The Emperor’s Clocks

The Emperor Charles V loved a clock. He had an immense collection. “Someday when I have leisure I’m going to spend time with my clocks,” he thought, and sighed when his troubles were too oppressive in Holland and Flanders.
What did he do with them–listen to them tick?
He liked to take them apart and put them back together again.
“You wouldn’t believe how many different kinds there are,” he told his wife, who smiled for him while she thought of how she would punish one of the maids.
“And their mechanisms are so ingenious.”


The Charles V Automatic Clock in the form of a ship

When he finally retired he took his favorite clocks and astrolabes with him to the Monastery of Yuste in Spain. To care for them he appointed two full-time watchmakers and a helper. And for expert advice he asked (ordered) the famous Italian mathematician and inventor Giovanni Turriano to be at hand.

Charles thought the world of Turriano. “Janellus de Turrianis, probably the best living inventor of clocks, with admirable know-how and talent, made us a truly extraordinary clock never before seen, which shows not only all the moments of the hours of the sun and moon but all the other signs of the planets and the comings and goings and reflexions of the celestial movements truly and exactly and with great ability and to our very great satisfaction…” ran the imperial decree of 1555 in which he awarded Turriano a pension of 100 gold escudos.

While they worked together on the clocks and astrolabes, Turriano would fascinate the Emperor with his great knowledge, not just of clocks. He was a hydraulic engineer of genius, the man who by an ingenious method brought water up from the river to the cliff where the Royal Alcázar of Toledo stood. The Spaniards called him Juanelo.

350px-artificiodejuaneloA guess at the mechanism of Juanelo’s hydraulic device for lifting water to the Royal Alcázar of Toledo (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license image by Yomangani).


This entry was posted in 1. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Emperor’s Clocks

  1. 100swallows says:

    You’ll have to tell me where you plan to go so I can have the rooms readied in one of my castles. The one in Marbella has the best cook.

  2. christopher says:

    Keep teasing me with Spain’s riches. Got room for four visitors next summer? My wife keeps telling me I need to get the kids to a beach, the Med doesn’t sound bad!

  3. 100swallows says:

    Cyurkanin: The latest biography I’m reading (called Carlos V) is by Joseph Perez, published in 2004 by Ediciones Folio. He has a nice last chapter on Charles at Yuste and talks about his clocks and astrolabes. But I have heard about them for years–and seen a few of them in the Escorial and elsewhere (maybe the War Museum in the Alcázar of Toledo? Now THERE’S a museum for you! They have Charles campaign tent and things like Cortez’s flag. The huge banner that hung from Santa Cruz’s ship at Lepanto is just down the street in the Santa Cruz Museum too).

  4. cyurkanin says:

    Ahhhh, you’re sucking me back in with the Charles V reference again!!! That ship is spectacular. From where did you get the info on his passion for time-pieces?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s