Book Review: Emperor: A New Life of Charles V


by Geoffrey Parker

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. Pp. xx, 740+. llus., maps, stemma, chron., appends, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 9780300196528

The Ruler of the First Global Empire

Prof. Parker (Ohio State), the well-known specialist in Spanish and early modern military history, follows up his impressive Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II with this thick biography of that king’s father, Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, and ruler of much else beside – the first man to rule an empire on which the sun never set.

Parker touches upon many subjects as he traces Charles’s life. The man’s complex dynastic heritage would have been enough to make a major player on the world stage, but Charles was also remarkably talented, speaking a half dozen languages, a commander of some ability and outstanding courage, a veritable bear for administrative work, a statesman skilled in treachery as well as matrimonial diplomacy, and more.

Parker shows us Charles competing with some of the most able rulers in history, Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, and Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I “the Magnificent”, a coterie of young monarchs all eager to prove their prowess, and built the first global empire. Yet he failed to heal, or at least mitigate, the Protestant-Catholic rift in Western Christendom that would have enabled him to attain his ultimate goal of a new Crusade, and in the end, ill and exhausted, he abdicated to a monastery.

As Parker tells the story of Charles’s work, he also gives us a look at the man’s private life, with a remarkable number of mistresses and casual relationships, concern for his many children, and his deep religious feeling, which did not, however, prevent him from opposing or ignoring or even making war on the Pope.

Parker also reveals a side of Charles not noted by earlier biographers, a surprising concern for the welfare of his subjects in the Americas, albeit that those governing recently conquered Mexico, Peru, and the other new lands largely disregarded his orders and directives.

In Emperor, Parker has given us a very impressive look at the greatest of the Hapsburgs, one which will certainly be the standard work on Charles for a long time to come.


Note: Emperor is also available in audio- and e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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