Teutonic Knights

Teutonic Knights, Teutonic Order -

Knights of the Teutonic Order

of reading - words

Who really were the Teutonic Knights ? Why and for who did they fight ? Sit back and let's dive together into their truer than life story in this comprehensive blog post about the hectic life of the Knights of the Teutonic Order !

When one pronounces the word crusade, one thinks directly of paintings revealing a splendid panorama of the Middle East under the sun of the knights coming to act out their conviction by killing the infidels. And who better than the Order of the Knights Templar to perfect this spectacle worthy of the film Kingdom of Heaven.

However, the Crusades were not just about muscular pilgrimages to Jerusalem and reduce the orders of knights monks to the Templars would be to overlook the fact that there were other slightly different orders, including a rather special one that made history : the Order of the Teutonic Knights.

Teutonic Knights

1) The Origins of the Teutonic Order

The history of the Teutonic Order goes back to the Third Crusade and the failure of the German crusade of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa following his death, when a large part of the army turned back. A small part led by his son Frederick of Swabia joined the crusading troops of Richard the Lionheart and Philip II Augustus at the siege of St. John of Acre. In 1190, a field hospital was established under the city walls to care for the Germanic crusaders. From then on, we are on a temporary one which lasts a long time. This field hospital is the starting point of the Teutonic Order or its official name at the time, House of the German Hospital of St. Mary of Jerusalem. Later, in 1198, the decision was taken to create a military branch at this hospital, which was approved by Pope Innocent III on February 19, 1199. This was the beginning of the Teutonic Knights. However, the beginnings of the Teutonic Order were not incredible, even though they had a certain financial affluence, allowing them to buy buildings in St. John of Acre. They remain small compared to the two other heavyweights, the Order of the Knights Templar and the Order of Hospitallers. On the other hand, just like them, their destiny seems linked to the future of the Holy Land.

A. The Fourth Grand Master

This important Grand Master is a certain Hermann von Salza, who is not just anyone since he is the fourth Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, but who is Hermann von Salza ? Not much is known about him, except that he was born in Thüringen, in Langensalza, in 1679, and that he entered the service of the Order, probably around 1204. In any case, from the time of his ascension as Grand Master, he worked tirelessly to raise the Teutonic Order to the level of power of the Hospitallers and the Knights Templar, engaging them in the Fifth Crusade in Egypt, where he played a leading role despite the failure of the crusade. But above all, von Salza is close to Frederick Deus, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Hermann von Salza

The superpower of the time, using a rare talent for the time. In any case, rare in view of the traditional image of a medieval knight, since here we are talking about the art of diplomacy. His best diplomatic move was the Sixth Crusade led by Frederick II himself, a crusade that culminated in the Treaty of Jaffa on February 18, 1229, which gave the city of Jerusalem without a fight to Frederick II, who took advantage of the occasion to be crowned king of Jerusalem. Hermann von Salza remained until his death a very close advisor to the emperor.

B. An unpromising future and yet...

The Teutonic Order gradually strengthened its position in the Latin states and acquired strongholds, including Monfort Castle in 1220, which became the seat of the Teutonic Order until its surrender in 1271. He also settled in Europe, multiplying his commanderies grouped into bailiwicks, mainly based in the Holy Roman Empire, but not only them. There were also Teutonic commanderies and strongholds in Greece, southern Anatolia, Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Kingdom of France. There are indeed six Teutonic commanderies at that time in France. In addition to this, the order received many privileges. The Teutonic friars escaped the tutelage of the bishops could collect the tithe tax, collect taxes for their benefit, obtained a great deal of autonomy over their lands and also the right to officially bear the distinctive mark of the Teutonic Order. The white mantle with a black cross. Despite the success of the Seventh Crusade, the position of the Latin states remained precarious in the Middle East. As early as 1239, Jerusalem was definitively lost to the Crusaders.


Templar Figurine


Second, these Christian states are surrounded by hostile neighbors. The local Christian populations are too few in number. Crusaders coming from Europe come on a crusade, but they are relatively few in number to take root there. The majority return home once the pilgrimage is completed. Moreover, the local factions are deeply divided between the local barons and supporters of Emperor Frederick II, then between the Venetians and the Genoese. In short, a beautiful mess that does not encourage optimism about the future of these states.

C. New Horizons

Soon enough, the Teutonic Order will turn to horizons other than that of the Latin states of the East, thus expanding the definition of the Crusade. The Reconquista, for example, and the conversion of arms of pagan peoples, whoever they may be, now fall within this definition. On the other hand, don't think that the Teutonics are abandoning the kingdom of Jerusalem. They took an active part in the crusades led by King Louis IX, who apparently enjoyed the raid very much, and in the defense of St. John of Acre in 1291, leading a last stand of honor alongside the other orders of knightly monks before the final fall of the city and the Eastern Latin States. The first opportunity to establish the order outside the Holy Land came in 1211, when King Andrew II of Hungary invited the Teutonic monks to settle in Transylvania to fight.

Teutonic Knights

The Teutonics were therefore sent to fight the incursions of nomadic peoples, the Coumans. André II donated the country to them, inviting them to settle there German colonists who then developed agriculture, crafts, fishing and forestry. They were exempted from taxes and were even entitled to half of the income from gold and silver mines. Except that after a while, King André II suspected the Teutonic people of taking a little too much comfort and of wanting to keep the country to themselves. The pope's decision to confirm the possession of his Teutonic lands sets fire to the powder keg. In 1225, the King of Hungary expelled the Teutonic Order, but not the German settlers whose distant descendants still populate the country today. This failure serves as a lesson for Hermann von Salza, who probably planned to create a state solely in the service of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. Later on, he therefore decided not to "work for the King of Prussia", as the French expression puts it so well.

D. An unmissable opportunity

A very interesting opportunity arose in 1225 when the Polish Duke Conrad of Mazovia called the Teutonic Knights to support him in his struggle against the pagan populations of Prussia. Indeed, for more than 200 years, the people of the Baltic Sea have been resisting conversion to Catholicism. Pope Celestine III did launch the Baltic Crusades in 1193 and another order of knightly monks, the Order of the Sword holder Knights, was even formed in 1202 in Livonia. But the situation did not advance and the Baltics even had the luxury of counter-attacking, making incursions into the Duchy of Mazovia. The Order created for the occasion, the Order of the Sword holder Knights, was crushed in 1236 by the local population during the Battle of the Sun. But there was no way Hermann von Salza would rush into it. He first wants to ensure his own back and he ends up getting what he wants. Emperor Frederick II assures him full possession of the lands that the order will succeed in conquering with the golden bubble of Rimini in 1226. In 1230, Duke Conrad of Mazovia ceded the country of Chełmno to the Teutonic Knights and abandoned any claim to the territories that the Order could conquer. Subsequently, it was the Pope, in his Golden Bull of Rieti in 1234, who placed the territories of the Teutonic Order under the sole authority of the Holy See.

Teutonic Knights

2) An interminable war for the Teutonic Knights

As early as 1231, the Teutonic Knights set out to attack Prussia. Beginning of a war that lasted more than sixty years. At first, the progress is rapid. The country of Chełmno, located in present-day Poland, was conquered in less than two years. The progression marks the step thereafter and it takes Teutonics ten years to subdue all of Western Prussia, solidifying their advance by erecting fortresses. In 1237, the Order of the Sword holder Knights merged with the Teutonic Order, which made it possible to regain the ground lost in Livonia the previous year and even to try again to conquer territories. In 1242, the Order suffered a serious setback at the battle of Lake Peipus against the army of Prince Alexander Nevski, which halted its advance in the North, but did not prevent it from continuing to advance in Prussia, although there too they had some problems . Indeed, the Prussians revolt twice against the invader, once from 1242 to 1249, then again from 1260 to 1283, when they are close to defeating the Teutonic Order. But the latter recovered, hardening its attitude towards the locals, no longer hesitating to ravage the country and reduce the population to slavery. From 170,000 around the year 1200. The Prussians are only 90 000 around 1300. Once the conquest is complete, the Teutonic Order works to consolidate its possessions by founding cities Königsberg, Mehmels, Thorn and Mariembourg castles. And by encouraging the colonization of the country by German and Polish settlers, which was later called the first Drang nach Osten. The march to the east.

Teutonic Order

The Military Decline of the Order

In 1309, the Grand Master of the Order settled in Mariembourg, leaving Venice, where the seat of the Order had been established after the fall of St. John of Acre, thus leaving the Mediterranean area and confirming the importance taken by the Teutonic State of the Baltic. At this stage, the Teutonic Empire is rich, very rich. It exports a lot of wood, cereals and amber. Several Teutonic cities join the Hanseatic League, a powerful guild that groups together the major trading cities of Northern Europe. It controls all the mouths of the Vistula, Neman and Daugava rivers, real trade highways of medieval Eastern Europe, not hesitating to levy taxes and tolls, as well as a share on the trade of these merchants. But all this wealth does not remain to sleep in the coffers of Mariembourg. It was used for the crusades. Even if Prussia and Livonia are Christianized, Lithuania resists the Teutonics and refuses Catholicism, which is why the Lithuanians take twice a year a crusade in the face not only of the Knights of the Order who participate in it since the end of the Latin States of the East. The Baltic countries have become the only place where crusades are still possible and many knights from all over Christian Europe take part in them. These wars were also an opportunity for the Teutonic Order to enlarge its territory, even going so far as to annex Pomerania in 1309, a territory that was already Christian. At the time, Poland was still very much in the grip of the wars, as the Order deprived it of access to the sea. But that didn't stop the order from reaching the height of its power in 1398. However, if it was at the top at that time, what it does not know is that its decline began 12 years earlier, in 1386. In that year, Ladislas II was baptized Agulhon, Grand Duke of Lithuania, who married in the same year with the Polish Hedwig, heiress of the kingdom of Poland. The Christianization of Lithuania made then, in a way, will lose to the order any reason to be seen that the neighboring countries are now Christianized. On top of that, the Union of Lithuania and Poland creates a strong rival to the order. However, the Teutonic Order has other fish to fry and continues its crusades in Lithuania. Even though the Pope and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire forbid them to do so. But Samogitia, former Lithuanian possessions integrated into the Teutonic domain since 1398, revolted in 1409, which led to the entry into war of Lithuania and Poland against the Order. This war saw the Teutonics crushed at the battle of Grunwald on July 15, 1410.

Teutonic Order

Surprisingly enough, the Teutonics are blaming the move and resisting the invasion of Prussia by Polish-Lithuanian forces, which allows them to get out of this first confrontation without too much trouble. In spite of everything, the war was expensive and the order had to pay large war indemnity payments, which it paid by raising taxes. Obviously, the merchants and the bourgeoisie of the Prussian cities could not bear these new taxes and ended up regrouping in a league, the Prussian League, which started an insurrection and offered Prussia to the King of Poland. It is the beginning of the Thirteen Years' War where the Teutonic Order employs many mercenaries to redress the military situation. But mercenaries are very expensive. And quickly, the order reaches the end of its financial means. As a result, the mercenaries turned against their employers and opened wide the doors of many fortresses to the Poles. The Teutonic Order is defeated and signs the peace of Thorn on October 19, 1466, giving West Prussia to Poland. The Teutonic Order then became a vassal of the King of Poland in East Prussia. The capital of the State of the Teutonics passes from Mariembourg ceded to Poland to Königsberg. In 1519, a new war broke out between the Order and Poland on the initiative of the Grand Master Albert von Brandeburg-Ansbach, which ended in a new Teutonic defeat in 1521. It was not war that ended the Order in Prussia, but a religious movement born in 1517 and advocated by Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation.

3) The declining Teutonic State

In 1525, Prussia was already largely won over by the new religion and the great master Albert von Brandeburg, following a trip to Wittenberg where he met Martin Luther in person, finally converted to Protestantism on April 8, 1525. As a result, he made what remains of the Teutonic state his duchy: the Duchy of Prussia. This means that he basically reclaims the entire duchy for himself and his descendants. It is, moreover, the beginning of the Prussian State which, much later, will be the engine of German unification. But let's not go so far into the future and return in 1525 to the Teutonic Order, which is not in very good shape. The transformation of the Teutonic State into a duchy surprised many people and the order had to reorganize itself urgently. Walther von Cronberg, Master of Germany, the one who comes just after the Grand Master and who heads the commanderies located in the Holy Roman Empire, takes over the leadership of the order, becoming administrator of the mastery. He establishes the seat of the Order in Mergentheim. He then made two choices: to withdraw the order into the Holy Roman Empire and to seek the support of the Emperor.

Teutonic Order

In passing, this withdrawal and reorganization leave the Livonian branch of the Order, which is still loyal to the Teutonic Order, quite alone in the face of the rising power of the Russia of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. And in 1562. It too became a vassal duchy of Poland. At the same time, the Order had much to do in the Empire itself, Central Germany was in the midst of a peasant revolution. Desertions within the Order multiplied, memberships declined and local princes, both Catholic and Protestant, took advantage of the situation to put an end to the privileges of the Teutonic commanderies based on their lands. At least, when they did not go so far as to take direct possession of the commanderies, the order lost more than fifty of them. And we can't blame these princes too much since, in the end, what use can be made of an order of knightly monks who no longer have any reason to fight ? One could, without exaggerating, say that for the order, the carrots are cooked, but in fact, not really. It survives the Protestant Reformation as best it can. But it leaves many feathers. The Teutonic Order loses much of its influence. He finds himself penniless and his power is only a memory.

A. The Order is losing its independence...

The rapprochement with the Austrian Habsburgs, the dynasty that had held the imperial crown since 1452, proved to be fruitful, as it allowed the order to reform and survive. But it was at the price of much of its independence, since it became a mere satellite of the Habsburg family. From 1590 onwards, all the great masters of the Teutonic Order were members of this dynasty. We must face the fact that the Teutonic knights are then only a shadow of their former selves. Around 1576, there was indeed a project to establish a Teutonic state in Hungary to counter the advance of the Turks. But the order was already in such a dilapidated state that this project did not come to fruition. The Order's last moment of glory came during the Candian War in 1667, when a Teutonic expedition was organized in Crete to help the Venetians then at war with the Turks. But the Turks finally seized the island in 1669. A failed revival, therefore, especially since it was the last great expedition of the Teutonics, there will never be another one. In 1789, the order is not really much anymore.

French Revolution

And then the French Revolution broke out. Under the Revolution, the few commanderies still present in France disappeared and one after the other, one after the other, fell into the civil domain. Between 1789 and 1806, the Order lost nearly fifty-six commanderies. In 1805, during the Treaty of Presbourg. It is recorded that the Grand Master of the Order is henceforth appointed by the Emperor of Austria and no longer by the General Chapter of the Order, pushing the Teutonics further into the role of private property of the Habsburg dynasty. On April 24, 1809, by a simple decree, Napoleon suppressed the Teutonic Order in the territories that were part of the Confederation of the Rhine, and the German princes took advantage of the opportunity to take over the thirty-one commanderies that remained there. One could believe that this is the end of the Teutonic Order... And yet, it survives...

B. The Teutons did not say their last words !

Indeed, Napoleon's decision only concerns the Confederation of the Rhine, but not the Austrian Empire, which is not part of it. The Teutonic Order could therefore withdraw to Austria and transfer its seat to Vienna. But after 1815 and after surviving Napoleon, the order had little left, five brother knights and 15 brother priests. This leaves them in a rather complicated position. But they started to develop again during the 19th century, creating convents of Teutonic sisters in 1846, and convents of Teutonic brothers in 1866, gradually abandoning its military principle to develop its religious aspect. Then came the First World War and its procession of horrors. Even if this time we will focus on Austria. At the end of the war, the Habsburg dynasty is driven from the throne of Austria, which becomes a republic. The question is then to know what the authorities will do with an order of knights monks whose grand masters are Habsburgs since 1590.


The Order is once again doing well. Eugen von Österreich-Teschen, the last Grand Master of the Habsburg family, resigned from his office and for the first time in the history of the Teutonic Order, a priest, Bishop Norbert Kleene, was elected as head of the Order. To confirm the transformation of the Order into a clerical organization. He renounces the admission of new brother knights. And in 1929, the Order adopts a new rule that definitively closes the military aspect of the Teutonic Order. And to underline this change, the Teutonics adopted the official name of brother of the German Order of St. Mary of Jerusalem. But a final test awaits the Teutonic Order, not the least of which is the one that begins in 1938 with the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, when, paradoxically, the image of the medieval Teutonic Order marching eastwards with weapons in hand is recuperated by the propaganda of the Third Reich. What remained of the order in Austria was suppressed. Like most religious orders, Grand Master Robert Shinseki is imprisoned and the members of the order must flee. Some of them were even deported to the Dachau concentration camp. At the end of the war, not only did those who had escaped from the Nazis suffer from the fighting during the Liberation, but the installation of communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia put an end to the presence of the order in these countries.

C. The Teutonic Order regains its independence

Once again, one would think that this is the end of the Teutonic Order. But still not ! On the contrary, the Order will once again rebuild itself and will even gradually relocate to Germany, something that has not been seen since 1809.

Teutonic Order

After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, he even relocated to the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Today, order is better. The Teutonics have definitively turned the page on their military period. They are now involved in educating the young and caring for the sick and the elderly. There are about a thousand of them, including about a hundred Teutonic brothers and 200 sisters, the rest being familiar, i.e., civilians linked to the order who strive to promote these values. The Teutonic Order is a special history. An order of knightly monks was born in Palestine, which has forged an empire on the shores of the Baltic Sea. A rich and powerful empire. You have to have seen the immense fortress of Marienbourg to realize the power of the Knights Templar at that time. But he ended up giving in to the assaults of his neighbors, to his own cities too, who rebelled against his monastic state, becoming over time more interested in his conquests than in his original mission, blinded by his own power, he did not see the change in time. Defeated, the Teutonic Order would have had every reason to disappear, going through many crises, but it ended up evolving from within, most often in pain. And if it is no longer as powerful as in the past, it has finally regained its independence...

Templar T-Shirt

1 comment

  • Justin Thomas Williams

    For the love of life.

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