Disciple of Peperna
- May 20, 2004
Prelude: Once Upon a Time
The northern crusades officially began with Pope Celestine III's blessing in 1193, but in truth efforts began much earlier, first with the Wends of northeastern Germany, then in Finland. In 1199 Albert von Huxhoeveden, began Christianizing the Baltics by force. He founded a market at Riga in 1201, was appointed Bishop, and ensured a permanent military presence by creating the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1202. For decades the Livonians fought, cutting a bloody path through the Pagan ranks before meeting their match fighting Samogitians at Schaulen in 1236.
While the Livonians enjoyed a great deal of success during their time in the sun, Masovia did not. Duke Konrad tried twice, in 1219 and 1222, but every victory would be countered by defeat, every raid with counter-raids that only emphasized the duchy's weakness. Masovia itself was barely Christianized, and in real danger of reverting when Konrad called for help.
By this time the Teutonic Knights, formally the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem, were homeless other than scattered holdings throughout the Christian world. Hochmeister Hermann von Salza founded the order with Celestine's blessing in 1198 at Acre. As Christianity suffered setbacks in the Levant they migrated to Hungary in 1211 to defend against bordering Kipchaks. King Andrew II expelled them in 1225. They arrived one year later in Prussia with the blessings of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and coordinated with Duke Konrad to push the pagans away from the coast and Masovia proper.
If Konrad expected the knights to simply turn over their new home however, he was in for a surprise. The Golden Bull of Rimini, Emperor Frederick's 'blessing', guaranteed the Order's new holdings as did a Papal declaration in 1234. This did not sit well with the Poles, who considered Masovia and by extension all of Masovia's claims their sovereign territory, starting centuries of mutual ill will.
The Brothers of the Sword, leaderless and desperate, joined the Order as an autonomous branch in 1237. They then pushed east against the Novogorod Republic, suffering a humiliating defeat at Lake Peipus in 1242.
For the next century the Order flailed at all comers: Their rivalry with Poland continued to build, especially as the latter began to covet the port city of Danzig. The Russians were schismastics in their eyes. The Lithuanians might have been worst of all: Part Catholic, part Orthodox, part Slavic pagan, entirely dangerous. Their vacilliating between east and west, hoping for the 'best' deal, through the 14th century only made the Teutons angrier. When Jogalia of Lithuania married Queen Jadwiga of Poland, converting to Catholicism and all but uniting the realms with one stroke, it may have taken away the Order's reason to fight but not their will.
Relations with their other neighbors remained frosty as well. During this time the Teutons owned the strongest navy in the Baltic Sea. When the Victual Brothers, a 'guild' funded by the Hanseatic League, went rogue and began raiding shipping indiscriminately, the Swedes promised the Order the island of Gotland as a fief in exchange for their destruction. This the Order did in 1398, holding it for eleven years.
They also claimed Samogitia, now possibly the last Pagan region in Europe other than isolated pockets, in 1404. Unfortunately the Teutons considered pagans subhuman and their ideas of conversion ran to fire, torture and death. This was too much for the Samogitians who rose up in 1409. To the Ordenstadt's surprise, Poland-Lithuania announced the Samogitians were under their protection and warned the Knights off. Hochmeister Ulrich von Jungingen declared war.
It was already late summer when the war began. In the one campaign of the season, Von Jungingen attempted to force Poland out of the war by a thrust through the Dobrinland towards Krakow. The Poles repulsed his strike and retook Bydgoszcz (Bromberg). The warring nations then declared a truce until June 1410.
The Teutons would have liked to extend the truce further, to give more western mercenaries time to join the ranks, but on June 30 the Polish/Lithuanian army, reinforced by their own levies as well as banners from Smolensk, Masovia and Moldavia, crossed the Vistula River and thrust straight at the Teuton capital of Marienberg. Von Jungingen chose not to endanger his city and marched his host to meet them. On July 10, the two forces collided at a field near Tannenberg some 100 km SE of Marienberg and 50 km SW of Allenstein (Olstyn).
Tannenberg, Grunwald and Ludwigsdorf.
The buildings at the center are probably a monument.
Estimated forces vary widely: The Teutons had perhaps sixteen thousand men as well as numerous 'volunteers' from around Europe. The Poles responded with sixteen, while Lithuanian offered eight more. They also probably had their own 'volunteers' from throughout eastern Europe. This gave the 'alliance' a definite advantage, but what the Teutons lacked in numbers they made up for in discipline and bravery.
And foolishness, for much as like Hastings 350 years earlier the Teuton left flank was fooled by a false retreat and chased their Lithuanian counterparts from the field. The center and right held, a brutal melee involving thousands of men, until King Wladyslaw II (Jogalia) engaged with his reserve. Von Jungingen replied with fresh troops of his own, but betrayal by Nikolas von Renys, a Polish sympathizer, as well as the return of Lithuanian forces undid him.
What followed next was pure slaughter: While the unwritten rules of war stated nobles should be taken alive if possible (for later ransom), the bulk of the Allied army consisted of peasantry who would not benefit from this and wanted revenge. Before order could be restored the heart of the Order, including most of its leadership, lay dead.
The alliance also failed to follow up on its victory. There were revolts and the occasional castle surrendered, but in all the army held in place. When they were ready to move again the new Hochmeister, Heinrich von Plauen, had already won passive support from western neighbors and made Marienberg impregnable. By autumn the restive nobility wanted to go home, so the army collapsed.
The Treaty of Thorn (Torun), signed in February 1411, solved absolutely nothing. It was a near status quo peace, with the Poles gaining the Dobrinland (Doberzyn) and the Lithuanians asserting their 'defense' of Samogitia. It certainly wasn't the death blow that King Wladyslaw promised his nobles. Nonetheless, they reasoned, it was a good start. They'd come back for the rest.
The Teutons were wracked with four years of heavy war reparations to pay off the ransoms on those men the Poles did capture. This resulted in higher taxes on a peasantry who couldn't afford it, and a middle class that simply didn't want to. When Thorn and Danzig both begged off paying, Hochmeister von Plauen responded by blockading the port until they yielded.
For the humiliated and battered Order, this loss proved nothing. They, too, would be back.
Teutonic Order, 1411