Families. They are the one thing in the world you cannot choose. You know those Christmas dinners when everybody gets very drunk and starts saying out loud what they think of each other? That is what happened with the Habsburg family by the end of the 1540s. But to be fair, do you also know those occasions when your favourite character on a TV show dies and you don’t care about anything anymore? Because that’s what happened to me.
I know death comes to all of us eventually, but that doesn’t stop me from being sad: my pal François is dead! Dead! All because of some nasty STDs. Shame on you, STDs. But his convictions stay with him up until his last breath, because literally the last thing he does is tell his son Henri that he must continue the fight against Carlos to defeat him and destroy the empire and whatnot. Expected.
The sad thing that comes out of this is that Henri decides to send his stepmother Leonor back to Carlos. Despite the love and affection he feels towards the woman who has taken care of him since he was a child locked up in Madrid, Henri doesn’t want Leonor advising him to keep the peace with the emperor, now that his father’s last wish was to crush him. Fight! And the opportunity comes when Saxony, stripped of his titles and possessions, comes to France to ask for money so that the protestant princes can fight the emperor. After some doubts, Henri decides that his hate of Carlos is above his love for a united Catholicism, so he goes and invades Lorraine.
By the way, François died on the day of Henri’s 28th birthday. Fun fact.
Bear with me, because the characters kept travelling from Spain to Flanders and back, and it can get a bit tricky plot-wise. The first we see of Spain is thanks to the arrival, again, of Bartolomé de las Casas, who visits the now Jesuit priest Francisco de Borja to ask for help to be granted an audience with the regent Felipe. When he gets it, Bartolomé explains to Felipe that the rules against slavery are not working, and that he fears for the safety of people of faith like him. In the end he complains so much about it that he is taken to court to prove that he is right about the atrocities in New Spain. “Luckily” for him, a bishop in New Spain is murdered, and he uses this fact as the proof of the irregularities being committed on the other side of the Atlantic. Content with having done as much as he thinks he can, Bartolomé decides to stay in court, as he thinks he will be able to do more there than in New Spain.
And let’s talk about royals! Life is Spain is going great for 20-year-old Felipe. He is the regent, he gets to be with the woman he loves… It is then that his cousin Maximilian arrives to marry Felipe’s sister María and to assume the regency of Spain, so that Felipe can go to Flanders and meet his father there. What Maximilian doesn’t like one bit is the fact that, while he is not really given any power, since the process to give him the regency might be very long, Felipe is going to immediately rule the Netherlands for a while –so that their aunt María of Hungary can return to Spain with Carlos to be his adviser.
By the way, princess María and Maximilian must have fallen in love with each other instantly. I’m basing this on the fact that they had 16 children over the course of 28 years. Yes, I’m not kidding. Also, their eldest daughter, Ana, would become the fourth and last wife of her uncle Felipe. Yikes, yikes, yikes.
But Flanders is where all the proper drama happens, because drama follows Carlos wherever he goes. Did you know that he fainted quite often and had digestive problems due to the stressful life he led?
The story begins with the Duke of Alba stopping the protestant princes and arresting their leader, Saxony. Two things here: first, that Saxony had been dead for two decades then, but the show takes an understandable artistic licence to give us a face of the protestant princes that we can recognise, and second, that it is a shame we haven’t been given the chance to learn more about a character as important as the Iron Duke.
Anyway, since that sulky teenager that is Maximilian was allied with the Protestants to get back at his uncle, his father Fernando tries to cover for him by convincing Carlos that he is the one who should talk to Saxony. When he does, he convinces Saxony to keep quiet about Maximilian and he in return will spare his life.
As for Carlos, even though he doesn’t know about his nephew’s involvement, he does know that Maximilian is not happy, so he offers what it is now the solution to everything: go marry your cousin. Princess María this time, as mentioned earlier. So off Maximilian goes to Spain, to be regent and celebrate yet another endogamous marriage.
In the meantime, Carlos hears news about François’s death, something that makes him gloomy –even more than usual. Is it because, deep down, he was sort of fond of the Frenchman and their frenemity, or because his death has Carlos thinking about his own mortality? Either way, he immediately sends a letter to Henri to ensure peace between them, but we already know what’s going on in Henri’s mind.
It is with the arrival of prince Felipe to court that things start to go south. As it seems, Carlos is beginning to act a bit like a tyrant, because even though he has always claimed that all he cares about is his family and whatnot, he seems to be putting quite an effort to completely destroy it and make everyone hate him.
If you remember well, Carlos named his brother Fernando King of the Romans a while ago so that he could be the next Holy Roman Emperor, as long as Felipe was the following emperor after Fernando, which is the reason why Maximilian was always mad, because it left him with no inheritance. But then Carlos goes and tells Fernando that the title of King of the Romans will now belong to Felipe, and that Fernando will be Felipe’s guide, or some crap that doesn’t hide the fact that Fernando has no inheritance now whatsoever. Nasty, Carlos, very nasty. That was the most uncomfortable family meeting I have ever seen. Even their sister María was understandably angry. Even so, we all know that Fernando is the noblest person ever, so he writes to his son in Spain to let him know that, even though he has decided to cut ties with his brother for now, Maximilian must be patient and loyal. You have to love Fernando, I feel so bad for him.
But then, when Maximilian returns to Flanders summoned by his uncle, Carlos reveals that Fernando will become King of the Romans again, and that Felipe will still be the following emperor, and after him Maximilian, which visibly upsets Maximilian, since he and Felipe are the same age, so it’s pretty much pointless. But Fernando sees beyond this, and realises that this was Carlos’s plan all along, to strip Fernando of his title so that, when given back, he’d see the naming of Maximilian as “heir” as a gift. That was tricky, Carlos, very tricky. And then he gets upset because he doesn’t get peace. Well, I’m not surprised, let me tell you.
Funnily enough, this incurs the wrath of the protestant princes, who don’t want a Spanish boy like Felipe as their emperor, which is the exact opposite of what had happened 30 years before, when Carlos arrived in Spain and faced a strong opposition because he was a foreigner. And if it was Fernando back then the choice of the rebels, this time it is Fernando’s son. Life.
But I honestly think that Maximilian is a bit hot-headed. He should listen to his father, especially because he can get himself killed if he goes on siding with the protestant princes. After all, Carlos doesn’t want to execute his nephew-slash-son-in-law! (He actually says that line in the episode, minus the slash). Carlos doesn’t really have proof of the betrayal, but word about the succession issue has got out, and they were the only ones who knew, so his trick to check if Fernando is loyal to him is to ask him to join him in the fight. Fernando reminds him that he is done with his shit and won’t fight for him anymore, but will gladly negotiate with the princes if Carlos asks him to, which angers Carlos, but that is way more than he should expect, given the way he has treated his younger brother for the past 30 years –starting the day he kicked him out of Spain to protect himself.
He should be thankful for having a brother like Fernando, though, because when the young Habsburg finds out that the princes are plotting to kill Carlos, Fernando runs (rides) to his brother to warn him of the ambush. He doesn’t deserve such a loyal brother.
Oh my, the show is about to end! I thought I would have time to get ready, but as it turns out, TVE doesn’t have a high regard of people who like to sleep at night and will broadcast the last two episodes back-to-back next Monday. Damn it! I will publish both recaps one right after the other if possible, anyway.
And here is El Mundo de Carlos of this week’s episode! Be ready, so many characters are going to die next week…