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Teutonic Knights text image

Teutonic Knights Symbol




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Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights or Teutonic Order (Latin: Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Ierosolimitanorum, "Order of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem", German: Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem or more commonly Deutscher Orden) is a German-based Roman Catholic religious order formed at the end of the 12th century in Acre, Palestine. During the Middle Ages they were a crusading military order and wore white surcoats with a black cross. It is now a clerical order based in Vienna, Austria.

The medieval Order played an important role in the Middle East, controlling the port tolls of Acre. After Christian forces were defeated in the Middle East, the Order moved to Transylvania in 1211 to help defend Hungary against the Cumans. They were expelled in 1225 after allegedly attempting to place themselves under Papal instead of Hungarian sovereignty.

Following the Golden Bull of Rimini, Grand Master Hermann von Salza and Duke Konrad I of Masovia made a joint invasion of "Old Prussia" in 1226 to Christianise the Baltic Old Prussians in the Prussian Crusade. The knights were then accused of cheating Polish rule and creating an independent monastic state. The Order lost its main purpose in Europe, when the neighbouring country of Lithuania accepted Christianity. Once established in Prussia, the Order became involved in campaigns against its Christian neighbours, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Novgorod Republic (after assimilating the Livonian Order). As well as their feudal levies the Order had a strong urban economy, hired many mercenaries from throughout Europe, and became a naval power in the Baltic Sea.

In 1410, a Polish-Lithuanian army decisively defeated the Order and broke its military power at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg). The Order steadily declined until 1525 when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg resigned and converted to Lutheranism to become Duke of Prussia. The Grand Masters continued to preside over the Order's considerable holdings in Germany and elsewhere until 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered its dissolution and the Order lost its last secular holdings. The Order continued to exist, headed by Habsburgs through World War I, and today operates primarily with charitable aims in Central Europe.

The knights sometimes used a cross pattée as their coat of arms; this image was later used for military decoration and insignia by the Kingdom of Prussia and Germany (see Iron Cross).

In 1143 Pope Celestine II ordered the Knights Hospitaller to take over management of a German Hospital in Jerusalem, which, according to the chronicler Jean d’Ypres, accommodated the countless German pilgrims and crusaders who could neither speak the local tongue (i.e. French) nor Latin (patrie linguam ignorantibus atque Latinam).[1] However, although formally an institution of the Hospitallers, the pope commanded that the prior and the brothers of the domus Teutonicorum (house of the Germans) should always be Germans themselves, so a tradition of a German-led religious institution could develop during the 12th century in Palestine.[2]

After the loss of Jerusalem in 1187, some merchants from Lübeck and Bremen took up the idea and founded a field hospital for the duration of the siege of Acre in 1190, which became the nucleus of the order; Celestine III recognized it in 1192 by granting the monks Augustinian Rule. Based on the model of the Knights Templar it was, however, transformed into a military order in 1198 and the head of the order became known as the Grand Master (magister hospitalis). It received Papal orders for crusades to take and hold Jerusalem for Latin Christianity and defend the Holy Land against the Muslim Saracens. During the rule of Grand Master Hermann von Salza (1209-1239) the Order changed from being a hospice brotherhood for pilgrims to primarily a military order.

Originally based in Acre, the Knights purchased Montfort (Starkenberg), northeast of Acre, in 1220. This castle, which defended the route between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea, was made the seat of the Grand Masters in 1229, although they returned to Acre after losing Montfort to Muslim control in 1271. The Order also had a castle near Tarsus in Armenia Minor. The Order received donations of land in the Holy Roman Empire (especially in present-day Germany and Italy), Greece, and Palestine.

Emperor Frederick II elevated his close friend Hermann von Salza to the status of Reichsfürst, or "Prince of the Empire", enabling the Grand Master to negotiate with other senior princes as an equal. During Frederick's coronation as King of Jerusalem in 1225, Teutonic Knights served as his escort in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; von Salza read the emperor's proclamation in both French and German. However, the Teutonic Knights were never as influential in Outremer as the older Templars and Hospitallers.

In 1211, Andrew II of Hungary accepted their services and granted them the district of Burzenland in Transylvania. Andrew had been involved in negotiations for the marriage of his daughter with the son of Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia, whose vassals included the family of Hermann von Salza. Led by a brother called Theoderich, the Order defended Hungary against the neighbouring Cumans and settled new German colonists to among those who were known as the Transylvanian Saxons, living there before. In 1224 the Knights petitioned Pope Honorius III to be placed directly under the authority of the Papal See, rather than that of the King of Hungary. Angered and alarmed at their growing power, Andrew responded by expelling them in 1225, although he allowed the new colonists to remain.

In 1337 Emperor Louis IV allegedly granted the Order the imperial privilege to conquer all Lithuania and Russia. During the reign of Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode (1351-1382), the Order reached the peak of its international prestige and hosted numerous European crusaders and nobility.

King Albert of Sweden ceded Gotland to the Order as a pledge (similar to a fiefdom), with the understanding that they would eliminate the pirating Victual Brothers from this strategic island base in the Baltic Sea. An invasion force under Grand Master Konrad von Jungingen conquered the island in 1398 and drove the Victual Brothers out of Gotland and the Baltic Sea.

In 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania was baptised into Roman Catholic Christianity and married Queen Jadwiga of Poland, taking the name Władysław II Jagiełło and becoming King of Poland. This created a personal union between the two countries and a potentially formidable opponent for the Teutonic Knights. The Order initially managed to play Jagiello and his cousin Vytautas against each other, but this strategy failed when Vytautas began to suspect that the Order was planning to annex parts of his territory.

The baptism of Jagiello began the official conversion of Lithuania to Christianity. Although the crusading rationale for the Order's state ended when Prussia and Lithuania had become officially Christian, the Order's feuds and wars with Lithuania and Poland continued. The Lizard Union was created in 1397 by Polish[citation needed] nobles in Culmerland to oppose the Order's policy.

In 1407 the Teutonic Order had reached its greatest territorial extent and included the lands of Prussia, Pomerelia, Samogitia, Courland, Livonia, Estonia, Gotland, Dagö, Ösel, and the Neumark pawned by Brandenburg in 1402.

In 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald (also known as the Battle of Tannenberg), a combined Polish-Lithuanian army, led by Władysław II Jagiełło and Vytautas, decisively defeated the Order in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War. Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen and most of the Order's higher dignitaries fell on the battlefield (50 out of 60). The Polish-Lithuanian army then besieged the capital of the Order, Marienburg, but was unable to take it owing to the resistance of Heinrich von Plauen. When the First Peace of Toruń was signed in 1411, the Order managed to retain essentially all of its territories, although the Knights' reputation as invincible warriors was irreparably damaged.

While Poland and Lithuania were growing in power, that of the Teutonic Knights dwindled through infighting. They were forced to impose high taxes in order to pay a substantial indemnity but did not give the cities sufficient requested representation in the administration of their state. The authoritarian and reforming Grand Master Heinrich von Plauen was forced from power and replaced by Michael Küchmeister von Sternberg, but the new Grand Master was unable to revive the Order's fortunes. After the Gollub War the Knights lost some small border regions and renounced all claims to Samogitia in the 1422 Treaty of Melno. Austrian and Bavarian knights feuded with those from the Rhineland, who likewise bickered with Low German-speaking Saxons, from whose ranks the Grand Master was usually chosen. The western Prussian lands of the Vistula River Valley were ravaged by the Hussites during the Hussite Wars. Some Teutonic Knights were sent to battle the invaders, but were defeated by the Bohemian infantry.[8] The Knights also sustained a defeat in the Polish-Teutonic War (1431-1435).

In 1454 the Prussian Confederation, consisting of the gentry and burghers of western Prussia, rose up against the Order, beginning the Thirteen Years' War. Much of Prussia was devastated in the war, during the course of which the Order returned Neumark to Brandenburg in 1455. In the Second Peace of Toruń, the defeated Order recognized the Polish crown's rights over western Prussia (subsequently Royal Prussia) while retaining eastern Prussia under nominal Polish overlordship. Because Marienburg was lost to the Order, its base was moved to Königsberg in Sambia.

Eastern Prussia was subsequently also lost to the Order when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg, after another unsuccessful war with Poland, converted to Lutheranism in 1525, secularized the Order's remaining Prussian territories, and assumed from King Sigismund I the Old of Poland the hereditary rights to the Duchy of Prussia as a vassal of the Polish Crown in the Prussian Homage. The Protestant Duchy of Prussia was thus a fief of Catholic Poland.

  Castle of the Teutonic Order in Bad Mergentheim.Although it had lost control of all of its Prussian lands, the Teutonic Order retained its territories within the Holy Roman Empire and Livonia, although the Livonian branch retained considerable autonomy. Many of the Imperial possessions were ruined in the Peasants' War from 1524-1525 and subsequently confiscated by Protestant territorial princes.[4] The Livonian territory was then partitioned by neighboring powers during the Livonian War; in 1561 the Livonian Master Gotthard Kettler secularized the southern Livonian possessions of the Order to create the Duchy of Courland, also a vassal of Poland.

After the loss of Prussia in 1525, the Teutonic Knights concentrated on their possessions in the Holy Roman Empire. Since they held no contiguous territory, they developed a three-tiered administrative system: holdings were combined into commanderies which were administered by a commander (Komtur). Several commanderies were combined to form a bailiwick headed by a Landkomtur. All of the Teutonic Knights' possessions were subordinate to the Grand Master whose seat was in Bad Mergentheim. Altogether there were twelve German bailiwicks: Thuringia, Alden Biesen (in present-day Belgium), Hesse, Saxony, Westphalia, Franconia, Koblenz, Alsace-Burgundy, An der Etsch und im Gebirge (Tyrol), Utrecht, Lorraine, and Austria. Outside of German areas were the bailiwicks of Sicily, Apulia, Lombardy, Bohemia, "Romania" (Greece), and Armenia-Cyprus. The Order gradually lost control of these holdings until, by 1810, only the bailiwicks in Tyrol and Austria remained.

Following the abdication of Albert of Prussia, Walter von Cronberg became Deutschmeister in 1527 and Grand Master in 1530. Emperor Charles V combined the two positions in 1531, creating the title Hoch- und Deutschmeister and elevating the Order's Grand Master to the status of Prince of the Empire.[3] A new Grand Magistery was established in Mergentheim in Württemberg, which was attacked during the Peasants' War. The Order also helped Charles V against the Schmalkaldic League. After the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, membership in the Order was open to Protestants, although the majority of brothers remained Catholic.[7] The Teutonic Knights now were tri-denominational, and there were Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed bailiwicks.

The Grand Masters, often members of the great German families (and, after 1761, members of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine), continued to preside over the Order's considerable holdings in Germany. Teutonic Knights from Germany, Austria, and Bohemia were used as battlefield commanders leading mercenaries for the Habsburg Monarchy during the Ottoman wars in Europe. The military history of the Teutonic Knights ended in 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered their dissolution and the Order lost its remaining secular holdings to Napoleon's vassals and allies.

Contemporary Teutonic Order

The Order continued to exist in Austria. It was only in 1834 that it was again officially called the Deutscher Ritterorden ("German Knightly Order"), although most of its possessions were worldly by then. Beginning in 1804 it was headed by members of the Habsburg dynasty until the 1923 resignation of the Grand Master, Archduke Eugen of Austria.

In 1929 the Teutonic Knights were converted to a purely spiritual Roman Catholic religious order and were renamed Deutscher Orden ("German Order"). After Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, the Teutonic Order was abolished throughout the Großdeutsches Reich from 1938-1945, although the Nazis used imagery of the medieval Teutonic Knights for propaganda purposes. The Order survived in Italy, however, and was reconstituted in Germany and Austria in 1945.

By the end of the 1990s, the Order had developed into a charitable organization and incorporated numerous clinics. It sponsors excavation and tourism projects in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In 2000 the German chapter of the Teutonic Order declared insolvency, and its upper management was dismissed. A 2002-03 investigation by a special committee of the Bavarian parliament was inconclusive.

he Coat of Arms of the Teutonic Order. The Order currently consists of approximately 1,000 members, including 100 Roman Catholic priests, 200 nuns, and 700 associates. While the priests are organized into six provinces (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, and Slovenia) and predominantly provide spiritual guidance, the nuns primarily care for the ill and the aged. Associates are active in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Italy. Many of the priests care for German-speaking communities outside of Germany and Austria, especially in Italy and Slovenia; in this sense the Teutonic Order has returned to its 12th century roots — the spiritual and physical care of Germans in foreign lands.[7] The current General Abbot of the Order, who also holds the title of Grand Master, is Bruno Platter. The current seat of the Grand Master is the Deutschordenskirche[9] in Vienna. Near the Stephansdom in the Austrian capital is the Treasury of the Teutonic Order which is open to the public, and the order's Central Archive. Since 1996 there has also been a museum dedicated to the Teutonic Knights at their former castle in Bad Mergentheim in Germany, which was the seat of the Grand Master from 1525-1809.


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