The Crusades: Peter the Hermit

In the year 1072, some twenty years after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Turks.  Peter Gautier better known as Peter the Hermit, would receive penance for one’s sins, to receive absolution.

A toll paid by Peter at the gate to the Holy City of Jerusalem, was a heavy one; a single gold coin, equal to five Spanish dollars.

He wore a simple cloak, that of a hermit, made of coarse dark cloth.  As a pilgrim was forced to take vows of poverty, and exist on the alms of charitable gifts on their long route.

Peter had been a soldier in his youth, under Eustace de Bouillon, the father of Godfrey de Bouillon, one of the heroes of the Crusades.

Christianity spread westwards, pilgrimages were frequent to the Holy Land, as they desired to see the tomb of their Redeemer.  To tread upon the land of Mount Calvary, where their redeemer had been crucified.

The pilgrims to Jerusalem, were called the “Armies of the Lord.”

In 1035, a troop of pilgrims arrived from France, their destination the Holy City of Jerusalem, led by Robert the 6th Duke of Normandy, sometimes called “Robert the Devil.”  According to history, he poisoned, he murdered his own brother; Richard III of Normandy in 1028.  His son was William the Conqueror, King William I of England.

Robert the 6th Duke of Normandy, left his illegitimate son William and his heir, under the protection of the then French King whilst he headed for Jerusalem in the Holy Land.  Little did he know, that he would never return to see William grow up and become Duke William and King of England, for he died of fever in Bithynia.

The Saracens did not expel the Christians, for their expeditions became a constant source of revenue, but they thought nothing of showering the priests with abuse.  The Persians sacked Jerusalem in AD614, then they attempted to destroy the Holy Sepulchre, but all they managed, burning down the temple erected over it.  In 637, Jerusalem fell into Saracen hands.

As Peter the Hermit neared Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives would rise up above the city wall.  Mount Calvary, upon which a temple to Jupiter and Bethlehem, where upon an altar to the heathen Adonis, had been placed on the very spot.  What lay around him, brought tears to his eyes; desolation, horror and misery.  Peter spoke out; “Jerusalem shall be set free by western warriors.”  As penance I will cross Europe, and speak out of the state of the church, urging them to rescue the grave of our Lord.

Peter with tears of joy spoke out, “God will look down on our afflictions!  He will soften the hearts of Europe’s princes towards us!  He will send them to rescue this Holy City.”  Peter’s zeal knew no bounds; and persuaded that heaven had charged him to avenge Christians, and vowed to return to the west, enlisting the sympathy of Europe for their eastern Brethren.

He left Palestine, crossing the sea bound for Italy, where upon he hastened to Rome and Pope Urban II.

The Holy Father, Pope Urban II welcomed him as a prophet, and sent him out to preach of the first Crusade to the people.  Wherever he went, whether it be a castle, wealthy land owners or even the village square, describing the hardship felt by these Christians in far off lands, the crowds listened.

In 1094, Peter the Hermit was one of those summoned by Pope Urban II to attend the council meeting at Clermont, France.  Peter described to those present, what he had witnessed with his own eyes, describing outrages committed by its infidel possessors against the faithful in Jerusalem.  How they were enslaved and degraded, and seen Christians in the Holy Land forced to purchase permission to worship at their Redeemer’s Tomb.  Peter’s gloomy face said it all, his difficulty in speaking, tears in his eyes, influenced those present.

Then the Pope rose to his feet and addressed those present… which included “Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked.  Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain; Christ.  Wear his cross as your badge.  If you are killed your sins will be pardoned.”  Enthusiastic feelings were aroused by the Pope’s address and Peter’s eloquence did not fade away.

Thousand’s answered the call to take up arms.  Many were true Christians, who believed it was right to reclaim Jerusalem for the Christian World.  Other’s had committed sin in the past, and believed God might forgive them if they took part.  They had been told if they died in battle doing God’s work, they would go to heaven.  Other’s saw it as a way of getting rich quick, hoping to find treasures.  Before many months had passed, the ardour for war against the Saracens spread throughout Europe.

Departure of the First Crusade, took place in 1096, on the “Feast of the Assumption.”  The first force of Crusader’s was led by Peter the Hermit.  His army was known as the “Peoples Crusade” they who wore the emblem of a cross upon their shoulders.  They had no provisions, expecting to receive food, as they crossed one country to the next, or live off the land.

They left a wake of destruction in their path, as they crossed the Byzantine Empire.

Many a prince embraced the cause; Godfrey de Bouillon, Robert of Normandy, Edgar Atheling, Robert Earl of Flanders, Stephen de Blois, Raymond Count de Toulouse and Hugh of Vermandois.

Difficulties were seen in moving such a large number of foot soldiers as a single force; thus, they broke it down into separate forces, and all would meet up at Constantinople.  This great multitude assembled in Lorraine in spring 1096.  An army composed of thousands of foot soldiers, and a handful of knights.

Four armies departed for Byzantium in the August of 1096, led by Raymond of saint-Giles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond of Taranto.

The feeling for this war was strong, and only the infirmed remained behind.  Warriors arrived from the Tiber to the Rhine, from the oceans to the Alps, and one cry alone was to be heard; Jerusalem! Jerusalem!

Along France’s main high roads, scarcely any armed bands were to be seen, except those bound for the Holy Land.  Camps were erected, prayers and hymns heard, altars erected for warriors to ask for a blessing on this military expedition.

Walter the Penniless, also known as Walter Sans Avoir, took part of Peter the Hermits army, whilst Peter and the bulk of his army took advantage of foods supplies on offer at Cologne.

The King of Hungary, gave the first force permission to cross his lands, he never expected that this so-called religious army, would disgrace the Pope.  As they passed through Semlin, they stole food.  They went on to cause havoc in Belgrade, plundering the peasantry, and the Hungarians were forced to pick up arms and destroy them.  A force of sixty took shelter in the chapel and were burnt alive, others escaped death, through the Hungarian forests and onto Constantinople.

Peter the Hermit with his army of 40,000 men, women and children came upon the town, where fallen Christians had perished, witnessing a battlefield of flags and crosses.  Out of revenge every inhabitant was killed.

Peter the Hermit, a French Monk from Amiens preached upon the Mount of Olives, and shortly thereafter returned to Europe.  He founded the Augustinian Monastery; Church of the Holy Sepulchre in France.  Peter the Hermit died as their Prior in 1131.

The Holy Land…

The Eastern Roman Empire were the custodians of the Holy Land…

The Roman Emperor Constantine was the first Emperor to convert to Christianity, after witnessing a cross in the sky, along with his entire army.  However, his spiritual growth did not happen overnight.  For it was some years later, in 300 AD that Emperor Constantine became a Christian.  Shortly thereafter he moved his headquarters to the Holy City of Constantinople.

Constantine devoted himself completely to God, and chose to immerse himself in the inspired writings.  He made the priests of God, his closest advisers, for he believed it was his duty to pay homage to the God who had appeared to him, in his vision of the cross.

In the year 614AD, the Holy Land was lost to the Persians, and in 636AD Mohammed the Arab, claimed a new religion under his Islamic banner, as he captured Jerusalem.

In Norman times the Turks originally from present day Kazakhstan over ran Persia, converted to Islam, and expanded eastwards to rule the Holy Land and Egypt and to threaten Anatolia, to the east of the Bosporus.  The Byzantine Emperor Romanus set forth from Constantinople to annihilate the Islamic Turks but instead at the land-mark battle of Manzikert (1071) the Christian East Roman armies were routed by the mounted archers of the Turks.  This battle proved to the Muslims that they could beat a crack Christian army, and for the next five hundred years the Islamic Turks steadily advanced westwards, conquering all of Europe east of Hungary except Austria, until they captured the Christian city of Constantinople.  After Manzikert, the Emperor of Constantinople asked the Pope in Rome for military support. 

Unfortunately, Pope Urban II saw the request as an opportunity not only to push the Muslims out of Anatolia but also to recapture Jerusalem for Rome, thus pulling a fast one over his Christian theological rivals in Constantinople.

Had the two Christian groups worked together the outcome might have been different and today’s problem’s in modern day Jerusalem non-existent.  However, the same could be said for the Muslims who were then as now split between the Sunni and Shia factions.

Generally speaking, the Crusades were a failure.  The first actually recovered Jerusalem and Antioch but the Turks were too powerful and the Christians were expelled.  English King Richard I was involved in the 3rd Crusade but his main achievement was taking Cyprus from the Christian Byzantium’s and neglecting his subjects back home.  The 4th Crusade during the reign of England’s King John coincides when England lost most of its possessions in France.  This Crusade is remembered for the Crusaders diverting from their intended target of Jerusalem, to the headquarters of their allies in Constantinople, with the intention of looting the city, which they did having been invited through the city gates by those who thought they be friends.

There were eight crusades in all.  The first during the reign of King William II and the last in the reign of King Henry III.  Plantagenet King Richard I was the most famous crusader from the line of English Kings but was so involved that his English subjects hardly ever saw him, and his French lands were neglected.

Knights Templar 3rd Grand Master: Everard des Barres

Everard des Barres

Everard des Barres was born of an aristocratic family in 1113, in Meaux, Champagne, France.  He joined the Order of the Knights Templar in his teens, and by 1143, had risen through the ranks to become Grand Preceptor of France.

When Robert de Craon died in 1147, Everard was one of the highest dignitaries of the Order, making him the obvious choice as the next Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  His election to the post, was nothing more than a formality, making him the Order’s third Grand Master.

Everard des Barres, along with 120 Templar Knights met with Pope Eugenius III, with King Louis VII in attendance.  At this time the Order of the Knights Templar received the right to wear the red cross of martyrdom upon their white habits.

Everard who had close ties with King Louis VII, along with his force of Templar Knights, joined Louis on the Second Crusade (1148-1149), to the Holy Land.

Everard and the Templar force, along with diplomats went ahead of Louis to prepare for the King’s arrival at Constantinople, and agree a contract allowing the Frankish army to pass through Byzantine lands.

Whilst journeying through the Pisidia passes in the Cadmus Mountains in south-west Turkey, Everard saved King Louis VII’s life in battle with Seljuk Turks.

An impressed Louis, placed the Frankish army under Templar command.  The army was divided into two forces, with a Templar knight at the head of each force.

King Louis asked for a 2,000 silver mark loan of Everard, claiming he had spent most of his money getting his troops to the Holy Land.

Everard made the journey to Acre, and so the Order of the Knights Templar became bankers and treasurers for Kings in the Holy Land and Europe.

In 1148, Everard des Barres led his force of Templar Knights along with King Louis VII and King Baldwin III on an ill-fated campaign against Damascus.

What should have been a successful campaign ended in disaster.  King Baldwin had promised the city to the Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.  Christian lords withdrew their troops and the Crusader army fell apart.  Muslim forces saw their chance and attacked Antioch.

Everard des Barres, felt crushed after the ill-fated campaign against Damascus and accompanied King Louis VII back to France at the conclusion of the Second Crusade.

In the April of 1151, Everard des Barres abdicated the office as Grand Master of the Knights Templar, despite protests.  He became a Cistercian Monk at Clairvaux, in order to do penance, for the failure of the Second Crusade, and for the lives lost.  On the 12th November 1174, Everard died in Clairvaux Abbey.

Everard des Barres, made the Order of the Knights Templar, bankers of the French crown.  The seeds had been sown, and France was beholden to the Templars.  So, its not surprising the French Crown rebelled in 1307.

Knights Templar: Richard the Lionheart

King Richard I

King Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart

St.Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux had preached in France and Germany, calling for a third crusade upon the request of his Pope.

Wiliam the Archbishop of Tyre, spoke to the English and French, describing to those who would listen, the miserable conditions that existed in Palestine.  He would go on to paint in vivid colours, the horrors which were being committed in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The result being, English and French Monarchs, would lay aside their animosities and fight under the same flag.

King Richard avenged himself on Isaac Comnenus, ruler of Cyprus for insulting his bride to be: Berengaria Princess of Navarre. English troops stormed the town of Limassol, and in 1190 upon their arrival at Acre, sold it to the Templars.

Richard I married Berengaria, daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre on the 12thMay 1191 at Limassol in Cyprus.

In the second year of the third crusade and the siege of Acre.  Philip August and Richard Coeur de Lion led their royal fleets into the Bay of Acre.

With the arrival of King Richard I of England, the Templars let it be known, they had lost their Grand Master and Brother; Robert de Sable, he who had led part of the English fleet.

Proud and valiant knights were eager to pick up their sword, in the name of their God, and fight under the Knights Templar flag. Secular knights took their position, fighting side by side with military friars, and wore the red cross, emblazoned on their breasts.

The Templars performed acts of valour as their reputation and fame spread, undertaking acts of bravery for their God.  Saints would recount their battles as triumphs over Christ’s enemies.  Knights, Dukes and Princes are known to have cast off their worldly shackles, renounce vanities of life and lust, and join the crusade and follow Christ.

On the 12thJuly 1191 some six weeks after the British fleet arrived, the English and French Kings, Christian chieftains and Turks assembled at the Knights Templar Grand Masters tent for the signing of the treaty, marking the surrender of Acre.

King Richard I, the fiery monarch of England tore down the Duke of Austria’s banner and thrust it into the muddy ditch.  It was left up to the Templar’s to interpose between Germans and Britons, to preserve peace within the Christian army.

King Richard I captured Palestine and defeated Saladin at Arsuuf.

Richard Coeur de Lion and his troops marched from Acre to Ascalon.  Templars led the Christian army with the Hospitalliers bringing up the rear. Saladin forces opposed their progress, on the great plains around Jaffa and Ramleh.  It is said, as far as the eye could see, nothing could be seen but a forest of spears, in the hands of wild Bedouins.  They made rapid movement and assaults upon Christian warriors, but victory was to be the crusaders and Templar Knights led into battle by King Richard I of England.

The Templar’s whilst foraging local areas became surrounded by a force of four-thousand Moslem’s on horse-back. The Earl of Leicester went to their assistance on the orders of Coeur de Lion, but were quickly overpowered and in danger of being cut down, when King Richard I hurried to the scene.

It was nothing short of valour, when the lion-hearted King retook the city of Gaza, the ancient fortress of the order, repaired its fortifications, as the Knights Templar were garrisoned here.

Saladin’s forces retreated to Jerusalem as Crusaders and Templars bore down upon it.

When the Christian forces entered winter quarters, the Templars set themselves at “Gaza” and King Richard at Ascalon.  An arrangement was made between Templars, King Richard and Guy de Lusignan; “here stood a King without a Kingdom.

When winter rains all but subsided, Christian forces consisting of Templars and Hospitalliers advised Coeur de Lion, not to march on Jerusalem.  The English monarchs declared they be guided upon advice from Templars and Hospitalliers, they who knew the country well.

The mighty force headed for the Holy City of Jerusalem, and when they be one day’s journey from their target.  A council would be created consisting of five knights, Hospitalliers, Eastern Christians and Western Crusaders.  It was here, it was decided to abandon their expedition.

Templars attacked the great Egyptian convoy and captured 4070 camels, 500 horses, gold, silver and provisions and then retreated to Acre.

Saladin was hot on their tail as they retraced their steps to the safety of Acre, and opted to lay siege against Jaffa.  The Templars marched by land, with Coeur de Lion travelling by sea.  The town was relieved as the campaign was concluded by the 1192 treaty; Christians were granted access to Jerusalem as pilgrims.

With the treaty concluded, King Richard I left for England on the 25thOctober accompanied by four trusted Templar Knights and attendants.

On route back to England, bad weather forced them to take shelter in Austria.  King Leopold V of Austria, with whom he had fiercely argued with in the Holy Land, took the English King prisoner.  He saw his chance for revenge and handed him over to the Holy Roman Emperor; Henry VI of Germany.

Questions were asked, where is King Richard I, and it wasn’t long before England received the news, he was being held at Trifels Castle in Germany.  The ransom for his release was 100,000 marks, equal to three tons of silver.

On the 20thMarch 1194, King Richard I of England landed at Sandwich, and on the 23rdMarch rode through the streets of London, on route to St.Paul’s Cathedral, lined by many of his subjects who had given generously to free their King.

On the 26thMarch 1199, King Richard I died in battle at Chalus in France, from a crossbow arrow, and was buried at Fontevrault Abbey in France.

Baltic Crusades: Converting Pagan Forces…


Prince Nyklot the Abodrite prince, had lost southern lands along the western frontier, attacked Wagria, the lands of Adolph II in the June of 1147.  The region fell to Wendish forces, and German villages came under attack.

Late summer of 1147, two Danish fleets, two Saxon armies, attacked the Wends.  Danes attacked northern shores.  Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony attacked Nyklot’s outpost at Dobin.

Nyklot had chosen wisely to make his stand at Dobin, the only ground surrounded by marshland and lake.  Nyklot sailed from Dobin, mauled the Danes, cutting off Danish and Saxon forces as the Wendish fleet attacked the Danish shipping in their northern harbours.

Two Danish Kings; Canute V and Sweyn III fed up with combined defeats, blamed each other for their losses, returned to Denmark and their Civil-War.  Whilst, Henry the Lion and Archbishop Adelbero laid siege to Dobin.  Battle weary and starving Wends, had no option but be baptized in the Christian faith.

Southern armies of Conrad, Albert the Bear and other forces began falling apart.  They should have attacked the Wends, but marched upon the Christian city of Stettin, and laid siege to the town… They left empty handed as religious leaders won in a parley.  For the city met within the Pope’s requirements.

The first year of the Baltic Crusade was more show than conquest.  Pagan shrines and idols were left intact.  Wends returned home, once Saxon banners were out of sight.  Saxon, Danes and Poles united through the church, but didn’t take long to fall apart.  The Saxons believed the Danes were weak, and an alliance would not work.  Strong and weak forces, would not mix well.

Baltic Crusades: Warfare


The best-known aspect of the Baltic Crusades, is the century long war against the Lithuanians, ending in 1410 with the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg.

Heathens and Greek Orthodox Christians of Russia, referred to as “schismatics” by the Roman Catholic Church, became targets for the crusades.  The inner part of the Gulf of Finland, this is where Swedes battled with the Novgorodian state for control of trade routes.  The Livonian sector of the Teutonic Order attempted to expand its territory at the expense of Novgorod, but were defeated in 1242.

With the exceptions of the Lithuanians, heathen tribes in the Baltic had as yet begun any process of building a nation, which is why early and successful expansion of Christians was possible. Crusaders profited from rivalry and hostility between tribes, using the technique of divide and rule to secure victory. Alliances took place with some tribes, whilst others were easily defeated.  Soon after allies were prepared to accept Christian protection and domination, and conversion to a new faith.  It was within the sphere of influence, that military religious orders spread Christianity by force, the so-called mission of the sword.

Any peaceful co-existence with heathen tribes in Baltic regions, prior to the Crusaders arrival, was the exception rather than the rule.  Christians in the Baltic regions were hardly united, for tensions and conflicts with each other reigned.  In 1233 there was a fierce battle between the “Order of the Sword Brethren” and papal troops who were victorious in Reval.

According to the Charter of Kulm in 1233, nobles who held more than 672 hectares of land from the Teutonic Order would be called upon to serve; a shielded stallion and rider with two horsemen as escorts.  A form of service known as “Ross-dienst.”

The Teutonic Order strove to unite its territories by conquest of the Western territories, but this goal was never reached. The Polish-Lithuanian Union of 1385 and Christianisation of Lithuanian in 1387 changed the political map of Europe. The Teutonic Order’s defeat at Tannenberg in 1410 ended forays against heathens.  The Teutonic knights found the situation had changed; no longer carrying out raids, they had to defend themselves within and beyond their borders… Crusaders and knightly warfare of the Baltics, now belonged in the past.

Baltic Crusades: Finland’s Medieval Times


The latter part of the medieval period was marked by enlarged settlements along the coast and inland.  The Finn’s conquered the wilderness to the north, moved inland and cleared the forest, establishing agricultural communities.  This settling within the wilderness caused much conflict between Finnish farmers and Lapp reindeer herdsmen, forcing the Lapp’s to move northwards.  Towards the end of the 15thcentury a settlement of 200 x 100 kilometre area had been created along the Gulf of Bothnia.  By the end of the Middle Ages, Finland’s population had grown to 400,000 people.

Finland’s medieval economy was centred around agriculture, for a land with good soil.  Farming was substituted by times of hunting.  The majority of Finn’s lived this way.

The European institution of serfdom (A labourer who could not leave the land on which he worked), did not exist in Finland, for most farmers were freemen, with little political power.  Finland was represented by the Four Estates: Clergy – Nobility – Burghers – Farmers, with advisory powers to the King.  The Finn’s had minimal responsibilities regarding local justice and administration.

Catholicism was part of the medieval Finnish society. The church doubles as the heart of local administration, and played the role of education and development of Finnish language.  The Bishop of Turku was head of the Finnish church.

Turku, the south-western seaport, was the bishopric’s seat and administrative capital of Finland, a city dominated by German merchants.  Viipuri another city of importance, an active trade centre and military bastion, with eastern defences against the Russians.

Baltic Crusades: Finland – Swedish Empire


King Gustav I Vasa’s reign concentrated on royal power in the dynasty and furthering the aims of the Reformation.  He re-modelled Sweden into a great power, avoid involvement in foreign wars.  His successors sought expansion of Sweden’s power in the Baltics.  This policy produced some success, and led to the creation of a Swedish empire on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea.

In the mid 16thcentury, Sweden’s foreign policy brought it into conflict with; Denmark, Poland and Russia. These three powers fought many wars with Sweden, which had been at war some eighty years out of the last 300 years it ruled Finland.  Sweden and Russia were at war between 1570 to 1595 a war known as “The Long Wrath.” Sweden fought in the “Thirty Years War (1618-1648) in which Swedes under King Gustavus II Adopphus stopped the advance of the Habsburg Empire, coming ashore in the Baltics and securing Swedish possessions.  Finish troops were conscripted into the Swedish army, and Finns distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

1700 was the start of the “Great Northern War,” when Denmark, Poland and Russia formed an alliance, taking advantage of Sweden’s temporary weakness.  King Charles XII of Sweden surprised the armies bearing down on them, by knocking Denmark and Poland out of the war by 1706.  The Swedish King marched on Russia, where his forces met disaster on the battlefield of Poltava in 1709.  With Sweden in disarray, Denmark and Poland joined the war against Sweden. In 1718 King Charles XII was killed in action, whilst battling in Norway.

On the 30thAugust 1721, the Great Northern War came to an end with the signing of a peace treaty “Peace of Uusikaupunki” and Sweden gave up its territories on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.  Sweden was forced to pay an indemnity to Russia, and Russian forces fled Finland, whilst retaining some territories along Finland’s south-eastern border.  As a result of years of war, Sweden’s power was reduced and Russia replaced Sweden as the main power in the Baltics.

Famine struck down one-third of Finland’s population in 1696.  The wars greatest impact being the Russian occupation (1714-1722), a time known as the Great Wrath.  Hardships of being conquered and Charles XII’s insistence that Finn’s carry on a partisan warfare against the Russians did not help.  Large areas of countryside had been destroyed by Russian forces, to deny Finland’s resources being passed to Sweden.  Some 60,000 Finns served in the Swedish army, and only 10,000 survived the Great Northern War.  At the start of the war Finland’s population numbered 400,000 and by the end of the war only 330,000 survived.

Charles II’s policies led to absolute monarchy in Sweden and half-century of parliamentary supremacy, known as the Age of Freedom.

One major strife of this era involved two political parties.  The “Hats” represented the “Upper Class” and the “Caps” represented the “Lower Class.” In 1741 the Hats led Sweden into war against Russia.  Russian forces responded by invading Finland and taking up occupation.  In accordance with the 1743 Peace Treaty, Russia vacated Finland, taking a slice of Finnish territory from the south-eastern frontier.

In 1788, Sweden declared war against Russia, an attempt ta take territory from Finland’s eastern frontier.  A mutiny took place led by Goran Sprenglporten a former Swedish Colonel, hoping to stop Russia taking revenge on Finland by taking land.  In 1790 the “Treaty of Varala” was signed, and with it the war ended.  Finland lost no land to Russia.

Sweden’s frequent wars were expensive, and led to the taxation of its people.  A system of government controls on the economy, was imposed on Sweden and Finland’s people.  The Finnish economy was exploited and favoured the Swedes.  Sweden’s wars enabled Swedish aristocrats and military officers to seize large estates in Finland.  They might have been free of serfdom, but its peasants had high taxes imposed upon them, and retained limited political power… Sweden’s nobility held much political and power in Finland.

Finland’s frontier was being pushed northwards as new stretches of wilderness were settled upon.  In the 1730’s the potato was introduced, creating a stable food supply.

During the Napoleonic wars, the union that had existed for centuries between Sweden and Finland came to an end.  France and Russia became allies in 1807, and Napoleon pushed Russia into getting Sweden to join with them against Britain.  Tsar Alexander I invaded Finland in 1808 and conquered Finland in 1809.  Sweden ceded Finland to Russia in the “Treaty of Hamina,” signed on the 17thSeptember 1809.

Teutonic Castle: Kowalewo Pomorskie


Teutonic Castle Ruins of Kowalewo Pomorskie

The Teutonic Castle of Kowalewo Pomorskie in Poland, was built around 1231 of wooden construction, and enhanced by an earth stronghold.  In 1262 and again in 1269-73, this wooden castle stood up and was successful in repelling; Lithuanians, Bartians and Yotvingian invasion forces.  In 1275 the castle and adjoining settlement, received town rights from the Teutonic Knights.  In 1278 Kowalewo became the seat of Rudolf, the Teutonic Commander.  In 1286 the Castle and Town was totally destroyed by the Tatars.  In 1288 Arnold Kropf became the next Teutonic Comander, and he is remembered for the building of a new castle, built out of stone.  Surrounded on three sides; east, west and south by a walled moat, and a lake on its north side.  On the eastern side, was the city whose fortifications were linked to the castle. It was completed for the Grand Master, one Gotfryd Hohenlohe.

In the year 1330, during the Polish Teutonic war, the castle was besieged by Polish knights under the command of king Wladyslaw Lokietek.  As much as they tried, the siege proved to be a fruitless attack.  In the years 1410 and 1422, was occupied by king Wladyshaw II Jagiello, but always fell back into the hands of the Teutonic knights.

In the year 1454 the city was invaded by armies of the Prussian States, they who went on to form a rebellion against the Teutonic Knights.

Following the “Thirteen Years War” the castle found itself within Poland’s borders, becoming the seat of the starosts, and municipal courts of the Chelmno Province.

It was damaged and plundered during the 17thcentury Swedish wars.  In the 18thcentury Russian forces laid siege upon the city, and by 1772 few houses remained standing, with city walls, castle and church barely standing, it had become a scene of much destruction.  In the mid 19thcentury, Prussian Authorities ordered it be pulled down, before it fell down.

Wikipedia Image: Teutonic Castle of Kowalewo Pomorskie

Baltic Crusades: Redemption through Battle


The Teutonic Knights headquarters of 1309 at Marienburg Castle.

The German Teutonic Knights, were called upon by the Polish Duke; Conrad of Mazovia.  For their assistance was needed in the taming of his heathen and warmongering neighbours; the Prussians.  Previous attempts to win converts through persuasion rather than force had seen limited success, for the majority of the Prussians were of a hostile nature.

In 1220 the Poles founded their own military order; the “Knights of Dobrzyn” based on the sword brothers, to provide protection against pagan attacks from across the border.

In 1223 a crusade was launched against the Prussians, but Prussian reprisal raids were so savage that the borders of Mazovia and other Polish duchies were in great jeopardy.

Conrad offered these Teutonic Knights the land of Kulmerland and Kulm Fort, and any territory they conqueror.  The Teutonic Grand Master; Salza, would not send his forces into battle, until Emperor Frederick II had personally guaranteed that all conquered land became Teutonic land.  Pope Gregory IX confirmed the agreement, and the signal was given as the Teutonic Knights marched north crossing into Prussian held lands.

In the year 1230, a force of 20 Knights and 200 sergeants under the command of Herman Balke arrived at Kulm, by way of rivers, by marking their advance with a string of forts.  As each district was conquered, German Knights settled within the community.  They colonised the land by providing the order with income and military service.

One advantage that the Teutonic Knights had over the sword brothers was independence.  The Sword Brothers were created as an instrument of Bishop Albert with a duty to obey and protect him.  The knights on the other hand were an order free from episcopal restraints.  In addition, the Teutonic Knights had an unlimited supply of crusading allies.  Where as the Sword Brothers had to rely on reinforcements that Bishop Albert could scrape together, the Teutonic Knights had a vast network of convents and castles to serve as recruiting centres.  Moreover, German Crusaders who had sailed through the dangerous waters of Livonia, journeyed overland to Prussia.  They had close ties with many noblemen, Polish and German who sent a steady stream of men and supplies.

Despite such advantages, campaigning against the Prussians was far from easy.  Although their wicker shields and wooden forts were no match for the crossbows and siege engines of the crusaders, the native tribes fought back with the ferocity of desperation.  Crusader armies were accompanied by Dominican priests who offered peace in return for conversion, but it was rare that their offer would be accepted.

The Teutonic Knights chronicles describes the fate of two knights captured by the Prussians:

  • One was placed in a cleft tree trunk and held apart by ropes.The ropes would be released, the knight would be crushed and the tree would be set ablaze.
  • The other prisoner would be tied to his horse, then he and his mount were hoisted to the top of an oak tree, beneath which a great fire was lit.

The Crusaders acted in a similar manner, by hanging or beheading their prisoners.

The motive for the Teutonic Knight was redemption through battle.  “Who fights us,” proclaimed the order “fights Jesus Christ.”  In the case of the warrior monks, the enemy was the unrepentant pagan and satan within themselves.  To vanquish the deadly foe, the knight-brother submitted to a Draconian regime of prayer, discipline and self-denial.

For it was written down in the rules of the Order, a knight was not permitted to own any property.  He would be issued with a sword and armour, pair of breeches, shirts two, boots two, coat, sleeping bag, blanket, breviary and knife. He was permitted two or four mounts as required, and like his clothing and equipment, belonged to the Order.  He was forbidden to mix with layman, and be silent at meal times, in his dormitory, on the march and in latrines. Jousting was a forbidden act.  He could only hunt animals that attacked settler’s livestock and crops.

He would sleep in his shirt, breeches and boots with sword at hand, rising four times a night to recite the offices order. Friday’s were his day of discipline; Flagellating his body until blood was drawn.

The knights were an awesome and effective fighting force.  In 1235 they consumed the knights of Dobrzyn into their order.  By 1236 their military force had penetrated as far as the Vistula Delta and advancing eastwards along the Baltic shorelines towards the River Neman. The union with the Sword Brothers took place in the May of 1237, after their defeat at Saule.  This brought about the Teutonic Knights Baltic Dominion, stretching far beyond Prussia’s borders.

Herman Balke, master of Prussia took charge of the Crusade in Livonia.  In 1238 he made an agreement with the Danish ruler; King Waldemar.  The Danes received northern provinces and Sword Brothers conquests in the south.  In 1240 a combined German and Danish force marched from Livonia, having captured Izborsk and Pskov, in preparation for their attack against Novgorod.

Batu Khan leader of the Mongols, headed into Poland and Hungary.  The Crusade against the Russian’s was replaced with the crusade against the Mongol’s. On the 9thApril 1241, an army of Poles, Germans and Teutonic Knights clashed with the Mongols.  The knights made a valiant charge against their enemy, only to be cut down in a hail of arrows.  Prussian master Poppo of Osterna was lucky to escape, other’s were not so fortunate.  The severed head of Duke Henry of Silesia, the Christian commander, was bolted to the tip of a lance, whilst the ears of his comrades were cut off and gathered up and presented to Batu Khan in sacks.

Fortunately for Catholic Europe, the great Khan Ogedei died in the latter part of 1241, an event that sent Batu hurrying back to Mongolia for the succession dispute.  The Novgorodians now out of danger from Mongols, took the opportunity to settle accounts with the Crusaders.  In the early part of 1242, Alexander Nevsky Prince of Novgorod laid a successful siege upon Russian territories occupied by Danes and Germans.

On the 5thApril 1242 two Christian armies clashed at Lake Peipus.  The heavily armoured cavalry of the Crusaders broke through Russian ranks, but were overwhelmed by the superior forces of Prince Nevsky, driven onto the iced frozen lake, where most died that day.

The Crusading forces barely had time to recover from their defeat, when a rebellion by Prussian tribesmen destroyed all but three of their forts and settlements.

The papacy anxious to avoid trouble in the future, used the Teutonic Knights to vanquish their enemies.  The 1249 “Treaty of Christburg” promised Prussians who renounced paganism and accepted the Christian faith into their hearts, were guaranteed rights as Germans and Poles.  They could buy, litigate and worship with immigrant burghers, they who were entitled to become priests and knights.

Around this time “Mindaugas” the Lithuanian chief whose state came under attack from Poles, Russians, Mongols and Crusaders, chose to neutralise at least one of his enemies by accepting the embrace of Rome. Mindaugas invited German merchants and settlers to enter Lithuania.  He went one step further by arranging that the Teutonic Order should take over his lands, should he die without leaving an heir.  He promised to turn over the coastal territories of Samogitia, completing the land link between Prussia and Livonia.

The Samogitians refused Christian rule, and in the July of 1260, they defeated the Crusader army at Durban, the worst defeat that the Teutonic Knights had suffered since entering the Baltics… Some 150 Crusader Knights were brutally murdered, which included the “Master of Livonia and Marshal of Prussia,” it sparked off an uprising by the Prussians.  The revolt spread to other tribes and Mindaugas seeing an opportunity decided to resume his war against the Christians.  He was murdered by his brother-in-law in 1263, this had limited effect on the military situation, for many Lithuanians supported the rebels. So desperate be the plight of the Teutonic Knights that Pope Urban IV, called upon those who had taken up the cross, to offer assistance to the order in return for full remission of sins.

By now pagan warriors had learnt the techniques of modern warfare, and were well armed, led and organised with the ability to attack fortresses, and engage in open battle.  The Crusaders suffered heavy defeats, yet they inflicted more casualties than they received.  For in 1290 they brought their rebellious subjects to heel.

With the Teutonic Knights firmly in control, what had been a trickle of settlers, became a flood.  Prussia became a major attraction, as large numbers fled northern Germany with prospects of large expanse of land and low rents.  Some 1,500 towns and villages had been founded, with a population in excess of 150,000.  A land that had seen slaughter and starvation during the Baltic Crusades, now witnessed a new growth.

Efficient cultivation of Prussian wilderness, knights would employ colonizing agents to recruit peasants, allocate plots and organise villages.  In return the agent would receive his own plot of village land, become village judge and in some cases mill owner.  A village would consist of twenty families with 40-60 hectares of land.  In Germany peasants were bound to the lord of the manor, whereas in Prussia one had few obligations; pay rent and perform military service.

Local merchants were left to pursue their own affairs.  The result being, they built up prosperous trade links, with wealthy ports of Northern Germany to land-locked cities of Hungary, Lithuania and Russia.  Wars or no wars, trade continued.

The Teutonic Order carried on a lucrative trade, with its fleet moving goods across the Baltic; main exports being grain and Prussian amber.  The Order minted its own coinage, set up an internal postal service and introduced a uniform system of weights and measures.  Policy matters were decided by the Master of Prussia, day-to-day running of country-tax collections, justice and defence came under local commanders and a convent of twelve brothers.  Many brothers being skilled book-keepers who would hold responsible positions in the keeping of accounts.

The demands, their role as scribes and clerks, these Teutonic Knights never lost sight of their true priority, the defence of the realm against heathens and unbelievers.  Christian rule benefits, no Jew permitted to settle within the Orders land. Native Prussians were regarded with much suspicion.  A small minority who remained loyal to the rebellion, were treated as Germans were, receiving lands and liberties based on their rank.  Prussians who had reverted to paganism were recruited as labourers on German estates.  So deep-rooted was the distrust, whenever Prussians and Germans drank together, Prussians would drink first, for fear of being poisoned.

In the latter part of the 13thcentury, Teutonic Knights felt secure with great wealth power and prestige, more than any monarch.  Appearance proved deceptive, for in 1291 Muslim forces laid siege to Acre, the Order’s Ancient headquarters. They lost the battle for Acre and were driven out, establishing a new base of operations in Venice.

The Rigans and Teutonic Knights were set on a collision course, as the former demanded more independence, and the other refusing to release its sovereignty over the city.  In 1297 when Knight Brothers demolished the Rigans bridge which stood over Dvina River, ensuing violence and blood flowed on both sides, houses burnt and merchants arrested.  Angry citizens took things into their own hands, storming the convent and throwing six brethren into prison and destruction of the convent. Knight Brothers responded by destroying farmland, the burning of manors and farms, cutting down fruit trees and driving off livestock.

Pope Boniface VIII demanded an explanation from both sides, and so it was, chosen representatives came before the Pope in July of 1299.  The Rigans called the Teutonic Knights nothing more than ruffians, who sought money, and did not carry out their duties in the fighting of heathens. Archbishop John III of Riga, whose estates had been seized, hadn’t a good work to say in their defence.  He claimed the Order received Livonia, and were expected to convert natives, fight pagans and turn them to the Christian faith. Imposed savagery, cruelty and tyranny, had deterred natives from accepting the true Christian faith.

The Order denied the accusations laid against them, claiming the Knight-Brothers paid with blood to achieve conversion of Livonia.  They claimed their success was there to be seen amongst the natives, if asked they would reply they believed in God and the Holy Roman Church.  Pope Boniface was left to come up with a compromise which satisfied the Archbishop and Rigans against the Teutonic Knights, even to the point of returning all that had been taken by the Knights.

In 1306 the quarrel came to a head once again, when Archbishop John’s successor, added witchcraft, sodomy and genocide to the original charges against the order.  The new POPE; Clement V, elected in 1305 an ally of Philip IV of France. Philip declared it was his aim to abolish the existing military order and create a new military order, with him at its head.  In October of 1307 King Philip IV of France arrested all members of the Knights Templar resident in his realm, they were tortured to an inch of their lives, and put on trial for acts of heresy.  In 1308 Pope Clement a puppet of King Philip extended the arrest warrant of the Knights Templar to cover Europe.  The charges were groundless, confessions extracted by torture, and many were burnt at the stake.

The Teutonic Knights watched on in disbelief, and in 1309 fearing for their lives moved its headquarters from Venice to Marienburg Castle in Prussia, out of the reach of the Pope or French Monarch.

In 1310 Pope Clement appointed a commission to investigate charges laid against the Teutonic Knights.

With the loss of Acre, adventure seeking nobles and warriors flocked to join the Baltic Crusades.  The Teutonic Knights welcomed them with open arms…

By 1386 the downfall of the Teutonic Knights was in sight.  For in 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila the Lithuanian leader became a Catholic and married Jadwiga the Polish Queen.  The Teutonic Knights could no longer justify attacks upon the Christian ruler.  This new dynastic union of Poland and Lithuania through marriage, posed a serious threat to the Teutonic Knights.

On the 15thJuly 1410, a day of reckoning was at hand.  A ten-hour battle took place at Tannenberg between Polish and Lithuanian army, who would decimate the Teutonic Knights.  It didn’t end there, a century and a half later, the Teutonic Knights admitted defeat, effectively ending the Baltic Crusade…