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Teutonic Knights History

In 1197, the Teutonic Knights received from Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, the Cistercian Monastery in Palermo, Sicily, together with privileges and tax exemptions. It became the Preceptory or chief house of the Order in Sicily, where gradually other properties were granted to the Order. Henry (Heinrich) de Walpot, the first Grand Master, died at Acre in 1200, and was succeeded by Otto von Kerpen.

Teutonic Knights
Master of the Teutonic Knights and a Knight of the Order of the Sword-
From Braun & Schneider-History of Costume
During the mastership of Otto von Kerpen, the Order of Christ was formed in the north of Europe, in order to support the war in Livonia. It was confirmed by Pope Innocent III, in 1205. Its members wore a white robe, with a red sword and a star emblazoned on it, and they were later incorporated with the Teutonic Knights Order. Preceptories were founded in Achaia and Armenia, and the Teutonic Knights received the distinction of adding the Cross of Jerusalem to their arms.

The Teutonic Knights took part in all the wars of the time, which affected the Order financially and decreased its manpower. When Hermann von Salza was elected Grand Master in 1210, the Order was substantially weakened. His vigorous administration revitalized the Order, and at his death there were two thousand German nobles fighting under its banner.

In 1214, the Emperor Frederick I decreed that the Grand Master should be considered a member of the Imperial Court, and in 1221, the Emperor Frederick II, by an Imperial act, took the Teutonic Order under his special protection. The Teutonic Knights were exempted from all taxes and dues, and had free use of all pastures, rivers, and forests in his dominions.

In 1226, the Emperor Frederick and Pope Honorius asked the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order to arbitrate a dispute between them. His mediation was highly appreciated, and he and his successors were appointed Princes of the Empire, and the Order was allowed to include the Imperial Eagle in its arms. In 1230, the Grand Master again mediated between the Emperor and Pope Gregory IX. After the King of Hungary resumed possession of the part of the country given to the Teutonic Knights, the territory fell into chaos, and the king again gave the border country to the knights. This grant and some others that followed were confirmed by a bull of Pope Honorius III in 1222.

Few years latter, the Duke of Poland sought the aid of the Order against the pagan inhabitants of Prussia. The Grand Master consulted with his chapter and with the Emperor, and the Emperor decided to grant to the Teutonic Knights any territory conquered in Prussia. In 1230, Pope Gregory IX blessed the expedition, and those involved were conferred the privileges accorded to Crusaders. The Order invaded Prussia in 1231, and erected a fortress at Thorn, and in 1232 at Kulm. A successful campaign followed, and the Castle of Marienburg was built and fortified. The Grand Master drew up laws and regulations for the administration of justice, and for coining of money. Other fortified places were built which eventually developed into cities and towns. The clergy succeeded in converting the population to Christianity.

In 1237, the Teutonic Knights Order incorporated the Order of Christ (or the Order of the Sword) in Livonia, together with its considerable possessions.

In 1240, the Duke of Poland asked the knights for help against the Turks. In the same time, a former ally of the Order, the Duke of Pomerania, sided with the Prussians against the knights. After several years of war, peace was concluded through the mediation of the Duke of Austria. In 1242, the Teutonic Knights attacked Novgorod, and on April 5, at the battle of Lake Peipus (or Battle of the Ice), they were defeated by the Russian troops under Alexander Nevsky. The defeat ended the campaigns against Russian territories for the next century. The Teutonic Knights supported Venice in its conflict with Genoa, and in 1291, after the loss of Acre, the Grand Master established his residence in Venice.

For the Teutonic Knights, the next half-century was a period of prosperity, and the Order reached the zenith of its power. Besides large possessions in Germany, Italy, and other countries, its sovereignty extended from the Oder to the Gulf of Finland.

But in 1410, the Teutonic Order was defeated at Tannenberg by the united armies of the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania, in what is considered the greatest battle of the Middle Ages. The battle is also known as the battle of Grunwald. The Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen was killed in battle, together with hundreds of knights and thousands of soldiers. The Order received an even stronger blow when several knights adhered to the teachings of John Huss, a follower of Wycliffe. Many knights of the Order became favorable to the reformist doctrines. Because of this, in 1415, at the Council of Constance, a large party demanded the total suppression of the Teutonic Order. The proposition was overruled, and the Grand Master started the persecutions against those who followed the principles of Huss.

In 1454, disputes regarding the taxes, which the people considered to be oppressive, led to a rebellion against the authority of the knights. Casimir, King of Poland, secretly supported the rebels, and the Grand Master was forced to withdraw to Marienburg, his capital, which soon came under siege. Casimir declared war and formally annexed the possessions of the Order in Prussia and Pomerania to the kingdom of Poland. The Grand Master, Louis d’Erlichshausen, raised a force of mercenaries, managed to hold the city, and reconquered some of the rebel towns. However, overwhelmed by enemy numbers, he withdraw to Konigsburg, which became the new capital of the Order. Marienburg was soon occupied by Casimir, the knights captured it again, then lost it in 1460.

In 1466, the peace was signed, and the Teutonic Knights ceded to Poland almost all the western part of their dominions, retaining only a part of eastern Prussia, with Konigsburg for their capital. The Grand Master acknowledged himself the vassal of the King of Poland, with the title of Prince and Councilor of the kingdom. In 1497, the Pope and the King of Aragon deprived the Order of their possessions in Sicily. They still retained a house at Venice, and some other property in Lombardy.

In 1511, Albert de Brandenburg was elected Grand Master. He asked the Emperor for help to free the Order from the authority of Poland, but to no avail. The Grand Master refused the homage to the King of Poland, and the ensuing war continued till 1521, when peace was concluded. One of the results was the separation of Livonia from the Order, Livonia becoming an independent state. In 1525, Albert met the King of Poland at Krakow, and formally resigned his office as Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, handing over his dominions to the King. In return, he received the title of hereditary Duke of Prussia.

The Order of the Teutonic Knights was formally abolished by Napoleon in 1809. It continued to exist in Austria, where it was headed by members of the Habsburg dynasty. In 1852, Prussia revived the Order under the designation of the Order of St. John.

Suppressed under the Nazis, the modern Teutonic Order was reconstituted in Germany and Austria in 1945, mainly as a charitable organization.

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