In 1214 the emperor Frederick I decreed that the grand master should
always be considered a member of the imperial court, that whenever he visited
it he should be lodged at the Emperor's expense, and that two knights should
always have quarters assigned them in the imperial household. In 1221 the
emperor Frederick II, by an imperial act, took the Teutonic order under his
special protection, including all its property and servants; exempted them
from all taxes and dues; and gave its members free use of all pastures,
rivers, and forests in his dominions. And in 1227 Henry commanded that all
proceedings in his courts should be conducted without cost to the order. The
King of Hungary also, seeing the valor of the knights, endeavored to secure
his own possessions by giving them charge of several of his frontier towns.
It would be unnecessary, as it would be tedious, to repeat all the
details of the crusades, the varying successes and defeats, in all of which
the Teutonic Knights took part, both in Syria and in Egypt, fighting side by
side with their brethren in arms, the Templars and Hospitalers. They
continued also their humane services to the sick and wounded, as the following
curious contemporary document shows. It forms part of a charter, obtained by
one Schweder, of Utrecht, who says that, being at the siege of Damietta, "he
saw the wonderful exertions of the brethren of the Teutonic Order, for the
succor of the sick and the care of the soldiers of the army, and was moved to
endow the order with his property in the village of Lankarn."
It was during the siege of Damietta that the famous St. Francis of Assisi
visited the crusading army, and endeavored to settle a dispute that had arisen
between the knights and the foot soldiers of the army, the latter being
dissatisfied and declaring that they were unfairly exposed to danger as
compared with the mounted knights.
In 1226 the grand master was selected by the emperor Frederick and Pope
Honorius to be arbitrator in a dispute that had arisen between them. So well
pleased were they with his honorable and wise counsel that, in recognition of
his services, he and his successors were created princes of the Empire, and
the order was allowed to bear upon its arms the Imperial Eagle. The Emperor
also bestowed a very precious ring upon the master, which was ever afterward
used at the institution of the grand master of the order. Again, in 1230, the
Grand master was one of the principal agents in bringing about a
reconciliation between the Emperor and Pope Gregory IX, whose dissensions had
led to many troubles and calamities.
It has already been mentioned that the King of Hungary bestowed upon the
knights some territory on the borders of his dominions, with a view to their
defending it from the incursions of the barbarous tribes in the vicinity. The
King's anticipations were amply realized. The knights maintained order in the
disturbed districts, and by their presence put an end to the incursions of the
predatory bands who came periodically to waste the country with fire and
sword. The land soon smiled with harvests, and a settled and contented
population lived in peace and quietness.
But no sooner were these happy results attained than the King took a mean
advantage of the knights, and resumed possession of the country which they had
converted from a desert to a fruitful and valuable district. The consequence
was that the wild tribes renewed their invasions, and the reclaimed country
once more lapsed into desolation. Then again the King made the border country
over to the knights, who speedily reasserted their rights, and established a
settled government and general prosperity in the dominion made over to them.
This grant and some others that followed were confirmed to the order by the
bull of Pope Honorius III in 1222.
A few years after this the Duke of Poland asked the aid of the order
against the pagan inhabitants of the country that was afterward Prussia. These
people were very savage and barbarous, and constantly committed horrible
cruelties upon their more civilized neighbors, laying waste the country,
destroying crops, carrying off cattle, burning towns, villages, and convents,
and murdering the inhabitants with circumstances of extreme atrocity, often
burning their captives alive as sacrifices to their gods. The grand master
consulted with his chapter and with the Emperor on the proposed enterprise,
and finally resolved to enter upon it, the Emperor undertaking to secure to
the order any territory that they might be able to conquer and hold in
Prussia. Pope Gregory IX, in 1230, gave his sanction to the expedition, and
conferred on those concerned in it all the privileges accorded to crusaders.
In the following year an army invaded Prussia and erected a fortress at
Thorn, on the Vistula, on the site of a grove of enormous oaks, which the
inhabitants looked upon as sacred to their god Thor. This was followed, in
1232, by the foundation of another stronghold at Culm. A successful campaign
followed, and the castle of Marienwerder, lower down the Vistula, was after
some reverses and delays successfully built and fortified. The grand master
then established a firm system of government over the conquered country, and
drew up laws and regulations for the administration of justice, for the
coining of money, and other necessary elements of civilization. Other
fortified places were built which gradually developed into cities and towns.
But all this was not affected without many battles and much patient endurance,
and frequent defeats and checks.
Nor did the knights forget the spiritual needs of their heathen subjects.
Mission clergy labored among them, and by their instruction, and still more by
their holy, self-denying lives, they succeeded in winning many to forsake
their idols and become Christians.
The order received an important accession to its ranks at this time
(1237) by the incorporation into it of the ancient Order of Christ, in
Livonia, which had considerable possessions. This was followed shortly
afterward by an agreement between the order and the King of Denmark, by which
the former undertook the defence of the kingdom against its pagan neighbors.
In 1234 the order received into its ranks Conrad, Landgrave of Thuringia
and Hesse, a man who had led a wicked and violent life, but, being brought to
see his errors, made an edifying repentance, and became a Teutonic Knight, and
afterward was elected grand master. This Conrad was brother to Louis of
Thuringia, who was the husband of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. After the death
of Elizabeth, the hospital at Marburg, where she had passed the latter years
of her widowhood in the care of the sick, was made over to the Teutonic
Knights, and after her canonization a church was built to receive her remains,
and placed under the care of the order.
In 1240 the knights received an earnest petition from the Duke of Poland,
for aid against the Turks, who were ravaging his dominions, and by the
enormous multitude of their hosts were able to defeat any army he could bring
into the field. The knights accepted the invitation, and took part in a
series of bloody and obstinate battles, in which they lost many of their
number. They had also a new enemy to encounter in the Duke of Pomerania, who
had been their ally, but who now sided with the Prussians against them. In
the war that ensued the Duke was defeated, several of his strongholds were
taken, and he was obliged to sue for peace.
A few years afterward, however (1243), the Duke recommenced hostilities,
and with more success. Culm was besieged by him, and the greatest miseries
were endured by the inhabitants, the slaughter being so great in the numerous
conflicts before the walls that at last very few men remained. The Bishop
even counselled the widows to marry their servants, that the population of the
town might not become extinct. The war was continued for several years with
varying fortune, till a peace was at last concluded, principally through the
mediation of the Duke of Austria.
About this time a disputed election caused a schism in the order, and two
rival grand masters for several years divided the allegiance of the knights,
till Henry de Hohenlohe was recognized by both sides as master. During his
term of office successful war was carried on in Courland and other neighboring
countries, which resulted in the spread of Christianity and the advance of the
power of the order. At the same time, the Teutonic order took part in the
crusades in Palestine, and shared with the Templars and Hospitalers the
successes and reverses there.
It would be tedious to enter upon all the details of the conflicts
undertaken by the order against the Prussians and others; suffice it to say
that the knights, though often defeated, steadily advanced their dominion, and
secured its permanence by the erection of fortresses, the centres about which
cities and towns ultimately arose. Among these were Dantzic, Koenigsberg,
Elbing, Marienberg, and Thorn.
By the year 1283 the order was in possession of all the country between
the Vistula and the Memel, Prussia, Courland, part of Livonia, and Samogitia;
commanderies were established everywhere to hold it in subjection, and
bishoprics and monasteries were founded for the spread of Christianity among
the heathen population. In the contests between the Venetians and the
Genoese, the Teutonic Knights aided the former, and in 1291, after the loss of
Acre, the grand master took up his residence in Venice.
About this time the Pope originated a scheme for the union of the three
orders of the Hospitalers, the Templars, and the Teutonic Knights, into one
great order, purposing at the same time to engage the Emperor and the kings of
Christendom to lay aside all their quarrels, and combine their forces for the
recovery once for all of the Holy Land. Difficulties without number, which
proved insuperable, prevented the realization of this scheme. Among these was
the objection raised by the Teutonic Knights, that while the Hospitalers and
Templars had but one object in view - the recovery of Palestine, their order
had to maintain its conquests in the North of Europe, and to prosecute the
spread of the true faith among the still heathen nations.