In the drama of Ottoman assault upon Europe at the height of Islam’s counter-Crusade against Christendom in the sixteenth century, the principal play on the Christian side was Charles of the house of Habsburg, the elder son of Philip the Fair of Austria and Joanna the Mad of Aragon and Castile. He was born at Ghent on 24 February 1500, and while he was still a babe-in-arms his parents departed for Spain, leaving him behind in Flanders. Three years later, their younger son Ferdinand was born Alcala-de-Henares, and Joanna began to show signs of the madness which was to plague her; by the Philip died two years later, she was completely insane.
It was not an auspicious beginning for the infant Charles, but fortunately he was too young to be consciously affected by the disasters which befell his family at this time. As a result of them, however, he was thrust precipitately into his inheritance, which even by the standards of the day. Dynastically, he was so desirable that, even before the death of his parents, when Charles himself was not quite two years old, the little Princess Claude of France, Louis XII’s daughter, who was not quite three, though as things turned out their engagement did not last long.
At the age of seven, as soon as his father was safely in his tomb, he was crowned Duke of Burgundy and acknowledged as Count of Flanders and heir to his father’s possession in the Netherland; at the same time, in Brussels he was proclaimed King of Castile, though his waiting until 1518, when they finally recognized him conjointly with his hopelessly deranged mother.