Teutonic Knights: Ice Battle

Baltic Crusade Knights

The campaigns of the Baltic Crusades were fought in difficult terrain and often in snowy weather conditions that could hardly have been more different from the blazing heat of the Holy Land Crusades.

One historical Teutonic Knights campaign took place on the 5th April 1242 as they clashed with Russians under the command of Alexander Nevsky at Lake Peipus in Eastern Estonia.

Some 30 mounted knights and sergeants along with 250 Estonian foot soldiers, clashed with 300 Russians.

Dressed in distinctive white mantles emblazoned with a black cross, the knights were well equipped with helmets, mail coats, swords and spears.  They were confident they had superior armoury and weaponry, so they charged at the Russian ranks, only to be encircled and forced back.  These warriors were forced onto the frozen lake where most of them were slaughtered.

Baltic Crusade Conversions

Baltic Crusade Knights

With the public obsession with the Holy Wars and Crusades in the Far East.  It wasn’t long before the Catholic Church and its ruling military forces discovered that unchristian Pagan lands still existed.

Europe was flooded with soldiers, mercenaries and fortune hunters, ready to sell their sword to the highest bidder.  There were military factions like the “Teutonic Order” who had achieved little success in the Holy Land, compared with the Templar’s or Hospitaller’s.  Now they sought out an opportunity to claim their place, in the annals of history.

Baltic pagan tribes separated from European lands, hidden behind forests and swamps, living the old ways as their ancestors had, from generation to generation.  Many an armed conflict took place, but made little impact on culture and life.

For many a decade, Vikings attempted to overthrow, establishing control over Baltic shores.  Their endeavours had little success and were either overthrown, driven away and chose to mix with local tribes.

Many an outsider set their sights on the Russian Orthodox Church, they who had attempted to Christianize the Baltic converts with conversion to Orthodoxy.  Russian warlords wanted to subjugate pagan Balts and collect more taxes…

Polish Dukes made attacks against Old Prussians in expansion of their lands.  They attempted conversion of Pagan Prussians to Catholicism.

Old Prussian Crusade

Prussian Crusade

In the year 1226, after the Old Prussians had destroyed the Polish Order of Dobrin which had been formed with the express purpose to subdue the Prussians.  The Polish Duke Konrad appealed for help from the German Teutonic Order, and offered them in return for their assistance some of his lands, which they could use as a foothold for expansion into Prussia.

The conquest of Prussia took some 50 years of continuous bloodshed to complete.  During which time native Prussians who remained un-baptized were subjugated, killed or exiled.  Many battles between knights and Prussians were ferocious; in some lands the people were exterminated, leaving a barren land… no human life remained.

Similarly as Latvian and Estonian tribes, Prussians were not prepared to give up their religion, their lifestyle.  In many cases they chose to die rather than surrender.

Those Prussians who tried to resist, went off to newly established pagan Kingdom of Lithuania, and continued their fight against these invaders, amongst the Lithuanians.

It wasn’t long before empty Prussian lands soon became inhabited by German settlers, and any remaining Old Prussians became peasants or were assimilated with the Germans, and vanished from the pages of history.  Later German settlers started calling themselves Prussians, and so the Kingdom of Prussia was so formed.

Teutonic Knights: Battle for Christianity

The Teutonic Knights

Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights were founded on the 19th November 1190, during the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

On the 6th February 1191, they were legalised by Pope Clement III, receiving the protection of Pope Celestine III in 1196.  This knightly Order; The Teutonic Knights consisted of forty knights an order of German Knights.

The Teutonic Knights played their part in the Holy Land, but their main object was to bring Christianity to the pagan inhabitants of the Baltic’s.

In 1197, the Cistercian Abbot, Berthold of Loccum, was posted to Livonia (Latvia) in the eastern Baltics.  The pagan inhabitants of Livonia did not take to the Abbot, and attempted to drown this man of God, and then they set fire to the church as he preached his words.

Abbot Berthold, returned to Germany, where he raised a Crusader army, to put down these pagan’s of Livonia.

On the 24th July 1198, Berthold was wounded in battle by a Livonia lance, and then murdered by these pagan people.  The death of their leader, and man of God, enraged these Crusader’s so much, that they mounted a campaign of terror against them, and forcibly baptised 150 of them.

These German crusader’s returned home, as the Livonia’s renounced their new faith, washing off their baptisms in the River Dvina.  Any remaining priests were driven from their lands, for they were not prepared to accept Christianity on their lands.

The Crusader’s faced an uphill battle, bringing Christianity to this pagan race of people, and the eastern Baltic.  From Finland in the north, to Prussia in the south, would take nearly a century, before it came under Christian rule.

When the 13th century began, the eastern boundary of Baltic Latin Christendom ran from Danzig in Poland to Gotland on the Swedish coast.

Located between the Vistula and Dvina rivers to the north and east, lay an almost impregnable barrier of forest and lakes, stretching from the Baltic shoreline to Russia.

Prussians, Lithunians and Letts, collectively referred to, as the Balts.  These individual tribes, lived in this remote wilderness, and each would mark out their own boundaries.  They lived along the coastline, and in the valleys of Vistula, Neman and Dvina rivers.  They survived by farming, cattle breeding, harvesting of furs, honey and wax, sourced from the forests.

The country to the north covered an area between Dvina and the Gulf of Finland, consisting of open land areas and mountain ranges.  With forests of oak, elm and ash in the main.

This was home to the Livs, located on the Baltic coast, with Estonians living on the southern coastline and offshore islands.  Groups of Letts were located between the Livs and Russians in the east.

Territorial divisions did nothing to change the view of Western Christendom, that they were devoted to paganism.  They worshipped the Sun, Moon and Stars, whose festivals often involved acts of human sacrifice.

Homes were constructed of earth and timber, decorated with animal skulls to ward off evil.

One German Chronicler of the 1230’s sent out a warning, if Christian’s fell into the hands of these evil heathens, they would be relieved of life and property.

The lands of the eastern Baltic were dangerous, but also enticing, with large supplies of natural treasures.

Western traders wanted a share of their natural treasures: Fur – fish – timber – honey – beeswax and amber.

Western traders faced tough competition from the Russians, who had control over several Baltic tribes.  An alarmed Catholic Church feared the response, from the Church of Rome.  For Russians, their true church was the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in the eyes of Rome they needed salvation.  Russian missionaries carried out large numbers of baptisms, to the detriment of the Catholic faith.

By the start of the 14th century, and countless, bloodied battles, German forces captured the lands of Latvia and Estonia, and forced the acceptance of Catholicism upon its inhabitants.

Many Baltic tribes did not convert to Catholicism, allowing the practice of pagan customs and beliefs to continue…

Third Crusade: Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Knights of St.Mary’s Hospital of Jerusalem was founded on the 19th November 1190, during the third crusade, and built its hospital within the city walls.  Duke Frederick of Swabia supplied Conrad a hospital chaplain and Burchard a steward to assist.

It began life, like the Templars, one of charity, protection and medical services, for injured pilgrims and knights, and gradually turned to a military order, ever seeking sovereign power.

On the 6th February 1191, they were legalized by Pope Clement III, and received the protection of Pope Celestine III in 1196, and on the 5th March celebrated the brotherhood, a Knightly Order consisting of some forty knights were confirmed, an exclusively order of German Knights.

The emblem of the order; a cross potent sable, granted to them by the Emperor, Henry VI in 1197.

On the 19th February 1199, Pope Innocent III conferred upon the Teutonic Knights, the wearing of a Templars White Mantle, and the drawing up of the Order’s Statues.  In 1211, these knights had their uniforms approved by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Pope.  These knights were divided into two classes; knights and priests.  The priests took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, attended Mass and administered sacraments to the knights, along with their duties to offer aid to the sick and fight the infidels.

From 1211-1215 Teutonic Knights settled in Burzenland, a request of King Andrew of Hungary, with the aim of freeing Transylvania from the Cumani pagan people.

In 1214, the Grand Master of the Order was granted the right of action, one backed in name, of the Imperial Court.  Frederick II with the support of Pope Honorius II, saw that the Teutonic Knights received many of the privileges as confirmed upon the Knights Templar and Hospitallers.

On the 18th March 1228, Frederick II was crowned King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On the 18th May 1291, Acre fell to the Muslims, and they were expelled from the Holy Land, alongside the Knights Templar and Hospitallers.

On the 9th September 1309, the Teutonic Knights established itself in Marienburg, West Prussia, and the Grand Master; Siegfried von Feuchtwangen of the Order took over management of the country.

The Order of the Teutonic Knights had become a governing aristocracy, with the Grand Master as King and the Pope as Emperor.  Its subjects were heathens, and little more than peasants.

In 1328 the Teutonic Knights went to war against Poland, and lost West Prussia, but retained East Prussia.

In 1525, Grand Master Albrecht, turned Protestant, and went on to create a Duchy under Poland.  It was during this time, that it had been put forward, that the Order of the Teutonic Knights should be disbanded.   What actually took place; the order was confined to Germany, and its Grand Master became Prince of the Empire.

On the 4th April 1809, the dissolution of the order took place by Napoleon, and was restored by the Congress of Vienna on the 28th April, minus their properties.  Come 1840 it was fully revived in Austria, by its Emperor.

On the 6th September 1938, the Austrian Order was disbanded, and not revived until 1947.

Image: Wikipedia