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    Emperor Charles V on coins    
Effigies of Charles V, his family and some contemporaries

Charles V
Charles's countries
cities in his empire
principalities in his empire
in German

Charles's family
female relatives
male relatives

Charles's contemporaries
Ottoman Empire
Order of Saint John at Rhodes and Malta
Eastern Europe
Holy Roman Empire

The TOUR takes you from Charles V to the members of his family and finishes with Charles's contemporaries.
Start of the TOUR   ➜

The reign of Charles V (*1500 †1558) coincides with the beginning of the Modern Age and is marked by the Renaissance, by the spirit of Humanism, the spreading of printed matters, the discovery of the Americas and by the Reformation.

In the Renaissance painting and sculpture turned towards portraying contemporaries. In 1474, Galeazzo Maria Sforza in Milan was the first to have his own protrait proudly printed on his coins in the Renaissance style. Most Italian rulers soon followed his lead in the minting of such Testons (ital. testa = head). The mintage of these coins was usually skillfully executed and contained about 9 g of silver.

Advances in the minting technique as well as an increase in silver supplies allowed the minting of even larger coins. The mintage of the "Guldiner" began in the Tirol in 1486 and "Guldengroschen" were minted in Saxony since 1500. These silver coins weighed about 30 g and equalled the value of the "Gulden", the prevailing gold coin. Since 1520, the "Joachimsthaler" from Joachimsthal in Northern Bohemia was put into circulation in huge quantities so that the Thaler became the dominant large coin. The thaler's diameter of about 4 cm offered ample opportunities to fashion the coin artistically to all holders of mintright.

Showpiece coins (german "Schaumünzen") were designed as artistically as medals and were very carefully minted in limited editions. They were mainly used as gifts but could also serve as legal tender because they fulfill the mint norms. They are therefore classified as coins, not medals, although it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Most coins carry a legend in Latin on both faces and abbreviations are separated by dots. The face called Obverse (Obv.) generally shows the holder of the mintright (i.e. the secular rulers, clerical rulers and imperial cities) with arms, portraits and titles. Accordingly, the other face is called the Reverse (Rev.).

Coins of the early Modern Age are still hammer minted. The blank (or "planchet") is placed between two dies and a hammer stroke punches imprints onto both faces. Dies can be new or worn, they may be flawed and show fissures. A poor or uneven stroke can also result in flawed coins, particularly with blanks of varying thickness. This is why hammer minting furnished each coin with distinguishing appearance, which is no longer the case with machine minted coins.

Emperor Charles V   (1519 - 1556)   *1500   †1558
Charles' father Philip I the Handsome, died young. His mother Joan the Mad, was unfit to rule so that Charles came into his grandparents' inheritance early.
In 1516 Charles became King Carlos I of Spain having inherited Spain and the American colonies as well as Sardinia, Naples and Sicilia from his maternal grandparents Isabel I of Castile (†1504) and Fernando of Aragón (†1516), called Reyes Católicos. His paternal grandparents Mary of Burgundy and Emperor Maximilian I (†1519) bequeathed to him Burgundy and the Netherlands. In 1522 he gave his inherited Habsburg-Austrian countries to his brother Ferdinand I, on whose support he frequently relied. Charles V thus ruled an extended and heterogenious dominion, where "the sun never set". This made him strive for European supremacy ("Plus Ultra"). France, the protestant imperial princes, the Turks and even the Pope did their best to weaken his power.

In 1519 Charles was elected Roman-German Emperor and was crowned in Aachen in 1520. In religious matters he had to take issue with Martin Luther on the imperial diet in Worms in 1521. During his absence from the Empire between 1521 and 1530 the Reformation gained foot and the imperial princes became more influential in religious matters. Charles' efforts to adjust the conflict failed on the imperial diet in Augsburg in 1530, and in 1531 Hesse and Electoral Saxony headed the protestant "Schmalkaldic League" against the Emperor.

Charles was at war with Francis I of France four times. He managed to secure his rule in Italy and the Netherlands but he had to give up his claim to the Duchy of Burgundy. Ultimately, he lost Metz, Toul and Verdun to Francis' son Henry II of France.

Pope Clement VII supported Francis I in his second war against Charles, for which reason Rome was sacked by Charles' army in 1527 (Sacco di Roma). After their reconciliation the Pope crowned Charles in Bologna in 1530, but the pope still did not support Charles efforts to call up a reform council in order to integrate protestants into the church.

In 1532 Charles headed a large army against the Turks of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), who had besieged Vienna in 1529. However, he failed to initiate a decisive battle, and in 1533 his brother Ferdinand had to buy truce from the Turks. In 1535 Charles conquered Tunis, but this was of no strategic consequence for his fight against the "infidels".

In 1547 Charles fought successfully against the protestant "Schmalkaldic League" with the leaders Philip of Hesse and elector John Frederic of Saxony inprisoned. This allowed him to settle the religious question on lines, he assumed to be conciliatory, in "the harnessed" Diet of Augsburg (1547/8). Maurice of Saxony antagonised this solution and, in league with Henry II of France, assaulted the Emperor in 1552. Eventually, Charles' brother Ferdinand mediated the Augsburg Religious Peace of 1555: the imperial princes were given the right to decree religion in their own countries. Thus their independence was confirmed and the religious split (schism) sealed.

Charles V abdicated in 1556, tired and disillusioned. He was perhaps the last Emperor who was guided in his policy by the medival ideal of a united Christian realm. However, his efforts to secure such a political and religious unification failed. His son Philip became King Philip II of Spain and also inherited the Netherlands, Milan, Sardinia, Naples and Sicilia while Ferdinand I succeeded his brother in ruling the Empire. Charles, severely plagued by gout, retired to San Yuste in Spain, where he died two years later.

Charles V as holder of the mintright
Charles V was holder of the mintright in his own countries (limited minting periods are indicated in brackets), i.e. in the Netherlands, Spain, Naples & Sicily, Sardinia, Austria (1519-1522), Franche-Comté (1530-1556), Milan (1535-1556), Asti (1529-1531), Bologna (during his coronation in 1530). There were no imperial mintright in the Holy Roman Empire, so the Emperor could only exercise his mintright as sovereign of his own territories. But as Charles' brother Ferdinand I took over the mintright together with the Habsburg heritage in 1521, Charles V rarely appears as holder in Austria.

Imperial Cities
About 86 imperial cities came under direct imperial rule and were thus independent of clerical or secular rulers. This status was often coupled with the mintright. Thalers from imperial cities usually showed the city's arms on the obverse (obv.) together with the legend "moneta nova" (new money) and the name of the city. The reverse (rev.) showed the city's patron or the imperial eagle and a legend with the Emperor's titles. To stress their independance from intermediate rulers, some imperial cities also used the Emperor's portrait and Charles V's effigy appears on thalers from Lübeck, Nijmegen, Deventer, Campen & Zwolle, Dortmund, Nordhausen, Donauwörth, Kaufbeuren, Isny, Kempten and Besançon.

Principalities within the Empire
The secular imperial rulers decorated their coins with their own effigies and arms and the legends carried their own titles. A striking exception occurred after the War of Schmalkalden, when the Emperor's effigy appeared on coins from Saxony while the Emperor held the Saxonian senior ruler imprisoned.

  • Catologs from coin auctions
  • Davenport,   German Talers 1500-1600   &   European Crowns 1484-1600,   1979 & 1977
  • Dt. Bundesbank,   Deutsche Taler aus der Münzsammlung der Dt. Bundesbank, Bd.1, 1966
    [Vol.1 presents 60 German thalers (1486-1625) from the coincabinet of the German Bundesbank, Frankfort]
  • Schulten, W.,   Deutsche Münzen aus der Zeit Karls V., 1974
  • Clain-Steffanelli (Smithsonian Institution),   Münzen der Neuzeit, 1978   (a translation)
  • Scher, Stephen K. (editor),   The Currency of Fame - Portrait Medals of the Renaissance, 1994
    [excellent photos from superb museum-pieces together with detailed descriptions]
  • K. Chistiansen & S. Weppelmann (editors),   The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini
    Exhibition in Berlin and New York 2011/12 - also MetPublication online as PDF
  • W. Cupperi et al (editors),   Wettstreit in Erz, Porträtmedaillen der deutschen Renaissance
    Exhibition in Munich, Vienna and Dresden, 2013/15
  • Catalogue of the exhibition "Kaiser Karl V. Macht und Ohnmacht Europas"
    on the occasion of Charles' 500th birthday,   Gent - Bonn - Vienna - Madrid, 2000
  • Kohler, A.,   Karl V. 1500-1558 Eine Biographie, 1999
  • Schorn-Schütte, L.,   KARL V. Kaiser zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, 2000
  • Taddey, G. (editor),   Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte, 1983

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