The Teutonic Order

Hospitale Sancte Marie Theutonicorum Jerosolimitanum
(The German Order of the Hospital
of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem)

More commonly known in English as the Teutonic Knights or the Teutonic Order. Known in Poland as the Knights of the Cross and also in Germany as the Der Orden des DŸschen huses (the Order of the German Houses).

Contents

Teutonic DBM

Teutonic Picture Gallery

Brief History of the Order

The Origins of the Teutonic Order

Early History of the Teutonic Order

The Teutonic Order in the 14th Century

The Teutonic Order in the 15th Century

Organisation of the Teutonic Order

Military Forces of the Teutonic Order

The Battle of Tannenberg 1410

Teutonic Banners at Tannenberg

 

Brief History of the Order

The Origins of the Teutonic Order
During the Siege of Acre in the Third Crusade a field hospital set up by German merchants and soldiers was formally organised by Duke Frederick of Swabia as a Religious Order under the auspices of local Latin Bishops. The Order may have been recognised as early as 1191 by Pope Clement III, though the evidence is ambiguous. The name and existence of the Order is confirmed in 1196 by an order of Papal protection by Pope Celestine III. 1198 saw the Order given a military role in the Levant. A Papal bull issued by Pope Innocent III in 1199, affirmed the Orders military role and defined its Religious rules. It was to care for the sick in the manner of the Hospitaller Order. In all other business it was to follow the Templar rule and wear the Temple's white cloak with the addition of a black cross. It was initially subordinate to the Master of the Hospitaller Order.

Early History of the Teutonic Order
From its earliest days the Order was involved in Countries outside of the Levant. Although for over a hundred years they remained a substantial force within the Holy Land their focus increasingly moved to Eastern Europe.

For more details on the Crusades see Brendan Moyle's site

By the time of the fourth Grand Master, Von Salza (1210-39), the Order had holdings that ranged from the Netherlands to the Holy Land. They were substantially involved in Southern Greece, Hungary, Prussia and the Grand Master's had been given a place in The Holy Roman Empire's Diet.
1211 saw the Order invited to establish a presence on the borders of Transylvania by King Andrew of Hungary. Their role was to help in the military defeat and conversion of the Cuman pagans of the area. In 14 years the Order established control over a significant area, sufficient for them to start demanding more and more autonomy from the Hungarian Crown. These demands led to their expulsion by force from Hungary in 1225. This expulsion coincided with an appeal to the Order for help from Duke Conrad of Massovia against Prussian tribes. The Prussian tribes were pressurising Northern Polish territories. The offer of cities as fiefs to the Order combined with the Crusade declared against Baltic pagans by Pope Honorius III in 1217 convinced Von Salza to participate. Von Salza also extracted guarantees that any lands conquered by the Order would be theirs to control. This was confirmed by the Golden Bull of Rimini in 1226 by the Holy Roman Emperor. This conferred Princely rank on the Grand Master of the Order and sovereignty over any Prussian lands captured, to be held as Imperial Fiefs.

Using the resources of their other European holdings and the crusading zeal of many of Europe's senior families the Order was able, in the space of some 50 years to conquer many of the Prussian, Latvian and Estonian tribes. This created large Order holdings running along much of the south and Eastern Baltic Coast lines. At the same time the small Order of the Sword, founded by the Bishop of Riga had successfully conquered large parts of Livonia and Estonia. The Order of the Sword suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Sauler in 1236. This battle cost the Brotherhood of the Sword its Grand Master and over a third of their Order Knights. This defeat severely weakened them and threatened their existence. To survive the mass rebellions brought about by their defeat the Brotherhood of the Sword amalgamated with the Teutonic Order. The inclusion of the Brotherhood of the Sword greatly increased the holdings of the Teutonic Order. The Order of the Sword adopted Teutonic Insignia and its Grand Master became a Provincial Teutonic Master, though with slightly more autonomy than normal. The conquest of the coastal areas and control of the Order of the Swords domains changed the direction of the Crusades. The Order had a firm grip on the Prussian lands near the Holy Roman Empire and on Estonia and Livonia. However the Order only controlled a narrow coastal corridor connecting the two areas. To secure their communications the Order turned its attentions to the tribes between the two.


The highly effective campaigns by the Order against the Northern coastal tribes brought about increased co-operation between the Southern tribes. This co-operation formed the beginnings of the later Lithuanian state. Although never fully co-operative these Lithuanians were able to put up a far more effective resistance. The main area of conflict between the Lithuanians and the Order was the territories of the Samogitian tribes.

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The Teutonic Order in the 14th Century

Until 1343 the Order was unable to make much headway into these Southern territories because of Polish support for the Lithuanians. As a result the conflict was confined to raids and counter raids. The Lithuanians raiding in summer when the forests, marshes and rivers of the area provided plenty of cover and security. The Order preferred to raid in Winter when these natural advantages were negated by the weather. These raids became a 'fashionable' method for Western Nobles to carry out their crusading vows and as a result the Order was often well supplied with additional fighting men. This did on occasion cause problems for the Order. One crusading party insisted that the Order launch a raid in summer and were ambushed on their return, taking heavy losses. During the early 14th Century the Order was able to consolidate its hold on its existing Prussian territories. This was largely achieved by colonisation of German settlers in the new lands. The Order created over two thousand villages and well over a dozen large fortified towns. These new settlements were quickly able to produce significant trade goods and foodstuffs and facilitated the Orders participation in the Hansatic trade league. The Order became a major supplier of grain to Northern Europe.


1343 saw the Polish King side with the Teutonic Order against the Lithuanians. There was little direct co-operation between the two but the removal of Polish aid to the Lithuanians shifted the balance of power firmly in favour of the Order. The Order was able to slowly expand their hold on Lithuanian territories, defeating a large coalition of Lithuanian and Samogitian forces in 1348 at the battle of Streva Stream. This early defeat seems to have caused the Lithuanian Rulers to rely upon raiding and skirmishing tactics to halt the Order's advance. Twenty odd years of conflict saw very little gains for the Order even though they managed to crush another large Lithuanian army at the battle of Rudau in 1370. It was the death of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Algirdas in 1377 which would provided the Order with the key to winning much of the Samogitian lands. Algirdas' death plunged the factional Lithuanians into a three way civil war. The Order supported one of the claimants to throne and used this as a pretext for massive invasions of Northern Lithuania. The Order dropped their candidate as soon as the legitimate Grand Duke Jagiello offered a peace deal, part of which included holding the Samogitian lands they had recently occupied.


The remainder of the 14th Century would see this pattern repeated as the Teutonic Order alternated between support for rivals of the Grand Duke or peace with the Duke, Either way the Order was able to keep Lithuania destabilised and her grip on the Northern lands secure. The year 1386 saw the Lithuanian Grand Duke become King of Poland. This had severe ramifications for the Order as part of the accession included a commitment to Christianise Lithuania. In one stroke the Order's main reason for existence in the Baltic was removed. The Order could no longer claim to be upholding its Crusading vows. By 1399 both the King of Poland and Vytautas, defacto ruler of Lithuania had acknowledged the Order's right to the Samogitian lands. This year saw the unprecedented event of Teutonic Order troops assisting the Lithuanians in a Crusade against the Tatars of the Crimea. The Crusade was a disaster for the Lithuanians who suffered heavy casualties. See Lithuanian pages for a more detailed account of the conflicting politics of this area during the later 14th Century.

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The Teutonic Order in the 15th Century

Although the conversion of Lithuania had removed the Order's raison d'être for its campaigns in the Baltic it was never the less at the height of its power. It now controlled a vast area. According to Order records of the time it held over 55 fortified towns, 50 fortresses and over 19,000 villages. Although at peace with Lithuania and Poland, the Order's control over the Northern Lithuanian lands ensured the conflict would be resumed. It would Polish and Lithuanian intrigues in 1409 that re-ignited the conflict with the majority of the Samogitian lands rebelling against Order rule. Unlike an earlier revolt in 1401, this time the main Polish and Lithuanian armies came to their aid.


1410 saw the climatic battle of Tannenberg in which the Order's leadership and military strength was decimated. Although disastrous in itself it was not the battle that truly crippled the Order but rather the peace of 1411. This peace formalised by the Treaty of Thorn lost the Order the Samogitian lands and compelled them to pay massive war indemnities and Ransoms for captured troops.
The vast amount money required to fulfil the Treaty meant the Order was forced to exact harsh taxes from their subjects and were unable to effectively finance the rebuilding of their military strength. Mercenaries were increasingly used by the Order to supplement their forces. Even severely weakened the Order was able to limit Polish expansion into their lands and by effective political manoeuvring kept the Polish and Lithuanians focused on their own internal problems. From 1429 Poland and Lithuania was effectively plunged into a civil war over just who should be Grand Duke of Lithuania. Even though the Polish supported faction eventually won (1440) . They having defeated the rival claimant, who had a Livonian Knights of the Sword contingent in his army, Lithuania was now no longer a reliable ally for the Polish. Lithuanian Nobles attempted a anti-Polish revolt in 1456 and refused to assist Poland in its war with the Order (13 years war).


The harsh taxation policies of the Order eventually drove the previously loyal 'German' colonised areas into revolt. Previous revolts had usually been centred around the original Prussian inhabitants which though initially dangerous could be subdued quickly due to their lack of resources. The revolt of the Germanised towns and villages of Eastern Prussia was a far more serious situation for the Order.
By using mercenaries to supplement their forces the Order was able to subdue much of the revolting territories however the remaining rebels offered the King of Poland vast sums of money to intervene on their behalf. The intervention of a newly trained and more effective Polish army in 1454 saw the Order forces repeatedly defeated. Mercenaries in the employ of the Order resorted to ransoming areas and cities controlled by them to the highest bidder, usually the Polish, to gain the wages promised to them by the Order but not paid. The war progressed for some 13 years. The Polish being delayed more by sieges than the Order's military prowess. The second treaty of Thorn in 1467 ended the 13 years war.


Just like it inauspicious predecessor the Second treaty of thorn spelled disaster for the Order. This treaty finally wrecked the Order as a major military and political force in the Baltic. The Order lost the entire East of Prussia to the Polish, this included their Order Headquarters at Marionberg. The Order also had to recognise the King of Poland as their feudal overlord and held Western Prussia as a fief in his name.

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Organisation of the Teutonic Order

Hochmeister (Grand Master)
Head of the Order, elected for life by a General Conclave. The Hochmeister wielded complete control over the direction of the Order. Based for much of this period at Marionberg. Though the most effective Hochmeisters relied heavily on the five senior Order officers, know as the 'Five Pillars of the Order'. These Officers were Grosskomtur, OrdenMarschall, GrossTressler, GrossSpittler and OberstTrappier.

Grosskomtur (Grand Commander)
Responsible for much of the administrative side of the Order. Also dealt with the Guests of the Order, these were often high ranking members of the European Nobility. He was also responsible for keeping the records of debts owed by and to the Order.

OrdenMarschall (Order Marshal)
Also know as the Grand Marshal. He resided at the castle of Konigsberg and was responsible for all military operations on the Lithuanian borders. To this end the OrdenMarschall was also Komtur of Konigsberg. He was also in direct command of the Komturs of Brandenberg, Balga, Ragnit and Klajpeda. The military operations included the crusading raids organised for the mutual benefit of the European Nobility and the Order. These raids were called Preussenreise.

Gross Hospittler (Hospitaller)
Resided at the town of Elbing where the main Order Hospital was located. Assisted by the Unter Hospittler. Responsible for organising and running the hospices and alm-houses of the Order.

GrossTressler (Grand Treasurer)
Resided with the Hochmeister, usually at Marionberg. Responsible for the 'state' treasury of the Order and almost all of their finances, only the debts being excluded.

OberstTrappier (Quartermaster)
Residing at Chrisrburg, where he also held the office of Komtur. This was the least defined title of the senior Order Officers. What is clear is that the OberstTrappier held similar authority over his administrative districts as that of the OrdenMarschall. It is probable that the OberstTrappier was the Ordenmarschall's civil equivalent, governing areas regarded as pacified.

Landmeister (provincial Master)
Subordinate to the OrdenMarschall and in charge of an administrative province. Each Province was made up of a number of Komturei, Bailiwicks and Procuratorships along with numerous towns and villages. The Landmeister was responsible for the administration and military operations of his Province.

Komturei (commandery)
The commandery was the basic Order organisational unit. Each Komturei controlled a district and a Castle. The Statutes of the Order set the number of Brother Knights at each Komturei at 12 with 6 supporting Brother Chaplains. These numbers did vary. A Komturei was commanded by a Hauskomtur. At the beginning of the 15th Century there were around 25 Komturei.

Bailiwicks and Procuratorships
These were administrative centres for areas of insufficient size or importance to warrant a Komturei. They were still of sufficient importance to the Order to be directly commanded by a Brother Knight and be centred around a fortified building.

Locutor (tribal/village Mayor)
These were local men chosen by the Order to administer their village. Responsible for organising the village and providing the required numbers of local troops for military campaigns. The Locutors also required to provide service to the Order as a cavalryman. In the first instance the Locutor reported to the Hauskomtur of the local Komturei.

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

All images and text, unless otherwise noted, may not be copied without my written permission.