On mutant kings and wax wings

Yes, WKNDers, it is Family Weekend.

Yes, you have midterms coming out the proverbial “wazoo.”

Yes, you have only a little over a week to conceive and assemble an ingenious Halloween costume that showcases your creative abilities while simultaneously demonstrating a nonchalance suggestive of “What, this old thing?”

But this WEEKEND, reader, is not about your parents. It’s not about your tests. And it certainly isn’t about constructing the perfect Jersey Shore get up. This WEEKEND, it’s all about Carlos.

“¿Carlos? ¿Pero, quién es Carlos?” you may ask. Worry not, my Spanish-speaking friend. This isn’t something one picks up in a Winkler lecture.

You may know him by another title. After all, he has had many (twenty-two, if you count Andorra). Karel? Karl perhaps? How about Charles?

Ah, of course.

WKNDers, we are referring to Carlos I de España y V de Alemania. Charles V, the heir to the three most powerful dynasties in the West, the most influential European ruler of the pre-modern era, and the last of the great, doomed Habsburg line.

This WEEKEND marks the 490th anniversary of good ol’ Charlie’s tenure as Holy Roman Emperor.

With one wife, several mistresses and at least five children, Karl was the Elliot Spitzer of the sixteenth century. He had it all: Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, parts of Italy and a sizeable chunk of the American Continent, too (it counts if it’s after 1492!)

He spoke four languages.

“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse,” he once quipped.

He defeated sultan Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire in 1536 in Tunis, Tunisia.

“AGHHHH!” he quipped then.

He outlawed Martin Luther and those pesky Protestants.

“I outlaw you, Martin Luther. And you, too, pesky Protestants,” he quipped resolutely.

Charles led the good life. But like all great men of power, Carlos too fell from grace.

He ended his life powerless and alone, wasting away in a monastery in Extremadura (Castilian for “hard cusp”), Spain. His health suffered and he was afflicted with epilepsy, gout and a deformity of the lower jaw, the result of generations of inbreeding. (Huntington’s disease? Close — Habsburg jaw.)

He finally died in 1558 from malaria. A sad way to go, indeed, killed by chance. And a vector-transmitted parasite.

But this is not meant to be a tale of sadness, nor of regret. Nay, this is the WEEKEND to celebrate the Emperor. Yes, he may have died alone. Yes, he may have suffered from chronic indigestion, and yes, he may have divided his territory in an abdication to his brother and his son, but nearly 500 years later we still commemorate his achievements and his jawline.

So, WKNDers, as we near the end of midterm season and welcome our bretheren to campus, let us keep Karl in our hearts. Let us learn from his mistakes and remember that while we too may be the Holy Roman Emperors of our own worlds, we’re just one generation of inbreeding away from major mandibular prognathism.

Think big; be reasonable. (Or, Spain is fine. And maybe Germany, too. But do you really need to have the American territories as well?)

If less is more, giving up is not for quitters. Your wings may already be melting — remind yourself that they are only made of wax. And marry outside the family.

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