1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Teutonic Order, The

TEUTONIC ORDER, THE, or Teutonic Knights of St Mary’s Hospital at Jerusalem (Der deutsche Orden, Deutsche Ritter) was one of the three great military and religious orders which sprang from the Crusades (q.v.). Later in birth than the Templars and Hospitallers, the Teutonic Order traces its first beginnings from the third Crusade. Already, indeed, in 1143 we hear of a hospital of Germans at Jerusalem, which Celestine II. places under the control of the Hospitallers, with the stipulation that the prior and servants alone shall necessarily be of German birth.[1] But it is amidst the privations and plague which attended the siege of Acre, during the third Crusade, that the first certain beginnings of the Order appear. In the winter of 1190–91 certain pious merchants from Bremen and Lübeck (towns with which the Order was still to be connected in the days of its later history) laid the foundations of a hospital in a vessel which they had drawn ashore.[2] Within a few years the foundation apparently became attached to the German Church of St Mary the Virgin at Jerusalem; and in March 1198 (there being present in the Holy Land a number of Germans, the relics of Henry VI.'s projected crusade), the great men of the army and the kingdom raised the brethren of the German Hospital of St Mary to the rank of an order of knights. The original members were thus ennobled; and henceforth it was the rule that only Germans of noble birth could join the Order. The Order was from the first, therefore, of a national character, unlike the cosmopolitan orders of the Templars and Hospitallers; but in other respects it was modelled upon the same lines, and shared in the same development. Like the knights of other orders, the Teutonic knights lived a semi-monastic life under the Augustinian rule; and in the same way they admitted priests and half-brothers (servientes) into their ranks. Like the other two orders, the Teutonic Order began as a charitable society, developed into a military club, and ended as something of a chartered company, exercising rights of sovereignty on the troubled confines of Christendom. Even in its last phase, the Order did not forget its original purpose: it maintained several great hospitals in its new home on the south-east shore of the Baltic, in addition to an hotel des invalides at Marienburg for its sick or aged brethren.

For a hundred years (1191-1291) the headquarters of the Order were at Acre; nor was it until 1309 that, after a brief sojourn at Venice, the seat of government was transferred to Marienburg on the Vistula. But long before that date the Order had begun to find that its true work lay on the eastern frontiers of Germany. Perhaps it was Hermann von Salza, the first great grand master of the Order (1210-1239), who originally conceived the idea of transplanting the Order to the west. At any rate it was he who accepted the invitation of Andrew of Hungary that the Order should aid him with its resources against the Comans by whom he was threatened. In 1211 the Order received from the king the district of Burzenland in Transylvania. Towns arose and agriculture began to flourish; but seeking to make itself independent, the Order lost its lands, and disappeared from Transylvania. A new opportunity almost immediately arose on the banks of the Vistula. Here Christian, bishop of Prussia, who had received from the Polish duke of Masovia a part of Kulmerland as a fief, had founded the knightly Order of Dobrzin, and was attempting with its aid to subdue the heathens of Prussia. Unsuccessful in his attempt, he invited the Teutonic Order to come to the rescue, and bestowed on the Order Kuim and some of the frontier towns in his territory, with such lands as it should conquer (1228). Thus the Order took its place as the founder of one of the marks on the eastern frontier of Germany, and began to play its part in that Drang nach Osten, which is perhaps the vitally important thing in the history of Germany from the 12th to the 14th century. Since the days of Adolf of Holstein and Henry the Lion, a movement of German colonization, in which farmers from the Low Countries, merchants from Lubeck, and monks of the Cistercian Order all played their parts, had been spreading German influence from the Oder to the Vistula, from the Vistula to the Dwina - to Prague, to Gnesen, and even to Novgorod the Great. Of this movement the Teutonic Order became, along with the Hanse, the chosen representative. It was not, indeed, the first knightly Order to gird itself for the task. Besides the knightly Order founded by Christian, there was already another still farther east, which had served as Christian's model, the Knights of the Sword of Livonia. This was an order founded by Albert, 3rd bishop of Riga, in 1201, to serve as an instrument, under his control, for the conquest of the land. But in 1237 the Knights of the Sword were merged into the Teutonic Order, and Livonia became a province of the Order, with a master of its own under the grand master's control, just as, two years before, the Order had also absorbed the Knights of Dobrzin.

In 1229 the Order began the conquest of Prussia, founding fortresses at each step to rivet its conquests (for instance, at Thorn, named after Toron in Palestine), much as the Anglo-Normans had done in their conquest of Wales. Frederic II. gave the Order the rights of a prince of the Empire in its territories: Conrad of Masovia gave it the whole of Kulmerland in 1230; while in 1234 the Order established its independence of all authorities except the Papacy, by surrendering its territories to the Holy See and receiving them back again as a fief. The pope gave to those who joined in the work of the Order the privileges of Crusaders; and the knights, supported by numerous donations and large accessions to their ranks, rapidly increased their territories. By 1260 they ruled the eastern bank of the Vistula from Kulm to its mouth, and the northern shore of the Baltic from the mouth of the Vistula to Konigsberg. Livonia they held after 1237; and during the 14th century they gained the Lithuanian territory of Samogitia, which lay between Livonia and their Prussian dominions, while they also added, to the west of the Vistula, Pomerellen and the Neumark (see under Prussia). Already by the beginning of the 14th century these conquests had fundamentally changed the character of the Order. It lost any connexion with the East: after the fall of Acre in 1291, the grand master (whose seat had been at Acre, while the German master (Deutschmeister) had controlled the Order in Germany) moved first to Venice, and then, in 1308, to Marienburg on the Vistula. Again, with the accession of large territories, the Order became a governing aristocracy; the original care for the sick, and even the later crusading zeal of the period of conquest, gave way, when conquests were gained and administration was needed, to the problem, half military, half political, of governing a frontier state. The statutes of the Order were altered to suit the new conditions, and a whole system of administration arose. At Marienburg the grand master maintained a magnificent court; round him were the five great dignitaries of the Order, the Grand Commander, the Marshal, the Hospitaller, the Treasurer (Tressler) and the Keeper of the Wardrobe (Trapier) to see to the clothing of the Order. There was a Landmeister for Livonia, and another (the Deutschmeister) for the German province, with his seat at Mergentheim in Swabia. Over each of the twenty districts of the Order was set a commander (Komtur), with the brethren of his house at his side as advisers. The commander was bound by the advice of his brethren; and in the same way the general chapter of the Order, consisting of the landmeisters and the great dignitaries, formed an advisory board to the grand master in matters such as treaties and internal legislation. It was government by an aristocracy almost Venetian in character. The individual was merged in the Order: each brother must pray four times in the day, and four times at night, and he must at all times pay an unquestioning obedience to his superiors. The Order was at once supreme ecclesiastical and political authority. There were no struggles of Church and State in its dominions: the state was also the church: the bishops and the canons of the four bishoprics (with the exception of Ermeland) were priests of the Order. The lay subjects of the Order consisted of two classes; on the one hand there were the conquered Prussians, in a position of serfdom, bound in time of war to serve with the brethren in foreign expeditions; on the other hand there were the German immigrants, both urban and rural, along with the free Prussians who had voluntarily submitted and remained faithful. The towns were large and flourishing; as many as sixty arose in the period between 1233 and 1416, including Thorn and Elbing, Danzig and Königsberg (named after Ottocar of Bohemia, who took part in the campaign during which it was founded). The towns possessed the rights of Magdeburg, or (like Elbing) those of Lübeck; the most important of them soon came to join the Hanseatic League. The Order only imposed customs duties: it levied no tolls within the land; and though its consent was necessary to any change in municipal ordinances, it allowed the towns a large amount of self-government. The concord of the Order with the towns and the Hanse was one great cause of its prosperity until the close of the 14th century; and the rupture of that concord in the 15th century was largely responsible for its fall.

This political and material strength enabled the Order to weather the storm by which the Templars were destroyed at the beginning of the 14th century. For a time, indeed, the Order lay under papal sentence of excommunication; but the transference of his seat to Marienburg at this time (1308) gave the grand master a basis from which he was able to make easy terms with the pope. Nor was the Order, during the 14th century, at all unfaithful to its original calling. Particularly under the grand master Winrich of Kniprode (1351–1382) it was the school of northern chivalry, engaged in unceasing struggle to defend and extend Christianity against the heathen Lithuanian. To the brilliant court of Marienburg, not only a school of chivalry, but under Winrich’s predecessor Luther of Brunswick, a literary centre,[3] men came from all over Europe to win their spurs. John of Bohemia had fought by the Vistula: Henry of Boling broke was of the goodly company; Chaucer’s perfect knight had travelled in “Pruce and Lettowe.” The neo-chivalry of the 14th century, in which a fantastic love of adventure had displaced the finer and more ideal motives of the old chivalry, looked towards the Vistula and Marienburg.

At the height of its glory sudden and irretrievable ruin fell upon the Order. The conditions which had made possible its prosperity now disappeared. Externally, a Slavonic reaction came, and dealt heavy blows to the eastward advance of German civilization. The Hussite movement, a victorious expression of Czech nationality, is contemporaneous with the loss of German dominion in Prussia; the exodus of German students from Prague takes place a year before the defeat of the Order at Tannenberg. The particular danger from the Slavs of the north-east arose from the conversion of Lithuania, and the union of converted Lithuania to Poland. The conversion of Lithuania deprived the Order of its mission: the union of Lithuania to Poland robbed it of the security which it enjoyed while they were disunited, and gave new strength to Poland, a constant enemy to the Order which had deprived it of any outlet on the Baltic. Internally, too, the Order suffered. The Hussite wars, the feuds of Burgundian and Armagnac, the renewal of the Hundred Years’ War, all prevented it from drawing new blood from the west. But above all it lost touch with its subjects. A religious order, largely composed of immigrants from abroad, could not permanently rule a state which had developed a national feeling of its own; and the native aristocracy, both of the towns and the country, revolted against its dominion. The rebellious elements allied themselves instinctively with the Poles, who thus found the absorption of the greater part of the lands of the Order an easy task. Commercial jealousy aided the process: the Order had alienated the towns by entering into competition with their trade; it had established a monopoly of amber and even, occasionally, of corn; and its agents were spread as far afield as Bruges. This commercial policy had indeed a deeper and more fatal effect than the alienation of the towns; it secularized still further the brethren of the Order, and made them financiers instead of soldiers. Their finances were indeed excellent; they kept regular accounts, and had already developed the modern principle of separating the civil list from the expenses of the government; but when they brought the tables of moneychangers into the temple, they were doing as the Templars had done before them, and were likely to suffer as the Templars had suffered.

The first blow struck at the Order, if it did not destroy its power immediately, ruined its prestige for ever. The defeat which the Polish king Ladislaus inflicted upon the knights at Tannenberg in 1410 was crushing. It brought Ladislaus little immediate gain; but it stimulated the elements of unrest in Prussia to fresh activity. The discontented clergy, especially in Livonia; the towns, such as Danzig; the native aristocracy, organized in a league (the Eidechsenbund, or League of the Lizard), all sought to use their opportunity. It was in vain that the heroic grand master, Henry of Plauen (1410–1413) sought to stem the tide of disaster; he was deposed by the chapter of the Order for his pains. The success of the Hussite raids in Germany gave fresh confidence to the Slavs of Poland. The Order was at variance within itself; some of the houses of the brethren refused to obey the marshal, and the grand master quarrelled with the German master. Above all, there arose in 1440 the Prussian League (Preussischer Bund), in which the nobles and towns joined together, nominally for common protection of their rights, but really against the Order. The League naturally sympathized with Poland, not only because Poland was the enemy of the knights, but also because under Poland it hoped to enjoy the practical liberty which Polish anarchy already seemed to offer. The ultimate result was that in 1454 an embassy of the League offered Prussia to the Polish king, and that, after many years of war, the Peace of Thorn (1466) gave to Poland West Prussia, with Marienburg, Thorn, Danzig and other towns, in full possession, and, while leaving East Prussia to the Order, made the Order the vassals of Poland for the territory which it retained. Henceforth the grand master was to sit in the Polish diet on the left of the king, and half of the knights of the Order were to be Polish.

From 1466 to 1526 grand masters of the Order ruled in East Prussia as vassals of Poland. But the master of the Livonian province and the German master would not obey a Polish vassal, and went their own way; the German master took the grand master’s place as a prince of the Empire. The brethren of East Prussia, however, still sighed for independence; and they pursued the policy of choosing German princes to be grand masters of the Order, in the hope of regaining liberty by their aid. Frederick of Saxony[4] held the office from 1498 to 1511; and he was succeeded by the Hohenzollern Albert of Brandenburg-Anspach. When Lutheranism arose, it spread rapidly in Prussia; Albert himself came into contact with Luther, and turning Protestant he secularized his territories, and (1526) made them into an hereditary duchy, still held as a fief of the king of Poland. Few of the brethren resisted; and the Order quietly ceased from the land where for three hundred years it had had its being.

Henceforth the Teutonic Order lived in Germany and in Livonia. The master of the latter province had beaten off an attack of the Russians in 1502, and secured a fifty years' peace. But in 1561 another master followed the example of Albert, and received Courland as an hereditary fief from Poland. Henceforth the Order was confined to Germany alone. The German master—now grand master and German master in one—had his headquarters at Mergentheim in Swabia; the revenues of the states scattered throughout the twelve bailiwicks of Germany sustained him and his Order. The Order, clinging to its rights with the conservatism of an ecclesiastical corporation, still maintained its claims to East Prussia, and pressed them tenaciously even against the electors of Brandenburg themselves, when they inherited the land on the failure of Albert’s descendants in 1618. The French Revolution finally deprived the Order of all its estates, and for a while of its existence. In 1801 the bailiwicks to the west of the Rhine were absorbed by France; in 1809 the Order was entirely suppressed, and its lands went to the secular principalities in which they lay. But in 1840 the Order was resuscitated in Austria, where it now exists as a semi-religious knighthood, closely connected with the Habsburgs.

It has remembered its earliest objects, and has of late years engaged during war in the ambulance service. “At the foot of sunny vineyards,” says Treitschke, “the house of the Teutonic Order now stands at Botzen; on its door is still emblazoned the black cross—in the middle of the shield of the Habsburg-Lorrainers.” Whatever its connexion with the Habsburgs, the Order has its real heirs in the Hohenzollerns of Prussia. When Frederic the Great gained West Prussia by the first partition of Poland (1772), he was uniting together once more the dominions of the Order, sundered since 1466; and it is the kings of Prussia who have inherited the Order’s task of maintaining German influence on the banks of the Vistula.

Literature—The article is chiefly based on H. von Treitschke’s Das deutsche Ordensland Preussens, in Historische and politische Aufsätze, vol. II. (Leipzig, 1871), and on J. Loserth, Geschichte des späteren Mittelalters (Munich and Berlin, 1903). Loserth gives a bibliography of authorities dealing with the history of the Order on pp. 131, 365 and 567–8. The original evidence is to be found in E. Strehlke, Tabulae Ordinis Teutonici (Berlin, 1869), and in Scriptores rerum Prussicarum (Leipzig, 1861–1870). J. Voigt has traced the history of the Order previous to 1526 in his Geschichte Preussens (Königsberg, 1827–1839), and he has dealt with the organization of the Order, and with its history in Germany from 1525 to 1858, in his Geschichte des deutschen Ritterorden in seinen zwölf Balleien in Deutschland (Berlin, 1857–1859). More recent writers are Lohmeier, Geschichte Ost- und Westpreussens (Gotha, 1880), and Prutz, Geschichte Preussens (Stuttgart, 1900). For monographs on the grand masters, the various territories, and the different epochs in the history of the Order see the references in Loserth's work.  (E. Br.) 

  1. Röhricht, Geschichte des Königreichs Jerusalem, p. 242.
  2. Röhricht, Geschichte des Königreichs Jerusalem, p. 542. The relations of this new foundation to the German hospital mentioned in 1143 cannot be traced.
  3. Every house of the Order had two learned brethren, one learned in the law, one in theology. There were also elementary schools, and municipal foundations in which Latin was taught, in the dominions of the Order.
  4. Frederick of Saxony (1474–1510), not Frederick III, Elector of Saxony (1463–1525)