History Gags: Holy Sh–Roman Emperor?

The Story of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Charles V was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from the year 1519 until his abdication in 1556. Becoming an emperor at the age of 19 could sound slightly intimidating. Yet, this wasn’t the case for young Charles, who had been ruling as the king of Spain since age 16.  

By the end of his rule, Charles had become the monarch of quite an impressive empire:

history gags charles v holy roman emperor

Map of Charles’ domains after his abdication : Where he was, where he started, the friends he kept close , and the enemies he kept closer.

Based on the expanse of his domains, we know that this guy is a pretty important figure for both European and World History.  This is precisely why the story of his birth is incredibly funny.

Charles, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, the man who would rule over an Empire extending from Eastern Europe to the Pacific coast of South America, was born in a toilet.

That is, allegedly.

The story actually goes like this:

It was February of 1500.  The Duke and Duchess of Burgundy, Charles’ parents,  were throwing a party in the city of Ghent (located in modern day Belgium). At one point during this party, Charles’ mother Joanna of Castile, Infanta of Spain, started to feel a bit indisposed. According to some sources,  she retired to a retrete ( meaning, yes, a toilet). And it was here that she quickly gave birth to the emperor-to-be Charles.

Sadly, the veracity of this birth story is very unlikely. In his book Charles V,  Emperor and Man, Juan Antonio Villar Sánchez says that the term retrete did not refer to a toilet, but to a small room where servants would await for their masters to call on them.

Villar Sánchez is not alone in debunking this toilet myth:  In an interview for a Spanish television show,  History Professor Óscar Villarroel assures that, despite some chronicles claiming Charles’ birth had taken place in a toilet, the notion is absolutely ridiculous.

Charles’s father was aware of the possibility that Joanna would give birth to a male heir. As such, she was going to get the best obstetric care 1500 could afford. And it’s safe to say that wouldn’t include any feces.  

However, just the fact that this rumor exists is still pretty hilarious. After all, Charles was destined to inherit a vast empire from the moment he was born.  It is only fair that he would’ve had a more humble beginning, y’know…




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