If you didn’t have long to live, where would you like to spend the rest of your days? When Charles V Holy Roman Emperor asked himself that question in 1555 he didn’t go for a sumptuous palace. Instead, he chose to spend his last days in a remote monastery in northern Extremadura.
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The Yuste Monastery is located in a bucolic and peaceful environment in La Vera area. Surrounded by trees and water streams it made the perfect place to retire for a sick and depressed man unable to cope with a difficult personal situation.
About Charles V
Charles V was the most powerful man of his time. Born in Ghent in 1500 to Philip I the Handsome and Joan the Mad, he was Holy Roman emperor, king of Spain (as Charles I) and king of Germany (as Charles V). He inherited an enormous empire that extended from Spain to Austria and the Netherlands and included the Spanish America. With such a vast territory to rule no wonder he had to face many wars during his life. He fought against the French, against Protestantism, against the Ottoman Empire and faced open revolts in Spain and in his native city. In 1555, sick and afflicted by gout he abdicated in favour of his son Philip II and later retired to the Yuste Monastery, where he died in 1558.
He married his own cousin Isabella of Portugal out of purely political reasons, as he was away for long periods and needed somebody to govern Castile and Aragon during his absences. Isabella died after complications with her sixth pregnancy. Charles was deeply affected by the loss and never remarried. However, he is often said to have been a ladies man and is said to have fathered five children to other women. Not only that, they also say he was a regular at Casa de las Muñecas, the local brothel in Garganta la Olla, although there is no official proof of that, and it was probably his troops who popped by every now and then, and not himself.
Check out this video about Charles V for more historical information about his life and empire.
About the Monastery
The Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste was originally built by locals to shelter hermits and monks and comprised a church and two cloisters. The structure of the ensemble was later modified in order to accommodate Charles V. They built a house-palace that was moderately decorated, taking into account who it was for.
The church is a Late Gothic temple that also displays a few Renaissance-style elements from the 16th century. Its structure is pretty simple, with only one nave which leads to the Gothic cloister, a rectangular open space surrounded by an elegant arcade.
The new cloister is lavishly decorated compared to the Gothic one but, unlike the Gothic cloister, this one is bigger. The columns of its arcade are Renaissance-style, decorated with volutes and garlands. It’s a nice little space with a fountain in the middle and trees, truly peaceful and quiet.
From the second cloister and via an arcade facing a garden you will arrive at the building that housed Charles V for around two years until he died. You’ll find four rooms separated by a wide corridor —two on the left with external views and two on the right, with no windows whatsoever. The rooms on the left are a dining room and a courtroom, both facing the garden and the pond. The interior rooms on the right are the Emperor’s bedroom and an antechamber, which contains several swords and personal objects from Charles V.
The bedroom is the most interesting room to see. It’s unusually stark and dark. It lacks furniture, apart from a four-poster bed, a chest of drawers, a picture on the wall and a specially-designed chair where Charles V spent most of the time, as he was almost unable to walk, due to suffering from gout. The walls are covered by thick heavy dark curtains, creating a gloomy and depressing environment.
One of the most surprising things of the Emperor’s bedroom is the fact that it leads directly to the church. That means he was able to hear mass from bed with no need to get up.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of spending the day hearing mass in a windowless, dark room with no ventilation makes me cringe. Surely that wouldn’t be too good for him, would it?
As pictures are not allowed inside the church or the house, have a look at this official video of Yuste Monastery so you have a better idea of what the ensemble looks like.
What to do before or after the visit
I would recommend getting there as early as you can to visit the place at your own pace, taking as long as you want without feeling a bit rushed.
If you are staying in the area for a few days you might consider:
- Doing the emperor Charles V walking tour. It’s a 10-km route from Jarandilla de la Vera to the Yuste Monastery. It’s part of the own route Charles V took during his last trip to the Monastery and has recently been designated (together with other Charles V European routes) European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.
- Visiting Garganta la Olla. The village is only 7 km away from the Monastery via the Camino Rural (CCV-913), a narrow single-track country road that will take you to Garganta la Olla via a beautiful lookout point (mirador de la serrana). Drive slowly and enjoy the views to the mountains.
|Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste
Address: Carretera de Yuste s/n, 10430, Cuacos de Yuste (Cáceres)
How to get there by car from Madrid:
N-V Madrid-Badajoz to Navalmoral de la Mata
EX119 from Navalmoral de la Mata to Jarandilla de la Vera
EX203 from Jarandilla de la Vera to Cuacos de Yuste
In Cuacos de Yuste you will find signs along the main road. Simply follow the directions.
Opening times: (from October to March) Tue-Sun from 10:00 to 18:00; (from April to September) Tue-Sun from 10:00 to 20:00; Mon closed.
Tip: try to get there as soon as they open to enjoy a quiet time. During my last visit to the Monastery people started arriving at 12:00. Make sure you make it there first!
Location on a map
Nearby places you may want to visit:
- El Lago de Jaraíz (6.5km from the Yuste Monastery)
- Garganta la Olla (7.5km from the Yuste Monastery)
- Jarandilla de la Vera (11km from the Yuste Monastery)
© Piggy Traveller. All rights reserved.
Irene Corchado Resmella
I'm a UK-based independent Spanish sworn and legal translator working as ICR Translations. On Piggy Traveller, I share my home region of Extremadura with the world to encourage travellers to discover a different Spain. Serial migrant. Russophile. Married to a Scot. Find me on Instagram.
Another place in Extremadura I’ll have to visit one day!
It is the most expensive entry I have ever paid in Extremadura but, for that price, I couldn’t visit anything in the UK. Well worth it.
Hola Irene y gracias for your helpful information; this is a place in Spain that I would love to visit one day, especially after everything I’ve learned about Emperor Charles V. However, if I may, I can’t help, but one or two historical inaccuracies in your description of Charles’s personal life.
It is true that he arranged to marry Isabella of Portugal for purely political reasons because he needed a regent and legitimate children and heirs, but everything changed when the couple met on the 11th March 1526. Most royal marriages are miserable, but Charles and Isabella got lucky because they fell passionately in love and despite Charles’s absences due to political issues abroad, their marriage was one of the very few royal marriages that was a happy one. Charles and Isabella were completely devoted and faithful to one another.
As you correctly said, Isabella tragically died following complications during her sixth pregnancy brought on by a fever and Charles never remarried, but you didn’t explain why. When Isabella died, Charles was completely devastated; it broke his heart, so much so that not only did he never remarry, he never recovered from the loss and he dressed in black for the rest of his life to show his eternal mourning. Charles also commissioned for various memorials to Isabella’s memory, which included the Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon’s “Missa Mort m’a privé”, which expresses Charles’s grief and his great wish to be reunited with his beloved Isabella in Heaven. You also didn’t mention the paintings that Charles commissioned Titian, his favorite painter, to paint of Isabella, which included Titan’s “Portrait of the Empress Isabel of Portugal” and “La Gloria”, both of which Charles brought with him to Yuste and he would spend hours everyday contemplating these portraits. He also had a daily mass held for Isabella at the Monastery and when Charles died, he was holding in his hand the cross that Isabella had been holding when she died.
It is true that Charles did have illegitimate children, but they were all born during his bachelorhood and his widowhood – there are no records of him ever having had any mistresses during his marriage. His most famous illegitimate children were Margaret of Parma (born in 1522) and Juan of Austria (born in either 1545 or 1547). He did have several flings during his bachelorhood and then one more during his widowhood – Margaret of Parma’s mother was a Flemish woman called Johanna der Ghent and Juan of Austria’s mother was a German singer called Barbara Blomberg, although I think Barbara may have taken advantage of the melancholic emperor. Also (and this is interesting), there are some historians who suspect that Juan of Austria was not Charles’s son because Barbara had a reputation for being promiscuous, but unless they ever perform DNA tests, that’s something we’ll probably never know. Charles believed he was his son and legitimized him in his last will and testament.
As for Charles being a “ladies’ man”, well that was something he outgrew and in all honesty, he was not as much as of a ladies’ man as his rivals Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England or even his sons Philip II and Juan of Austria, although Philip eventually outgrew all that as well. Out of the lot of them, Charles was perhaps the most discreet.
As for the House of Dolls in Garganta la Olla, it was Charles’s troops and entourage who used that place as a brothel. It’s highly unlikely that the Emperor would’ve done something as rash as that, especially when taking his health at the time of his retirement into consideration – not only was he crippled with gout, he also suffered from chronic catarrh, hemorrhoids, melancholia and depression. Plus, one of the main reasons he chose to retire to a monastery was because he knew his soul was in need of purification.
When Charles was in retirement, he relaxed, took in the sun and ate like a horse, but he also prayed to God everyday, surrounded himself with his treasured portraits painted by Titian, made mechanical clocks and dreamed of the great love of his life, Isabella. He also apparently kept a lock of Isabella’s hair, although I haven’t found any sources to confirm that. Before Charles died, he wrote a codicil in his last will and testament asking to be reburied side-by-side with Isabella in a new religious foundation and his wish was later by their son Philip II. After Philip II founded and built El Escorial, he had the bodies of his mother and father transferred in 1574 and, in accordance with Charles’s wish, they were originally interred side-by-side in a small vault directly under the altar of the Basilica “half-body under the altar and half under the priest’s feet”, until they were later moved into the Royal Pantheon of Kings by their great-grandson Philip IV in 1654 and by doing this, Philip disrespected his great-grandfather’s wishes. If possible, they should be moved back into the vault under the Basilica.
Thank you for such a detailed historical contribution, Amy. Much appreciated.
You’re very welcome Irene, always happy to help. Do you think you could correct those inaccuracies please or have you already done so, but it’s taking a while to update?
A couple of other things I forgot to mention – when Charles retired to the monastery, women were strictly forbidden to go anywhere near the place. The only women who were allowed to set foot in the monastery when Charles was there were his sisters Eleanor of Austria and Maria of Hungary and his daughter Juana of Austria, who often visited him in he was in retirement. Philip II also managed to visit his father, but I don’t know how often and Charles also met his illegitimate son Juan of Austria several times at the monastery, though it wasn’t until after the emperor died that Juan found out he was his father because Charles jealously guarded the boy’s paternity and didn’t want him to know until after his death. Nevertheless, he made sure that Juan would receive a good upbringing and education at court. Someone else who visited Charles at Yuste was his friend Saint Francisco de Borja, who became a Jesuit priest after retiring from court.
I’m glad the information I offer is helpful. 🙂
I modified the wording on the “ladies’ man” bit. However, while I appreciate your comprehensive input, the blog is not meant to include too many historical facts, but to serve as travel inspiration to visit Extremadura, that is why I tend not to overload the articles with historical information (which people can find in guides or books).
Hola Irene, yes of course, sorry if I was a bit pushy!
Muchas gracias for your blog, it’s an excellent blog. You’ve done a great job at really promoting all these places and I would love to visit them one day.
Muy bien y gracias for sharing your experiences! 🙂
No problem at all, Amy. Your information is much appreciated, and I am sure other readers will find your comments useful ;).
The best site I’ve found about the place, which has not been well explained up to now. Both Irene’s and Amy’s explanations have helped me greatly for the important presentation I must prepare in English to become a guide for the Spanish National Heritage. Thank you very much, Amy. Irene: I’ll follow your articles!
Thank you, Isabel!