Teutonic Knights

Teutonic Knights
Teutonic Knights
Coat of arms of the Teutonic Order.
Active c. 1190–Present
Allegiance Papacy, Holy Roman Emperor
Type Catholic religious order
(1192–1929 as military order)
Headquarters Acre (1192–1291)
Venice (1291–1309)
Marienburg (1309–1466)
Königsberg (1466–1525)
Mergentheim (1525–1809)
Vienna (1809–Present)
Nickname Teutonic Knights, German Order
Patron The Virgin Mary, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, & Saint George
Attire White mantle with a black cross
First Grand Master Heinrich Walpot von Bassenheim
Current Grand Master Bruno Platter[1]

The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem [2] (Official names: Latin: Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum, German: Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem), commonly the Teutonic Order (Today: German Order = Der Deutsche Orden, also Deutschherren- or Deutschritterorden), is a German medieval military order, in modern times a purely religious Catholic order. It was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. Its members have commonly been known as the Teutonic Knights, since they also served as a crusading military order in the Middle Ages. The military membership was always small, with volunteers and mercenaries augmenting the force as needed. After the Reformation, the Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Order became Protestant; this branch still consists of knights, but the modern Roman Catholic order consists of Roman Catholic priests, nuns, and associates.



Formed at the end of the 12th century in Acre, in the Levant, the medieval Order played an important role in Outremer, 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 Kipchaks. The Knights were expelled in 1225, after allegedly attempting to place themselves under Papal instead of Hungarian sovereignty.

In 1230, following the Golden Bull of Rimini, Grand Master Hermann von Salza and Duke Konrad I of Masovia launched the Prussian Crusade, a joint invasion of Prussia intended to Christianize the Baltic Old Prussians. The Order then created the independent Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights in the conquered territory, and subsequently conquered Livonia. The Kings of Poland accused the Order of holding lands rightfully theirs.

The Order lost its main purpose in Europe with the Christianisation of Lithuania. 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). The Teutonic Knights had a strong economic base, hired mercenaries from throughout Europe to augment their feudal levies, 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).

In 1515, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I made a marriage alliance with Sigismund I of Poland-Lithuania. Thereafter the Empire did not support the Order against Poland. In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg resigned and converted to Lutheranism, becoming Duke of Prussia as a vassal of Poland. Soon after, the Order lost Livonia and its holdings in the Protestant areas of Germany.[3]

The Order kept its considerable holdings in Catholic areas of Germany until 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte ordered its dissolution and the Order lost its last secular holdings. The Order continued to exist as a charitable and ceremonial body. It was outlawed by Adolf Hitler in 1938,[4] but re-established in 1945.[5] Today it operates primarily with charitable aims in Central Europe.

The Knights wore white surcoats with a black cross. A cross pattée was sometimes used as their coat of arms; this image was later used for military decoration and insignia by the Kingdom of Prussia and Germany as the Iron Cross and Pour le Mérite. The motto of the Order was:"Helfen, Wehren, Heilen" ("Help, Defend, Heal")[6]


The officially used full name of the Order in German is Orden der Brüder vom Deutschen Haus St. Mariens in Jerusalem or in Latin Ordo domus Sanctæ Mariæ Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum (engl. "Order of the House of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem"). It is commonly known in German as the Deutscher Orden (official short name, engl. "German Order"), historically also as Deutscher Ritterorden ("German Order of Knights"), Deutschherrenorden, Deutschritterorden ("Order of the German Knights") or "Die Herren im weißen Mantel" ("The lords in white capes").

The Teutonic Knights have been known as Zakon Krzyżacki in Polish and as Kryžiuočių Ordinas in Lithuanian, "Vācu Ordenis" in Latvian, "Saksa Ordu" or, simply, "Ordu" ("The Order") in Estonian, as well as various names in other languages.

Medieval organization of the order

Administrative structure of the German order about 1450

Teuton flag.svg
Kanzlei des Hochmeisters
Großkomtur (Magnus Commendator)
Ordensmarschall (Summus Marescalcus)
Großspittler (Summus Hospitalarius)
Ordenstressler (Summus Thesaurarius)
Ordenstrappier (Summus Trappearius)
Großschäffer (Marienburg)
Großschäffer (Königsberg)
Komtur (Preußen)
Komtur (Preußen)
Deutschmeister (Magister Germaniae)
Landmeister in Livland (Magister Livoniae)
Komtur (Livland)
Komtur (Livland)
Komtur (in the Holy Empire)
Komtur (in the Holy Empire)
Karwansherr Trappierer Kellermeister Küchenmeister Wachhauptmann Gesindemeister Fischmeister


Universal leadership


The Generalkapitel (general chapter) was the collection of all the priests, knights and half-brothers (German: "Halbbrüder"). Because of the logistical problems to assemble the members, who were spread over large distances, only deputations of the bailiwicks and commandries gathered to form the General chapter. The General chapter was designed to meet annually, but the conventions usually were limited to the election of a new Grandmaster. The decisions of the Generalkapitel had a binding effect on the Großgebietigers of the order.


The Hochmeister (Grandmaster) was the highest officer of the order. Until 1525, he was elected by the Generalkapitel. He had the rank of an ecclesiastic imperial state leader and was sovereign prince of Prussia until 1466. Despite this high formal position, practically, he only was a kind of first among equals.


The Großgebietiger were high officers with competence on the whole order, appointed by the Hochmeister. There were five offices.

  • The Großkomtur (Magnus Commendator), the deputy of the Grandmaster
  • The Treßler, the treasurer
  • The Spitler (Summus Hospitalarius), responsible for all hospital affairs
  • The Trapier, responsible for dressing and armament
  • The Marschall (Summus Marescalcus), the chief of military affairs

National leadership


The order was divided in three national chapters, Prussia, Livland and the territory of the Holy Roman Empire. The highest officer of each chapter was the Landmeister (country master). They were elected by the regional chapters. In the beginning, they were only substitutes of the Grandmaster but were able to create a power of their own. Within their territory, the Grandmaster could not decide against their will. In the end of the rule over Prussia, factual, the Grandmaster was only Landmeister of Prussia. There were three Landmeisters

  • The Landmeister in Livland, the successor of the Herrenmeister (lords master) of the former Livonian Brothers of the Sword
  • The Landmeister of Prussia, since 1309 united with the office of the Grandmaster, who was situated in Prussia since then.
  • The Deutschmeister, the Landsmeister of the Holy Empire. When Prussia and Livland were lost, the Deutschmeister also became Grandmaster.

Regional leadership

Because the properties of the order within the rule of the Deutschmeister did not form a cohesive territory but were spread over the whole empire and parts of Europe, there was an additional regional structure, the bailiwick. Kammerbaleien were governed by the Grandmaster himself. Some of these bailiwicks had the rank of imperial states

  • Deutschordensballei Thuringia (Zwätzen)
  • Deutschordensballei Hesse (Marburg)
  • Deutschordensballei Saxonia (Lucklum)
  • Brandenburg
  • Deutschordensballei Westfalia (Deutschordenskommende Mülheim)
  • Deutschordensballei Franconia (Ellingen)
  • Kammerballei Koblenz
  • Deutschordensballei Schwabia-Alsace-Burgundy (Rufach)
  • Deutschordensballei at the Etsch and in the Mountains (south Tyrol) (Bozen)
  • Utrecht
  • Lorraine (Trier)
  • Kammerballei Austria
  • Deutschordensballei Alden Biesen
  • Sicily
  • Deutschordensballei Apulia (San Leonardo)
  • Lombardy (also called Lamparten)
  • Kammerballei Bohemia
  • Deutschordensballei Romania (Achaia, Greece)
  • Armenien-Zyprus

Local leadership


The smallest administrative unit of the order was the Kommende. It was ruled by a Komtur, who had all administrative rights and controlled the Vogteien (district of a reeve) and Zehnthöfe (tithe collectors) within his rule. In the commandry, all kinds of brothers lived together in a monastic way. Noblemen served as Knight-brothers or Priest-brothers. Other people could serve as Sariantbrothers, who were armed soldiers and as Half-brothers, who were working in economy and healthcare.

Special offices

  • The Kanzler (chancellor) of the Grandmaster and the Deutschmeister. The chancellor took care of the keys and seals and was recording clerk of the chaptre.
  • The Münzmeister (master of the mint) of Thorn. In 1246 the order received the right to produce its own coins the Holy See.
  • The Großschäffer, a trading representant with special authority.


Tannhäuser in the habit of the Teutonic Knights, from the Codex Manesse

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 language (i.e. old French) nor Latin (patriæ linguam ignorantibus atque Latinam).[9] Although formally an institution of the Hospitallers, the pope commanded that the prior and the brothers of the domus Theutonicorum (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.[10]

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 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.

Hermann von Salza served as the fourth Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights (1209 to 1239).

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 at Amouda in Armenia Minor. The Order received donations of land in the Holy Roman Empire (especially in present-day Germany and Italy), Frankish 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 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.


Map of the Teutonic state in 1260

In 1226, Konrad I, Duke of Masovia in north-eastern Poland, appealed to the Knights to defend his borders and subdue the pagan Baltic Prussians, allowing the Teutonic Knights use of Chełmno Land (Culmerland) as a base for their campaign. This being a time of widespread crusading fervor throughout Western Europe, Hermann von Salza considered Prussia a good training ground for his knights for the wars against the Muslims in Outremer.[11] With the Golden Bull of Rimini, Emperor Frederick II bestowed on the Order a special imperial privilege for the conquest and possession of Prussia, including Chełmno Land, with nominal papal sovereignty. In 1235 the Teutonic Knights assimilated the smaller Order of Dobrzyń, which had been established earlier by Christian, the first Bishop of Prussia.

The conquest of Prussia was accomplished with much bloodshed over more than 50 years, during which native Prussians who remained unbaptised were subjugated, killed, or exiled. Fighting between the Knights and the Prussians was ferocious; chronicles of the Order state the Prussians would "roast captured brethren alive in their armour, like chestnuts, before the shrine of a local god".[12]

The native nobility who submitted to the crusaders had many of their privileges affirmed in the Treaty of Christburg. After the Prussian uprisings of 1260–83, however, much of the Prussian nobility emigrated or were resettled, and many free Prussians lost their rights. The Prussian nobles who remained were more closely allied with the German landowners and gradually assimilated.[13] Peasants in frontier regions, such as Samland, had more privileges than those in more populated lands, such as Pomesania.[14] The crusading knights often accepted baptism as a form of submission by the natives.[15] Christianity along western lines slowly spread through Prussian culture. Bishops were reluctant to have Prussian religious practices integrated into the new faith,[16] while the ruling knights found it easier to govern the natives when they were semi-pagan and lawless.[17] After 50 years of warfare and brutal conquest the end result meant that most of the Prussian natives were either killed or deported[18]

The Order ruled Prussia under charters issued by the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor as a sovereign monastic state, comparable to the arrangement of the Knights Hospitallers in Rhodes and later in Malta.

Frederick II allows the order to invade Prussia, by P. Janssen

To make up for losses from the plague and to replace the partially exterminated native population, the Order encouraged the immigration of colonists from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (mostly Germans, Flemish, and Dutch) and from Masovia (Poles), the later Masurians. The colonists included nobles, burghers, and peasants, and the surviving Old Prussians were gradually assimilated through Germanization. The settlers founded numerous towns and cities on former Prussian settlements. The Order itself built a number of castles (Ordensburgen) from which it could defeat uprisings of Old Prussians, as well as continue its attacks on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, with which the Order was often at war during the 14th and 15th centuries. Major towns founded by the Order included Königsberg, founded in 1255 in honor of King Otakar II of Bohemia on the site of a destroyed Prussian settlement, Allenstein (Olsztyn), Elbing (Elbląg), and Memel (Klaipėda).

In 1236 the Knights of Saint Thomas, an English order, adopted the rules of the Teutonic Order. The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were absorbed by the Teutonic Knights in 1237; the Livonian branch subsequently became known as the Livonian Order. The Teutonic Order's nominal territorial rule extended over Prussia, Livonia, Semigalia, and Estonia. Its next aim was to convert Orthodox Russia to Catholicism, but after the knights suffered a disastrous defeat in the Battle on Lake Peipus (1242) at the hands of Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod, this plan had to be abandoned. A contingent of Teutonic Knights of indeterminate number is traditionally believed to have participated at the Battle of Legnica in 1241 against the Mongols. However, recent analysis of the 15th century Annals of Jan Długosz by Labuda suggests that the German crusaders may have been added to the text (listing the Allied Army) after the chronicler Długosz had completed the work.[19] Legnica is the furthest west the Mongol expansion would reach in Europe.


In 1242, the Teutonic Knights invaded the Republic of Novgorod (located in modern-day Russia) but were defeated at Lake Peipus and pushed back by the forces of prince and commanding general at Novgorod Alexander Nevski. This battle is known in Russia as the Battle of the Ice, although correct translation from Russian would be ice slaughter, ледовое побоище.

Against Lithuania

The Teutonic Knights began to direct their campaigns against pagan Lithuania (see Lithuanian mythology), especially after the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at Acre in 1291. The knights moved their headquarters to Venice, from which they planned the recovery of Outremer.[20] Because "Lithuania Propria" remained non-Christian until the end of the 14th century, much later than the rest of eastern Europe, many knights from western European countries, such as England and France, journeyed to Prussia to participate in the seasonal campaigns (reyse) against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Some of them campaigned against pagans to obtain remission for their sins, while others fought to gain military experience.

Warfare between the Order and the Lithuanians was especially brutal. Non-Christians were seen as lacking rights possessed by Christians. Because enslavement of non-Christians was seen as acceptable at the time and the subdued native Prussians demanded land or payment, the Knights often used captured pagan Lithuanians for forced labor. The contemporary Austrian poet Peter Suchenwirt described treatment he witnessed of pagans by the Knights:

Women and children were taken captive; What a jolly medley could be seen: Many a woman could be seen, Two children tied to her body, One behind and one in front; On a horse without spurs Barefoot had they ridden here; The heathens were made to suffer: Many were captured and in every case, Were their hands tied together They were led off, all tied up — Just like hunting dogs.[21]

It was a total war in every sense of the word. Lasting for more than 200 years, having its front line along the river Nemunas (with as many as 20 forts and castles only between Seredžius and Jurbarkas, stretch of about 45 km) and 10–50 km buffer zone, stretching on the both banks, absolutely desolated wasteland. This struggle was so deeply etched into Lithuanian culture and mentality that even now it is probably the biggest source of national pride and self-identity.[citation needed]

Against Poland

A dispute over the succession to the Duchy of Pomerelia embroiled the Order in further conflict in the beginning of the 14th century. The Margraves of Brandenburg had claims to the duchy which they acted upon after the death of King Wenceslaus of Poland in 1306. Duke Władysław I the Elbow-high of Poland claimed the duchy as well basing on inheritance from Przemysław II, but was opposed by some Pomeranians nobles. They requested help from Brandenburg, which subsequently occupied all of Pomerelia except for the citadel of Danzig (Gdańsk) in 1308. Because Władysław was unable to come to the defense of Danzig, the Teutonic Knights, then led by Hochmeister Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, were hired to expel the Brandenburgers.

The Order, under Prussian Landmeister Heinrich von Plötzke, evicted the Brandenburgers from Danzig in September 1308 but then refused to yield the town to the Poles and massacred the town's inhabitants. In the Treaty of Soldin, the Teutonic Order purchased Brandenburg's supposed claim to the castles of Danzig, Schwetz (Świecie), and Dirschau (Tczew) and their hinterlands from the margraves for 10,000 marks on September 13, 1309.[citation needed]

Pomerelia (Pommerellen) while part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights.

Control of Pomerelia allowed the Order to connect their monastic state with the borders of the Holy Roman Empire. Crusading reinforcements and supplies could travel from the Imperial territory of Hither Pomerania through Pomerelia to Prussia, while Poland's access to the Baltic Sea was blocked. While Poland had mostly been an ally of the knights against the pagan Prussians and Lithuanians, the capture of Pomerelia turned the kingdom into a determined enemy of the Order.[22]

The capture of Danzig marked a new phase in the history of the Teutonic Knights. The persecution and abolition of the powerful Knights Templar which began in 1307 worried the Teutonic Knights, but control of Pomerelia allowed them to move their headquarters in 1309 from Venice to Marienburg (Malbork) on the Nogat River, outside of the reach of secular powers. The position of Prussian Landmeister was merged with that of the Grand Master. The Pope began investigating misconduct by the knights, but the Order was defended by able jurists. Along with the campaigns against the Lithuanians, the knights faced a vengeful Poland and legal threats from the Papacy.[23]

The Treaty of Kalisz of 1343 ended open war between the Teutonic Knights and Poland. The Knights relinquished Kuyavia and Dobrzyń Land to Poland, but retained Culmerland and Pomerelia with Danzig.

Height of power

Map of the Teutonic state in 1410

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 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 Prussian nobles in Culmerland to oppose the Order's policy.

In 1407 the Teutonic Order 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.


Map of the Teutonic state in 1466

In 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald — known in Lithuanian as the Battle of Žalgiris — 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 Thorn 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 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 and the Brandenburg Neumark were ravaged by the Hussites during the Hussite Wars.[24] Some Teutonic Knights were sent to battle the invaders, but were defeated by the Bohemian infantry. 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 Thorn (1466), 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 Castle was handed over to mercenaries in lieu of their pay, the Order moved its base to Königsberg in Sambia.

The Order was completely ousted from Prussia when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg, after the Polish–Teutonic War (1519–1521), converted to Lutheranism in 1525, secularized the Order's remaining Prussian territories, and assumed from King Sigismund I the Old of Poland, his uncle, 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 German Peasants' War from 1524 to 1525 and subsequently confiscated by Protestant territorial princes.[25] 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 (in Tyrol),
  • Utrecht,
  • Lorraine,
  • and Austria.

Outside of German areas were the bailiwicks of

  • Sicily,
  • Apulia,
  • Lombardy,
  • Bohemia,
  • "Romania" (in Romania),
  • 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 Brandenburg, Walter von Cronberg became Deutschmeister in 1527, became Administrator of Prussia and Grand Master in 1530. Emperor Charles V combined the two positions in 1531, creating the title Hoch- und Deutschmeister, which also had the rank of Prince of the Empire.[26] A new Grand Magistery was established in Mergentheim in Württemberg, which was attacked during the German 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.[27] 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.

Grand Masters' tomb uncovered

Polish archeologists report that DNA testing has confirmed the skeletal remains found in a Kwidzyn (German: Marienwerder) cathedral are the 600-year-old remains of three of the Teutonic Knights' more famous Grand Masters. Archeologist Bogumil Wisniewski, says that researchers are 95% sure the remains are those of Grand Masters Werner von Orseln, the knights' leader from 1324 to 1330; Ludolf Koenig, who ruled from 1342 to 1345, and Heinrich von Plauen, who reigned from 1410 to 1413. The skeletons, found in wooden coffins, were draped in silk robes, painted with gold, as was the custom of only those in high positions, during the Middle Ages.[28] Several other indicators supported the find, including murals showing the three knights and historic documents indicating two of them were buried beneath the church. After the scientific studies are complete the remains will be put on public display in the ancient church, under a special glass shield.[citation needed]

Modern Teutonic Order

Poster of Nazi organisation Bund Deutscher Osten with swastika on Teutonic Knights shield 1935

The Roman Catholic order continued to exist in Austria, out of Napoleon's reach. Beginning in 1804 and until 1923 (in which year Archduke Eugen of Austria resigned the grandmastership), it was headed by members of the Habsburg dynasty.

In 1929, that branch of the Teutonic knights was converted to a purely spiritual Roman Catholic religious order and renamed the Deutscher Orden ("German Order"). After Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, the Teutonic Order was suppressed throughout the Großdeutsches Reich until defeat of that regime, although the Nazis used imagery of the medieval Teutonic knights for propagandistic purposes.[29] The Roman Catholic order survived in Italy, however, and was reconstituted in Germany and Austria in 1945.

By the end of the twentieth century, this part of the Order had developed into a charitable organization and incorporated numerous clinics, as well as sponsoring excavation and tourism projects in Israel. In 2000, the German chapter of the Teutonic Order declared bankruptcy and its upper management was dismissed; an investigation by a special committee of the Bavarian parliament in 2002 and 2003 to determine the cause was inconclusive.

The Roman Catholic branch now 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 twelfth-century: the spiritual and physical care of Germans in foreign lands.[30] 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[31] (Church of the German Order) 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.

A portion of the Order retains more of the character of the knights during the height of its power and prestige. The Balije van Utrecht ("Bailiwick of Utrecht") of the Ridderlijke Duitsche Orde ("Chivalric German [i.e., 'Teutonic'] Order") became Protestant at the Reformation, and it remains much an aristocratic society, though now admitting noble women as well as noble men. The relationship of the Bailiwick of Utrecht to the Roman Catholic Deutscher Orden resembles that of the Protestant Bailiwick of Brandenburg to the Roman Catholic Order of Malta: each is an authentic part of its original order, though differing from and smaller than the Roman Catholic branch.[32]

Influence on German, Polish and Lithuanian nationalism

A German National People's Party poster from 1920 showing a Teutonic knight being attacked by Poles and socialists. The caption reads "Save the East".

German nationalism often invoked the imagery of the Teutonic Knights, especially in the context of territorial conquest from eastern neighbours of Germany and conflict with nations of Slavic origins, whom German nationalists considered less developed and of inferior culture. The German historian Heinrich von Treitschke used imagery of the Teutonic Knights to promote pro-German and anti-Polish rhetoric. Many middle-class German nationalists adopted this imagery and its symbols. During the Weimar Republic, associations and organisations of this nature contributed to laying the groundwork for the formation of Nazi Germany.[33]

Before and during World War II, Nazi propaganda and ideology made frequent use of the Teutonic Knights' imagery, as the Nazis sought to depict the Knights' actions as a forerunner of the Nazi conquests for Lebensraum. Heinrich Himmler tried to idealize the SS as a 20th-century re-incarnation of the medieval Order.[34] Yet, despite these references to the Teutonic Order's history in Nazi propaganda, the Order itself was abolished in 1938 and its members were persecuted by the German authorities. This occurred mostly due to Hitler's and Himmler's belief, that throughout history Roman Catholic military-religious orders had been tools of the Holy See and as such constituted a threat to the Nazi regime.[35]

The converse was true for Polish nationalism (see: Sienkiewicz "The Knights of the Cross"), which used the Teutonic Knights as symbolic shorthand for Germans in general, conflating the two into an easily recognizable image of the hostile. Similar associations were used by Soviet propagandists, such as the Teutonic knight villains in the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein film Aleksandr Nevskii. Lithuanian nationalists, particularly in the 19th century, used the history of their wars with the Teutonic Order to idealise the heroism of the medieval Lithuanians, a very strong argument in support of preserving the Lithuanian language, history and culture.[citation needed]

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany posed for a photo in 1902 in the garb of a monk from the Teutonic Order, climbing the stairs in the reconstructed Marienburg Castle as a symbol of Imperial German policy.[33]

Timeline of events

Reliquary made in Elbing in 1388 for Teutonic komtur Thiele von Lorich, military Trophy of Polish king Wladislaus in 1410.
see also Polish-Teutonic War

Coats of arms

Seals and coins

See also


  1. ^ "The Grand Masters". Teutonic Order, Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem. http://www.deutscher-orden.de/GB/all_geschichte_hochmeister.php#. Retrieved 2011-01-30. "Abbot Dr. Bruno Platter 2000-" 
  2. ^ Van Duren, Peter (1995). Orders of Knighthood and of Merit. C. Smythe. pp. 212. ISBN 0861403711. http://books.google.com/books?id=urBxAAAAMAAJ&q=%22Order+of+The+Teutonic+Knights+of+St.+Mary%27s+Hospital+in+Jerusalem%22&dq=%22Order+of+The+Teutonic+Knights+of+St.+Mary%27s+Hospital+in+Jerusalem%22&ei=8nwWSckclJQx6fWYww4&client=firefox-a&pgis=1. 
  3. ^ "History of the German Order". Teutonic Order, Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem. http://www.deutscher-orden.de/GB/all_geschichte_start.php#aufstieg. Retrieved 2011-01-30. "The 15th and early 16th century brought hard times for the Order. Apart from the drastic power loss in the East as of 1466, the Hussite attacks imperilled the continued existence of the bailwick of Bohemia. In Southern Europe, the Order had to renounce important outposts - such as Apulia and Sicily. After the coup d’état of Albrecht von Brandenburg, the only territory of the Order remained were the bailwicks in the empire." 
  4. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair. "The Teutonic Order of Holy Mary in Jerusalem". Almanach de la Cour. www.chivalricorders.org. http://www.chivalricorders.org/vatican/teutonic.htm. Retrieved 2011-01-30. "This tradition was further perverted by the nazis who, after the occupation of Austria suppressed it by an act of September 6, 1938 because they suspected it of being a bastion of pro-Habsburg legitimism." 
  5. ^ "Restart of the Brother Province in 1945". Teutonic Order, Order of the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary's Hospital in Jerusalem. deutscher-orden.de. http://www.deutscher-orden.de/GB/D_neubeginn.php. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  6. ^ Demel, Bernhard (1999). Friedrich Vogel. ed. Der Deutsche Orden Einst Und Jetz: Aufsatze Zu Seiner Mehr Als 800jahrigen Geschichte. 848. Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany: Peter Lang. pp. 80. ISBN 9783631349991. 
  7. ^ Dieter Zimmerling: Der Deutsche Orden, S. 166 ff.
  8. ^ Der Deutschordensstaat
  9. ^ Monumenta Germaniae Historica, SS Bd. 25, S. 796.
  10. ^ Kurt Forstreuter. "Der Deutsche Orden am Mittelmeer". Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des Deutschen Ordens, Bd II. Bonn 1967, S. 12f.
  11. ^ Seward, p. 100
  12. ^ Seward, p. 104
  13. ^ Christiansen, pp. 208–09
  14. ^ Christiansen, pp. 210–11
  15. ^ Barraclough, p. 268
  16. ^ Urban, p. 106
  17. ^ Christiansen, p. 211
  18. ^ The German Hansa P. Dollinger, page 34, 1999 Routledge
  19. ^ AllEmpire.info. "The Battle of Liegnitz (Legnica), 1241". Accessed October 5, 2006.
  20. ^ Christiansen, p. 150
  21. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair. The Teutonic Order of Holy Mary in Jerusalem. Accessed June 6, 2006.
  22. ^ Urban, p. 116
  23. ^ Christiansen, p. 151
  24. ^ Westermann, p. 93
  25. ^ Christiansen, p. 248
  26. ^ Seward, p. 137
  27. ^ Urban, p. 276
  28. ^ Bartosz Gondek, Dorota Karaś, "Mistrzowie pochowani w jedwabiach", Gazeta Wyborcza, 2008-12-16
  29. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair. "The Teutonic Order of Holy Mary in Jerusalem". Almanach de la Cour. www.chivalricorders.org. http://www.chivalricorders.org/vatican/teutonic.htm. Retrieved 2011-01-30. "[T]he nazis...after the occupation of Austria suppressed [the Order] by an act of September 6, 1938 because they suspected it of being a bastion of pro-Habsburg legitimism. On occupying Czechoslovakia the following year, it was also suppressed in Morovia although the hospitals and houses in Yugoslavia and south Tyrol were able to continue a tenuous existence. The nazis, motivated by Himmler's fantasies of reviving a German military elite then attempted to establish their own "Teutonic Order" as the highest award of the Third Reich. The ten recipients of this included Reinhard Heydrich and several of the most notorious nazi criminals. Needless to say, although its badge was modeled on that of the genuine Order, it had absolutely nothing in common with it." 
  30. ^ Urban, p. 277
  31. ^ Deutschordenskirche, Wien 1 – an explanatory pamphlet (in German) of the Order available in the Deutschordenskirche, by Franz R. Vorderwinkler, 1996, published by Kirche & Kultur Verlag mediapress, A-4400, Steyr.
  32. ^ http://www.ridderlijkeduitscheorde.nl/ (official website of the Bailiwick of Utrecht), accessed March 15, 2010.
  33. ^ a b (Polish) Mówią wieki. "Biała leganda czarnego krzyża". Accessed June 6, 2006.
  34. ^ Christiansen, p. 5
  35. ^ Desmond Seward, Mnisi Wojny, Poznań 2005, p. 265.


This article incorporates information from the revision as of June 6, 2006 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.
  • Christiansen, Erik (1997). The Northern Crusades. London: Penguin Books. pp. 287. ISBN 0-14-026653-4. 
  • Seward, Desmond (1995). The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders. London: Penguin Books. pp. 416. ISBN 0-14-019501-7. 
  • Urban, William (2003). The Teutonic Knights: A Military History. London: Greenhill Books. pp. 290. ISBN 1-85367-535-0. 

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