1190 - 1809
Scarcely less renowned than the Knights Templars, the Teutonic Knightscarried the spirit and traditions of the great military religious orders ofthe Middle Ages far into the modern period. No earlier date for the
foundation of the order than 1190 is given on recognized authority, its actual beginning, like that of the other orders of its kind, being humble and obscure.
It appears that about 1128 a wealthy German, having participated in thesiege and capture of Jerusalem, settled there, and soon began to show pity forhis unfortunate countrymen among the pilgrims who came, receiving some of them into his own house to be cared for. When the work became too great for him
there, he built a hospital, in which he devoted himself to nursing sickpilgrims, to whose support he likewise gave all his wealth. Still the task outgrew the means at his command, and in order to increase his charity he
began to solicit alms. While he took care of the men, his wife performed alike service for poor women pilgrims.
Soon they were joined by many of their wealthier countrymen who had cometo fight for the Holy Land. Presently they "banded themselves together, after the pattern of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and united the care of the sick and poor with the profession of arms in their defence, under the title of
Hospitalers of the Blessed Virgin." These Teutonic Hospitalers continued their work, in hospital and field, until the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, and the conqueror, in recognition of their benevolent services, consented that some of them should remain there and continue their work. Out of these lowly beginnings grew one of the most powerful and widespread of the military religious orders.
It was during the siege of Acre, 1189-1191, that the Teutonic Order received its final and complete organization as one of the great military religious orders of Europe.
The German soldiers suffered great miseries from sickness and from their wounds, and as their language was not understood by the French and other European contingents of the crusading army, they were left untended and friendless. To meet this want, some citizens of Bremen and Lubeck provided a sort of field hospital, and devoted themselves to the care of their wounded and sick countrymen. These were soon joined by others, and by the brethren of the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin at Jerusalem, whom Saladin had banished from the city, and the little body came to be known by the designation of the
Teutonic Knights of the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin at Jerusalem.
It is said that the order owed its constitution to Frederick, Duke of Swabia; but there is much obscurity, and little authentic record to determine this or to furnish particulars of the transaction.
The order seems, however, to have been confirmed by Pope Celestine III,the constitution and rules of the Templars and Hospitalers being taken as the model for the new order, Henry de Walpot being the first master. This appears
to have happened about 1190, though some authorities maintain that it was not
till 1191 or even later. While, therefore, the three great orders had much in
common, there was this difference in their original foundation. The
Hospitalers were at first a nursing order, and gradually became military; the
Templars were always purely and solely military; while the Teutonic Knights
were from the first both military and nursing.
Contemporary chroniclers compare the Teutonic Knights with the mystic
living creature seen by Ezekiel, having the faces of a man and of a lion, the
former indicating the charity with which they tended the sick; the latter, the
courage and daring with which they met and fought the enemies of Christ.
The Teutonic Knights continued their care of the sick soldiers till Acre
was taken in July, 1191, by the united forces of Philip Augustus, King of
France, and Richard Coeur de Lion, King of England. After the capture of Acre
by the Christian army, Henry de Walpot purchased a site within the city, and
built a church and hospital for his order, the first that it possessed. To
these buildings were gradually added lodgings for the members of the order,
for pilgrims, and for the soldiers which were enlisted to assist the knights
in the field.
All this cost a large sum of money; but, as many wealthy Germans had
enrolled themselves as knights, means were not wanting as the occasion for
them occurred and the requirements of the order developed. Among the greatest
of the earlier benefactors was Frederick, Duke of Swabia, who contributed
money and aided the progress of the order by his influence, and, when he died
at Acre, was interred in the church of the knights. Contemporary writers speak
in the highest terms of his virtues, saying that he lived a hero and died a
At this period and for the rest of its history, the constitution of the
Teutonic order embraced two classes of members - the knights and the clergy -
both being exclusively of German birth. The knights were required to be of
noble family, and, besides the ordinary threefold monastic vows, took a fourth
vow, that they would devote themselves to the care of the sick and to fight
the enemies of the faith. Their dress was black, over which a white cloak
with a black cross upon the left shoulder was worn. The clergy were not
necessarily of noble birth, their duties being to minister to the order in
their churches, to the sick in the hospitals and on the field of battle.
To these two classes, who constituted the order, were added serving
brethren, called Heimlike and Soldner, and in Latin, Familiares. Many of
these gave their services gratuitously from religious motives; others received
payment and were really servants. The knights selected their esquires from
among the serving brothers. All these wore a dress of the same color as the
knights, that they might be known at once to belong to the order.
The original rules of the order were very severe. All the members lived
in common; they slept in dormitories on small and hard beds; they took their
meals together in the refectory, and their fare was meagre and of the plainest
quality. They were required to attend the daily services in the church, and
to recite certain prayers and offices privately. They were not permitted to
leave their convent, nor to write or receive letters, without permission of
their superior. Their clothes, armor, and the harness of their horses were
all of the plainest description; all gold, jewels, and other costly ornaments
being strictly forbidden. Arms of the best temper and horses of good breed
were provided. When they marched to battle, each knight had three or four
horses, and an esquire carried his shield and lance.
The grand master was elected from the class of the knights only. Next in
rank to him was the preceptor, or grand commander, who had the general
supervision of the clergy and serving brethren, and who presided in chapter in
the absence of the grand master. Next to the preceptor came the marshal, who
acted as lieutenant-general in the field of battle under the grand master.
The third dignitary was the grand hospitaler, who had the superintendence of
the hospitals and of all that related to their management. The fourth officer
was the trappier, who supplied the knights with their clothing and
accoutrements. And, lastly, there was the treasurer, who received and paid
all the money that passed through the hands of the order. All these officers
were removable, and were commonly changed every year.
As the order extended, new functionaries were required and were
appointed; namely, provincial masters of the several countries where the order
obtained possessions, who took rank next after the grand master; and there
were also many local officers as particular circumstances required. The grand
master was not absolute, but was obliged to seek the advice of the chapter
before taking any important step, and if he were necessarily absent, he
appointed a lieutenant to act for him, who also governed the order after the
death of the grand master till his successor was elected.
After the death of Saladin disputes arose among his sons, and the
opportunity was seized of commencing a new crusade, the history of which is
well known, and in which the Teutonic Knights took an active part. At this
time (1197) Henry VI, Emperor of Germany, gave the knights the monastery of
the Cistercians, at Palermo, in Sicily, and several privileges and exemptions
- a transaction that caused considerable disagreement between the Pope and the
Emperor. The knights were, however, finally confirmed in possession of the
monastery, and it became the preceptory or chief house of the order in Sicily,
where other property was gradually bestowed upon the knights.
Henry de Walpot, the first grand master, died at Acre, in 1200, and was
succeeded by Otho de Kerpen, who was an octogenarian at the time of his
election, but full of vigor and energy, which he displayed by devoted
attention to the duties of his office, and personal attendance upon the sick
in the hospitals. During the mastership of Otho de Kerpen, an order of
knighthood arose in the north of Europe, which was afterward incorporated with
the Teutonic order. Livonia, a country situated on the borders of the Baltic,
was at this time still pagan. The merchants of Bremen and Lubeck, who had
trading relations with the inhabitants, desired to impart to them the truths
and blessings of Christianity, and took a monk of the name of Menard to teach
them the elements of the faith. The work succeeded, and Menard was
consecrated bishop, and fixed his see at Uxhul, which was afterward
transferred to Riga.
The mission, however, as it advanced, aroused the jealousy and suspicion
of the pagan nobles, and they attacked and destroyed the new town, with its
cathedral and other buildings. The Bishop appealed to his countrymen for
help. Many responded to his call, and, as there was at that time no crusade
in progress in Palestine, the Pope (1199) was persuaded to accord to those who
took up arms for the defence of the Christians in Livonia the same privileges
as were given to those who actually went to the Holy Land.
In consequence of these events a military religious order was founded, to
assist in this war, called the Order of Christ, which was confirmed by Pope
Innocent III, in 1205. The knights wore a white robe, upon which a red sword
and a star were emblazoned. They maintained a vigorous and successful
conflict with the heathen, till circumstances rendered it desirable that they
should be incorporated with the Teutonic Knights.
In the mean time the Latins had seized Constantinople, and set up
Baldwin, Count of Flanders, as emperor, and divided the Eastern Empire among
themselves. The Teutonic Knights received considerable possessions, and a
preceptory was founded in Achaia. Some time afterward another was established
in Armenia, where also the order had obtained property and territory in return
for service rendered in the field. The order also received the distinction of
adding to their bearings the Cross of Jerusalem.
The valor of the knights, however, and the active part which they took in
all the religious wars of the day, cost them dear, and from time to time their
numbers were greatly reduced; so much so that when Herman de Salza was elected
grand master (1210) he found the order so weak that he declared he would
gladly sacrifice one of his eyes if he could thereby be assured that he should
always have ten knights to follow him to battle with the infidels. The vigor
of his administration brought new life to the order, and he was able to carry
on its mission with such success that at his death there were no less than two
thousand German nobles who had assumed the badge of the order and fought under
its banner. Large accessions of property also came at this time to the
knights in Hungary, Prussia, Livonia, and elsewhere.