|Archduke Charles I|
|Archduke of Austria|
|Reign||5th August, 1606 - 8th May, 1631|
|King of Bohemia (as Charles III)|
|Reign||5th August, 1606 - 1618, 1621 - 8th May, 1631|
|Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles VI)|
|Reign||5th August, 1606 - 8th May, 1631|
|Born|| 23rd December, 1579 |
|Died||8th May, 1631|
Charles I was Archduke of Austria, King of Bohemia (as Charles III) and Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles VI) in the early 17th century. His reputation is coloured completely by his role in starting the Fifty Years War and the devastation which the conflict subsequently brought. He is vilified in Bohemia (all attempts to raise statues in his honour have been met with outrage and violence).
The second son of Archduke Frederick III, he was regarded by as a fickle and indecisive youth. Frederick had arranged most of his children's marriages to further his aim of peace in, and the appropriate level of domination of, Italia and as a result Charles received the hand of Artemisia d'Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara. It was an auspicious marriage; not only did the marriage produce an abundance of heirs but Artemisia's cousin was elected to the Papacy in 1604. Far from strengthening Charles' hand however it soon became apparent that he was easily dominated by his ultra-pious and inflexible wife and her advisors. He meanwhile preferred the company and advise of his illegitimate Polish cousin Jan Jagellion, six years his senior. Anti-Charles literature has made much of this close friendship, alleging a sexual relationship between the two men, though contemporary Austrian sources make no hint of this.
He succeeded his father in 1606 and at first Charles picked up where he father had left off, organising a war in Italia, the aim of which would secure Austria's domination of the northern Italian states. Finding an appropriate excuse to proved problematic for the indecisive Archduke and, in his court's view, he missed several good opportunities. Furthermore, it wasted a huge amount of money. However he finally started operations in 1611 after the throne of the tiny semi-independent Marquisate of Finale became vacant. It should have defaulted to Auvergne, however as they were Protestant this option was violently opposed by Genoa, the Papacy and Artemisia's advisors in the Austrian court. Pushed to war, Charles finally conceded and led the army south. In this instance Charles had picked an excellent time to launch an Italian war; France was in the last throes of religious turmoil which would only subside with the succession of Charles VI in 1619, and Aragon busy with a opportunistic venture in Caliphate Algeria. Aragon could only order its proxies Florence and Sienna to invade Genoa.
Auvergne was somewhat surprised by the declaration of war seeing as it had carefully courted good relations with the Empire for many years. The somewhat unlucky Duke Charles V attempted to overrun Austrian possessions in Swabia but failed and quickly rescinded any claim he and his wife had over the marquisate. Milan's general opposition to Imperial overlordship was simply brushed away when the vast Imperial force camped outside the capital. The Farnese hope that Austria could give Venice a bloody nose too came to naught, the Serene Republic declined to get involved. By 1613 Charles' Italian enemies had largely exhausted themselves. A final victory over the Florentine and Tuscan armies at Quercegrossa in June wiped the last opposing army from the field. With Papal backing he resurrected the unenforced terms of his great grandfather's Treaty of Trier and imposed the Peace of Lodi on the entire peninsula. Every Italian state apart from Venice, Modena and Naples was now allied directly to Austria and forbidden from taking up arms against each other. At a stroke Aragon lost its leverage on the minor Italian states, though not its ambitions and it would soon ally with the Schmalkaldic Empire.In 1618 Charles once again bowed to his wife's religious mania as she vented fury concerning the Protestant-dominated Diet in Prague. Early in his reign Charles appeared to share his father's outlook on Bohemia's religious situation, i.e., that it was a special case and worth tolerating its religious differences for, but to Artemisia it was a hotbed of dissension, treason and plots. Charles, or at least his actions, showed a hardening of attitudes and in June 1618, despite warnings from moderates, and Jan Jagellion, Charles over-rode his Bohemian coronation vows and threw the Protestant administrators out of Prague. The Lutheran (and Hussite) population of Prague promptly revolted. They and the Protestant Bohemian nobles who rallied to their cause were defeated by the Austrian and Bavarian armies in the Autumn, emboldening Charles and Artemisia to further the Catholic cause in the kingdom, cracking down on Protestant churches and preachers. This provoked a further wave of revolt, the leaders of which called on Schmalkaldic assistance. General war was on the horizon and Bohemia was soon lost to the Schmalkaldic army whilst Aragon began operations against Arles.
Having gained a war he had not planned for, Charles and Jan Jagellion now began to put together a coalition to fight it. The Catholic Empire mostly fell into line but the greatest coup came in 1620; having been snubbed by the Schmalkaldic leadership for the throne of Bohemia by the Schmalkaldic conquerors Luxembourg signed a treaty of friendship and declared war on the Protestant Empire. That the treaty secretly agreed to the carve-up of Bohemia only became public knowledge much later. Poland-Lithuania also came on board with the Catholic alliance thanks mainly to Charles and Jan's familial connections. Bohemia was subsequently recovered (albeit briefly). Following the disaster at Cercany in August 1622 Charles finally threw Artemisia's advisors out of the Viennese court. Agreeing with Luxembourg that Heldenstein should command the armies north of the Alps he concentrated on operations in Italia; a terrain he believed he knew well. Though he was immediately frustrated by Milan pursuing a separate war against the Swiss Confederation and Venice's war against the Grey League. The Aragonese commander, Count Juan IV of Montpellier, constantly proved the superior commander, at least until 1626, and with France joining the fray in 1623 the entire war rapidly spun out of Charles' and Luxembourg's hands.
Charles died in 1631. On his deathbed he expressed his sorrow for the ongoing war and his last words are said to have been Such a madness we have wrought. God forgive me. He would be succeeded by his eldest son Rudolph.