19, Philip left Genoa for Milan, of which he was already the duke. He was there nineteen days, a time filled with balls, theaters, tournaments, banquets, and local tours, and there he met the painter Titian for the first time. He set off for the Catholic Church’s congress at Trent, where he was welcomed by the elector Maurice of Saxony (his father’s ally, though a Lutheran) and the cardinals of Augsburg and Trent. The council of the Church had actually gone to Bologna because of plague in Trent. Then, after five more days of celebrations, Philip and his party set off for the Netherlands via Bolzano and Innsbruck. This journey lasted six months. It was a serious education. It was the first time he had visited his northern European dominions.

By February 13, 1549, the princely party was in Munich, with its clean streets and small houses; there was much hunting, and many dinners and picnics. Then at Augsburg they visited the all-important Fuggers. At Ulm, there was a joust on the Danube. At Vaihingen, they were greeted by Prince Albert of Hohenzollern, who escorted them to Heidelberg, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant valley, where the Prince had four days of hunting, picnicking, dancing, and drinking. Then the expedition went on to Speyer, Luxembourg, Namur, and finally Brussels, where the Prince was greeted by his aunt, the Regent María. There followed a formal reunion with the emperor Charles at the royal palace.

Charles—though, as usual in those days, ill—held many celebrations, balls, hunting parties, and tournaments in honor of Philip. The Spanish Prince met all the grandees of the Low Countries, such as the Prince of Orange and Count Egmont, both fatally associated with him later in life. On July 12, Charles and his son went on a tour of the Netherlands, which lasted till the end of October. There was a formal swearing in of Philip as the heir to the throne, and also a celebration at the beautiful palace of Binche, between Charleroi and Mons, at the end of August 1549. At Binche, Philip saw The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, which he had copied by Michel Coxcie and which he bought many years later. Probably he bought other Flemish paintings at this time, including several by Bosch and the popular landscapist Joachim Patinir.

Queen Mary of Hungary had in 1540 held a carnival to honor the Spanish conquest of Peru. But there was now a new chivalric feast in 1549 at Binche, with performances based on the novel Amadís de Gaula, characterized by a storming of magic castles and liberation of prisoners. At a later stage in the “chivalrous entertainment,” knight after knight failed to defeat a certain “knight of the black eagle,” and they were imprisoned in a “dark castle” till a new, unknown gentleman, who called himself Beltenbrós (the name adopted by Amadís during his amorous penance), defeated his adversary and, by drawing forth an enchanted sword from a stone, revealed that he was the knight for whom this adventure was reserved. This unknown, of course, turned out to be Philip.

In September, there were organized for Philip two celebratory processions entering cities: first Antwerp, then Rotterdam.

Next year, 1550, with Philip still in the Netherlands, there were further celebrations. Thus there was a carnival in February at Brussels. Three famous Spanish preachers covered themselves with glory by pronouncing sermons. This was the last night that Philip spent in Brussels: “That night His Highness did not go to bed. He stayed in the main square conversing with the ladies as they sat at their windows. A few gentlemen, young and even some old, accompanied him. The talk was of love, stories were told, there were tears, sighs, laughter, jests. There was dancing in the moonlight to the sound of orchestras which played all night.” These were happy days, which were never to recur for Philip in the Low Countries.

An expedition including Charles as well as Philip then went by boat to Louvain, Aachen, Cologne, and Bonn, on the Rhine, though stopping at night on land. They went, too, to Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and Augsburg. In the last named, the imperial Diet met in July 1550. Here or nearby in southern Germany, Philip spent a year. There he commissioned Titian’s famous Poesie, as well as a portrait of himself by the same Italian master.

There was discussion, too, at Augsburg about the future inheritance of Philip. Charles hoped to leave his son everything, in a last fling of his desire to maintain a Habsburg union, a single constitution, a single confession, and a single ruler. But his patient brother, Ferdinand, the king of the Romans, wanted the imperial throne. Ferdinand’s son Maximilian came from Spain, where he was co-regent, to argue his case. Ferdinand and Charles disputed in public. Eventually, in March 1551, a formal agreement (drafted by the adroit Granvelle) between Charles and Ferdinand arranged that, after the former’s death, the latter would be emperor, while Philip would be elected King of the Romans and be emperor after Ferdinand. He would make a similar arrangement in Spain for his cousin Maximilian. Thus European power would remain in the hands of the Habsburgs, though it was not quite evident which line it would be.

In July of this same year, Charles wrote to both the young Maximilian and his wife, María, in their capacities as regents of Spain, about the most important matter on his mind: “The fleet which goes for the gold and silver of Peru will set off, we don’t know when but we do know that any delay at all is very damaging … The people of the Council of Finance write about their problems and costs and what they have to provide this year, taking into account that, in addition to the 200,000 ducats which we permit ourselves to take from the gold and silver of Peru, another 500,000 will be needed for the settling of various other liabilities.”

Another letter of this same time dealt with the idea of contracting with the great admiral of Spain Álvaro de Bazan to guard the merchant fleets sent to the New World.

Charles was again talking of gold from the Indies before the end of the year: Thus, on December 30, 1550, he wrote from Augsburg, “La Gasca had brought 200,000 ducats from Peru, of which we will avail ourselves this year. There will be 85,000 ducats which will be remitted and have to be balanced against the fact that costs will amount to 91,716 ducats and another 60,000 ducats which, with interest, will add up to 84,200 ducats and the last slice of 20,000 ducats which, with interest, will make 20,800 ducats which altogether would mean that, from the gold and silver of Peru, we would make either 376,000 or 403,570 ducats.” Charles’s interest in money was as eternal as his incapacity with dealing with it.

In fact, between 1551 and 1555, the Spanish Crown imported from the Indies more than three and a half million pesos and private people imported more than 6 million. Charles, the mirror of chivalry and the inheritor of the great Burgundian traditions, spent hours puzzling over these figures and sums.

On May 25, 1551, Philip at last left Augsburg for Spain, traveling back via Mantua (where La Gasca explained to him in detail what had befallen him in Peru, with its 346 rich encomenderos and about eight thousand colonists). Philip went on to Barcelona, where he arrived on July 12 and as usual stayed with the widow Estefanía de Requessens. He left Barcelona only on July 31 and set off for Saragossa, Tudela, Soria, and Valladolid, his birthplace and de facto capital, which he reached on September 1. No Spanish king had spent so much time abroad, no Spanish monarch would ever know so much of the way of living in other countries, no ruler of Spain was so well prepared to be an international emperor.

On June 23, 1551, the emperor Charles sent general instructions to Philip for the government of the Indies. These included: “That you examine all the offices which become free in the Indies in a spirit of justice, alongside the president and council of that enterprise, except for those in the Casa de la Contratación, the Viceroyalties, the presidents of the audiencias and the office of fundidor and inspector of forges, as well as the other principal governors I would reserve for myself … All the other dignities and benefits should be guaranteed by the Prince.” These declarations read like statements in the Emperor’s will.

In July, Charles wrote more optimistically from Augsburg: “By letter from Seville on the 12th last, I have gathered that the fleet of the Indies has arrived in Sanlúcar with the galleons coming from all parts [that is, Peru, New Spain, the other Indies, and the islands], and everything on board has been unloaded.”

Philip wrote back on November 24, 1551: “And inasmuch as we are talking of the Indies, they say that the latest reports which have been sent are satisfactory and that, from the treasure brought from Peru by the bishop of Palencia [La Gasca], there remains to be taken to Barcelona only 130,000 ducats. And in respect of the other amount from the Indies, that is from Tierra Firme [Venezuela and Colombia], New Spain and Honduras, they say that only 80,765 ducats have yet to be delivered.” The letter went into much detail as to how the money from the Indies should be spent. In December, Philip wrote again, from Madrid: “What would be really sensible would be to establish a fleet to guard the coast of Andalusia, from cape Saint Vincent to the straits of Gibraltar, to ensure the safety of the vessels which go to and come from the Indies which is now the main route of the merchants in Seville and Andalusia and where damage can be done by the French. And this fleet could be paid for by a grant which Your Majesty could make and be financed by a tax which could be levied on all merchandise coming from the Indies.”

The naval fleet of ships named to protect the merchant ships was always exposed to illegal or even corrupt practice. Thus as much as a quarter of the galleons were carrying goods that overweighed them. The captains of these ships argued that they were rendering their vessels unfit for fighting. But these critics were told that so long as the gundecks were free, a cargo in the hold made the ships steadier. The curious part of this story was that the captains carried their illegal cargoes above decks, where they could easily be seen. Captains sometimes made 100,000 pesos from this illegal freight and more from the sale of offices on their ships to merchants.

In early 1552, Philip was at Madrid, and La Gasca, the victor of Peru, who was becoming an imperial adviser of the first rank, was with the princess María at Linz negotiating for Ferdinand with Prince Maurice of Saxony. Charles’s brother, Ferdinand, continued to show concern for the Indies, putting many questions to La Gasca, who received as a present from Ferdinand eight plates richly worked; and Gasca bought a triptych to give to the church of El Barco de Ávila, very close to his birthplace.

Charles, despite his triumph at Mühlberg, did not escape further difficulties—on the contrary. He passed the winter of 1551–52 at Innsbruck, the great city associated with his grandfather Maximilian. In the spring of 1552, he heard that the Protestant Princes, outraged by the Emperor’s treatment of their colleagues, would receive the backing of the new king Henry of France, who, with Maurice of Saxony, was ready to fall on the fortresses of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Charles was on the point of becoming a prisoner. On March 3, 1552, Charles sent a chamberlain, Joachim de Rye, Sieur de Balançon, with instructions to his brother, begging him to try to persuade the Princes to seek peace because the Turkish peril was surely far more grave. But Maurice of Saxony (now known in imperial circles as the “kinglet”) nevertheless sent his army against Charles, and on May 23 entered Innsbruck. Charles and what there was of the court only escaped by fleeing south across the Brenner Pass into Italy in driving rain. La Gasca, the Peruvian veteran, was, remarkably, with his master in this crisis.

Charles was now at war with France on every front, and in April, Metz was seized by the constable of France, the brilliant and powerful friend of the late King Francis I, Anne de Montmorency. Metz was a city proud of being a Free Imperial City but it was free within the Holy Roman Empire just as if it were a state. Francis, duke of Guise (Le Balafré) as governor ruthlessly pulled down the suburbs and even moved the body of King Louis the Pious from Saint Arnulf’s, outside the walls, to the cathedral of Saint-Etienne, within the city. Only in the autumn did troops come from Spain, which enabled the Emperor in person to besiege Guise in Metz; but the duke was a brilliant defender in a siege, and Charles failed to recapture the place.

Philip wanted to help his father. He wrote in May from Madrid: “I have no information about the news that Peru has sent to Panama and Nombre de Dios over 335,000 pesos.” He wrote again in June, saying that he was anxious to ensure that the Spaniards who came back from the Spice Islands would be well received: “Let them be good informers about the state of those islands.” Then in July, the Casa de la Contratación reported that the treasure brought back by La Gasca amounted to 1,906,082 escudos. Of these, 600,000 would be sent to Germany, 400,000 to the Low Countries, 200,000 to Parma, and only 200,000 to Castile, while 100,000 would be a loan to the pope.

Given the increased reliance of the Spanish Crown on its income from the Indies, the Casa de la Contratación now received new rules of conduct, following the similar reorganization that we have seen of the Council of the Indies. The headquarters would still be in Seville, but there would be a daily Mass and fixed hours of work. Functionaries who did not attend would be fined. They would have to live in the Casa and take an oath on introduction. The discussions in the afternoons would deal with licenses to go to the Indies. Votes would be by a simple majority. Grave disputes would be referred to the Council of the Indies. Sections 27 to 30 of the new rules forbade officials to receive gifts for any services or to do anything commercial in the Indies. Sections 121 to 126 listed those people forbidden to go to the Indies—Moors, new Christians (conversos), and descendants of those punished by the Inquisition—and also merchandise that was similarly prohibited, which would include “profane books and stories, books whose contents are untruthful,” with the only books permitted being those that dealt with Christianity and virtue. There was a specific decree repeating the banning of the import of romances into the New World; it was still thought that Indians might doubt the scriptures if they realized that these books were fictional. But this law had little effect.

Scientific books were not banned, but the Council of the Indies wanted strict censorship of both historical and geographical works dealing with the Indies. Sections 144 to the end of the rules of conduct dealt with how ships should sail to the Indies. Two-thirds of the water that was carried should be in well-prepared casks. The rest could go in clay pots or vats or pitchers, which were less good than casks since they sometimes broke and water was wasted.

These rules were signed in August 1552 by Philip and then were widely distributed to colonial officials, a copy being placed on every ship.

On October 7, 1552, Philip wrote to his father from Monzón, where he was attending the cortes of Aragon, to say that, in respect of paying the expenses that he had previously listed, “the principal recourse for those necessities is the Indies.”

We find Charles replying, from Metz, no less, “Insofar as the perpetuity of the encomiendas is concerned, we think that this is not the time to treat of that … All the same, we think that we have done well by arranging a contract with Hernán Ochoa for the sale of 23,000 African slaves for the Indies.”

On November 12, 1553, Philip wrote again to the emperor Charles that every year more corsairs sailed out of France intending to sack Spanish imperial ports. In the previous July, they had destroyed La Palma, in the Canaries. Yet, had it not been for the sums that now regularly reached Castile from the Indies, Spain would probably have had to abandon northern Europe.

In Spain, Hernando Pizarro, the eloquent victor of Cuzco, seemed a reproach to all. He had been condemned for the illegal execution of Almagro. He was first ordered to be sent to a prison colony in North Africa. That sentence was commuted and Hernando found himself confined in a fortress in Madrid. Finally, he was sent in June 1543 to the Castillo de la Mota, just outside Medina del Campo, city of imagination (Bernal Díaz del Castillo) and of fantasy (Amadís de Gaula). Hernando reached there in June 1543, and he remained there till May 1561. He lived comfortably, but confined all the same. At first, he lived with Isabel Mercado of Medina del Campo. Then in 1552, he married his niece, the daughter of his brother Francisco Pizarro, Francisca, who was then aged seventeen. The idea of such a marriage to Francisca had occurred at one time to Gonzalo Pizarro.

Hernando, once married to such a very rich girl as his niece, devoted his time to centralizing the management of his family’s estates in Peru, part of which had been managed by royal officials after the final defeat of Gonzalo. When eventually Hernando and Francisca left La Mota, free, in 1561, they went to live at La Zarza. That village outside Trujillo had always belonged to the Pizarro family, of which Hernando was now the head. They embarked there on “a strategy of reconstruction of their finances” and built a new palace in the main square of Trujillo (which still survives). They lived in the shadow of the coat of arms granted to Francisco Pizarro. They had also inherited Francisco’s marquessate, which, from 1576, was named as “of the Conquest.” Hernando died two years later, a survivor of extraordinary deeds into what seemed a calmer age. Francisca lived until 1598, having married again to Pedro Arias Portocarrero, son of the count of Puñonrostro.

Hernando’s fortune was large. In about 1550, it was almost as big as that of the family of Cortés—32,000 pesos a year, in comparison with the family of Cortés’s 36,800. Nor does this figure for Hernando’s income include the product of his mercantile adventures and mines. In the end, Hernando gained control of most of the estate (including the Porco mines) that the Pizarro brothers had acquired during the conquest.