If you were planning to retire after a long, difficult career in the public eye, you may look for a quiet place where no one could bother you. That is exactly what Carlos V (also called Carlos I of Spain) did.
Carlos V of Germany also called Carlos I (I will refer to him by his Spanish title from here on in, as that is where we catch up with him)of Spain was one of the most powerful leaders that ever ruled in Europe. He inherited the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in Spain from his paternal grandparents when he was in his teens. At the time he had never been to Spain and didn’t even speak Spanish. Throughout his rule, he visited Spain a number of times and came to love the country and the people, so much so, that when he decided to abduct and retire, he chose Spain to get away from his life at court.
The empire of Carlos I was immense—it stretched from Spain to the west, and with the exception of France, continued through to the Holy Roman Empire of the time, Germany and Austria to Netherlands in the north and most of Italy to the south. He had served a long and battle-filled reign for more than 20 years— fighting off France, Turkey and the Protestant reform.
In the mid-1550’s he decided to throw in the towel and hand his empire over to others so he could live out his days quietly away from the court. He wanted a peaceful spot that had difficult access and not well known. He chose an already existing, but very modest, monastery in Yuste, Extremadura, Spain. Even today, Yuste and the surrounding areas, remain about as quiet and far away from the happenings of the rest of Europe and the world as one can get.
Imagine the surprise of the 20-some monks that were living at the monastery when they discovered the Empire was coming, not just for a visit, but to live. Feb 1557, Carlos I arrived after abducting and handing his reign over to his brother in the Netherlands, and to his son Spain, Italy, and the Americas. The move of abducting was unheard of and unprecedented in his time, being even a bigger feat when considering the massive amount of power he was giving up.
The monastery was a very humble spot, no doubt much more austere than anything Carlos I had lived in up until this time. Carlos I was serious about getting away from it all. He did get a few changes done to the monastery and had a small palace built for his own quarters. I have to use the word palace here, as that is what it was called—but don’t think that meant it was either large or comfortable. It was small—many modern homes are much larger—only 4 rooms. He had a living room where he spent most of his time, his desk was here and this is where he read, studied and wrote —keeping in touch with the rest of the world. The house also had a receiving room, where his guests would wait when they arrived and his bedroom which overlooked the altar of the adjoining church.
Carlos I didn’t leave every comfort behind. He brought a staff of 50 with him to look after all his needs.
As the palace had no kitchen or servants quarters. Felipe II, Carlos I’s son arranged for a catering service of sorts where his staff would bring his meals to him. His staff of 50 didn’t live at the palace but in the nearby town.
Carlos I’s bedroom was right above the main chapel of the monastery church. When he 1st arrived, Carlos I attended the services at the church everyday, but as his health deteriorated he took to listening to the services from his bedroom. He had a window that opened out over the altar and he was able to listen and watch the services from his bed.
Today you can tour both the monastery and palace at Yuste. After visiting Yuste, a visit to El Escorial is in order as this is the palace that Carlos I’s son built as his headquarters when he took over the throne. The contrast between the two palaces couldn’t be more extreme. One is small, humble and lacking luxury of almost any kind—the other is one of most immense palaces ever built in Europe.
Visiting Monastery of Yuste practical information
How to get there: Carretera de Yuste, s/n, 10430 Cuacos de Yuste, Cáceres
Tuesdays to Saturdays: 13:00 to 13:30
Sundays: 13:00 to 14:00 and 19:00 to 20:00
Tuesdays to Saturdays: 13:00 to 13:30
Sundays: 13:00 to 14:00 and 17:00 to 18:00
Children (between ages of 5 and 16) and seniors —4 euros
Children under 5—free
On availability at the entrance. Extra 4 euros/person