In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain was ruled by monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty. Under them, the extent of the Spanish monarchy’s European dominions reached its peak. One of the most prominent Habsburgs was Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, who controlled most of western Europe. One of the gold medals struck in his honour portrays the emperor with a lavishly adorned mantle and the symbols of his power and sovereignty: the imperial sceptre, the orb and, hanging from the links of a chain, the fleece of a sheep or ram, the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
On the reverse of the medal we find his heraldic crest, with depictions of the kingdoms inherited from his ancestors that were under his authority. The symbolic language of the crest made it an ideal propaganda tool for imperial power. Each kingdom has its own emblem on the crest, comprised of objects and figures: castles with three towers, lions rampant, fleurs-de-lis, eagles with outstretched wings, etc.
If we transfer the information on the crest to a map of Europe, we can get a better idea of the size of Charles V’s realms. The kingdoms of Castile-León, Aragon and Granada on the Iberian Peninsula; the southern tip of the Italian peninsula and, further south, the Kingdom of Sicily, politically associated with the Kingdom of Aragon; in Central Europe, Burgundy, Tyrol and Austria; and in the north, Flanders and Brabant.