26 August 2011

Medieval Teutonic Knights 3 part 18 August 2011

In 1309, when all hope of the recovery of the Christian dominion in the
East had been abandoned, and no further crusades seemed probable, it was
determined to remove the seat of the grand master from Venice to Marienberg.
At a chapter of the order held there, further regulations were agreed upon for
the government of the conquered countries, some of which are very curious, but
give an interesting picture of the state of the people and of society at that
period.  Thus it was commanded that no Jew, necromancer, or sorcerer should be
allowed to settle in the country.  Masters who had slaves, and generally
Prussians, prisoners of war, were obliged to send them to the parish church to
be instructed by the clergy in the Christian religion. German alone was to be
spoken, and the ancient language of the country was forbidden, to prevent the
people hatching conspiracies, and to do away with the old idolatry and heathen
superstitions.  Prussians were not allowed to open shops or taverns, nor to
act as surgeons or accoucheurs.

     The wages of servants were strictly settled, and no increase or
diminution was permitted.  Three marks and a half a year were the wages of a
carpenter or smith, two and a half marks of a coachman, a mark and a half of a
laborer, two marks of a domestic servant, and half a mark of a nurse. Masters
had the right to follow their runaway servants, and to pierce their ears; but
if they dismissed a servant before the end of his term of service, they must
pay him a year's wages.  Servants were not allowed to marry during time of
harvest and vintage, under penalty of losing a year's wages and paying a fine
of three marks.  No bargains were to be made on Sundays and festivals, and no
shops were to be open on those days till after morning service.

     Sumptuary laws of the most stringent nature were passed, some of which
appear very singular.  At a marriage or other domestic festival, officers of
justice might offer their guests six measures of beer, tradesmen must not give
more than four, peasants only two.  Playing for money, with dice or cards, was
forbidden.  Bishops were to visit their dioceses every three years, and to aid
missions to the heathen.  Those who gave drink to others must drink of the
same beverage themselves, to avoid the danger of poisoning, as commonly
practised by the heathen Prussians.  A new coinage was also issued.

     The next half-century was a period of general prosperity and advance for
the order.  It was engaged almost incessantly in war, either for the retention
of its conquests or for the acquisition of new territory.  There were also
internal difficulties and dissensions, and contests with the bishops.  In 1308
the Archbishop of Riga appealed to Pope Clement V, making serious charges
against the order, and endeavoring to prevail upon him to suppress it in the
same way as the Templars had lately been dealt with. Gerard, Count of
Holstein, however, came forward as the defender of the knights.  A formal
inquiry was opened before the Pope at Avignon in 1323. The principal charges
brought forward by the Archbishop were, that the order had not fulfilled the
conditions of its sovereignty in defending the Church against its heathen
enemies; that it did not regard excommunications; that it had offered
insolence to the Archbishop, and seized some of the property of his see, and
other similar accusations.  The grand master explained some of these matters,
denied others, and produced an autograph letter of the Archbishop's, in which
he secretly endeavored to stir up the Grand Duke of Lithuania to make a
treacherous attack upon some of the fortresses of the knights.  The end of the
matter was that the case was dismissed, and there is little doubt that there
were serious faults on both sides.

     The times were indeed full of violence, cruelty, and crime.  The annals
abound with terrible and shameful records, bloody and desolating wars, and
individual cases of oppression, injustice, and cruelty.  Now a grand master is
assassinated in his chapel during vespers; now a judge is proved to have
received bribes, and to have induced a suitor to sacrifice the honor of his
wife as the price of a favorable decision.  Wealth and power led to luxury and
sensuality, the weaker were oppressed, noble and bishop alike showing
themselves proud and tyrannical.  There are often two contradictory accounts
of the same transaction, and it is impossible to decide where the fault really
was, when there seems so little to choose between the conduct of either side.

     The conclusion seems forced upon us that human nature was in those days
much the same as it is now, and that riches and irresponsible authority
scarcely ever fail to lead to pride and to selfish and oppressive treatment of
inferiors.  When we gaze upon the magnificent cathedrals that were rising all
over Europe at the bidding of the great of those times, we are filled with
admiration, and disposed to imagine that piety and a high standard of
religious life must have prevailed; but a closer acquaintance with historical
facts dissipates the illusion, and we find that then as now good and evil were

     The history of the order for the next century presents little of
interest.  In 1388 two of the knights repaired to England by order of the
grand master, to make commercial arrangements with that country, which had
been rendered necessary by the changes introduced into the trade of Europe by
the creation of the Hanseatic League.  A second commercial treaty between the
King of England and the order was made in 1409.

     The order had now reached the summit of its greatness.  Besides large
possessions in Germany, Italy, and other countries, its sovereignty extended
from the Oder to the Gulf of Finland.  This country was both wealthy and
populous.  Prussia is said to have contained fifty-five large fortified
cities, forty-eight fortresses, and nineteen thousand and eight towns and
villages.  The population of the larger cities must have been considerable,
for we are told that in 1352 the plague carried off thirteen thousand persons
in Dantzic, four thousand in Thorn, six thousand at Elbing, and eight thousand
at Koenigsberg.  One authority reckons the population of Prussia at this time
at two million one hundred and forty thousand eight hundred.  The greater part
of these were German immigrants, since the original inhabitants had either
perished in the war or retired to Lithuania.

     Historians who were either members of the order or favorably disposed
toward it, are loud in their praise of the wisdom and generosity of its
government; while others accuse its members and heads of pride, tyranny,
luxury, and cruel exactions.

     In 1410 the Teutonic order received a most crushing defeat at Tannenberg
from the King of Poland, assisted by bodies of Russians, Lithuanians, and
Tartars.  The grand master, Ulric de Jungingen, was slain, with several
hundred knights and many thousand soldiers.

     There is said to have been a chapel built at Gruenwald, in which an
inscription declared that sixty thousand Poles and forty thousand of the army
of the knights were left dead upon the field of battle.  The banner of the
order, its treasury, and a multitude of prisoners fell into the hands of the
enemy, who shortly afterward marched against Marienberg and closely besieged
it.  Several of the feudatories of the knights sent in their submission to the
King of Poland, who began at once to dismember the dominions of the order and
to assign portions to his followers.  But this proved to be premature. The
knights found in Henry de Planau a valiant leader, who defended the city with
such courage and obstinacy that, after fifty-seven days' siege, the enemy
retired, after serious loss from sorties and sickness.  A series of battles
followed, and finally a treaty of peace was signed, by which the order gave up
some portion of its territory to Poland.

     But a new enemy was on its way to inflict upon the order greater and more
lasting injury than that which the sword could effect.  The doctrines of
Wycklif had for some time been spreading throughout Europe, and had lately
received a new impulse from the vigorous efforts of John Huss in Bohemia, who
had eagerly embraced them, and set himself to preach them, with additions of
his own.  Several knights accepted the teaching of Huss, and either retired
from the order or were forcibly ejected.  Differences and disputes also arose
within the order, which ended in the arrest and deposition of the grand master
in 1413.  But the new doctrines had taken deep root, and a large party within
the order were more or less favorable to them, so much so that at the Council
of Constance (1415) a strong party demanded the total suppression of the
Teutonic order.  This was overruled; but it probably induced the grand master
to commence a series of persecutions against those in his dominions who
followed the principles of Huss.

     The treaty that had followed the defeat at Tannenberg had been almost
from the first disputed by both parties, and for some years appeals were made
to the Pope and the Emperor on several points; but the decisions seldom gave
satisfaction or commanded obedience.  The general result was the loss to the
order of some further portions of its dominions.

     Another outbreak of the plague, in 1427, inflicted injury upon the order.
In a few weeks no less than eighty-one thousand seven hundred and forty-six
persons perished.  There were also about this time certain visions of hermits
and others, which threatened terrible judgments upon the order, because, while
it professed to exist and fight for the honor of God, the defence of the
Church, and the propagation of the faith, it really desired and labored only
for its own aggrandizement.

     It was said, too, that it should perish through a goose (oie), and as the
word "Huss" means a goose in Bohemian patois, it was said afterward that the
writings of Huss, or more truly, perhaps, the work of the goose-quill, had
fulfilled the prophecy in undermining and finally subverting the order. There
were also disputes respecting the taxes, which the people declared to be
oppressive, and finally, in 1454, a formidable rebellion took place against
the authority of the knights.

     Casimir, King of Poland, who had long had hostile intentions against the
order, secretly threw all his weight into the cause of the malcontents, who
made such way that the grand master was forced to retire to Marienberg, his
capital, where he was soon closely besieged.  Casimir now openly declared war,
and laid claim to the dominions of the knights in Prussia and Pomerania,
formally annexing them to the kingdom of Poland.

     The grand master sent petitions for aid to the neighboring princes, but
without success.  The kings of Denmark and Sweden excused themselves on
account of the distance of their dominions from the seat of war.  Ladislaus,
King of Bohemia and Hungary, was about to marry his sister to Casimir, and the
religious dissensions of Bohemia and the attacks of the Turks upon Hungary
fully occupied his attention and demanded the employment of all his troops and
treasure; and finally the capture of Constantinople by Mahomet at this very
time (1458) seemed to paralyze the energies of the European powers.

     The grand master, Louis d'Erlichshausen, thus found himself deserted in
his time of need.  He did what he could by raising a considerable body of
mercenaries, and with these, his knights, and the regular troops of the order,
he defended himself with courage and wonderful endurance, so that he not only
succeeded in holding the city, but recovered several other towns that had

     But his resources were unequal to the demands made upon them, his enemy
overwhelmed him with numbers, his own soldiers clamored for their pay long
overdue, and there was no prospect of aid from without.  There was nothing
left, therefore, to him but to make the best terms he could.  He adopted the
somewhat singular plan of making over Marienberg and what remained of the
dominions of the order to the chiefs who had given him aid, in payment for
their services, and he himself, with his knights and troops, retired to
Koenigsberg, which then became the capital of the order.  Marienberg soon
afterward came into the hands of Casimir; but the knights again captured it,
and again lost it, 1460.

     War continued year after year between Poland and the knights, the general
result of which was that the latter were defeated and lost one town after
another, till, in 1466, a peace was concluded, by the terms of which the
knights ceded to Poland almost all the western part of their dominions,
retaining only a part of Eastern Prussia, with Koenigsberg for their capital,
the grand master acknowledging himself the vassal of the King of Poland, with
the title of Prince and Councillor of the kingdom.

     In 1497 the order lost its possessions in Sicily through the influence of
the Pope and the King of Aragon, who combined to deprive it of them.  It still
retained a house at Venice, and some other property in Lombardy.  In 1511
Albert de Brandenberg was elected grand master.  He made strenuous efforts to
procure the independence of the order, and solicited the aid of the Emperor to
free it from the authority of Poland, but without success. The grand master
refused the customary homage to the King of Poland, and, after fruitless
negotiations, war was once more declared, which continued till 1521, when
peace was concluded; one of the results of which was the separation of Livonia
from the dominion of the order, and its erection into an independent state.

     All this time the doctrines of Luther had been making progress and
spreading among all classes in Prussia and Germany.  In 1522 the grand master
went to Nuremberg to consult with the Lutherans there, and shortly afterward
he visited Luther himself at Wittenberg.  Luther's advice was decided and
trenchant.  He poured contempt upon the rules of the order, and advised Albert
to break away from it and marry.  Melancthon supported Luther's counsels.
Shortly after, Luther wrote a vigorous letter to the knights of the order, in
which he maintained that it was of no use to God or man.  He urged all the
members to break their vow of celibacy and to marry, saying that it was
impossible for human nature to be chaste in any other way, and that God's law,
which commanded man to increase and multiply, was older than the decrees of
councils and the vows of religious orders.  At the request of the grand master
he also sent missionaries into Prussia to preach the reformed doctrines.  One
or two bishops and many of the clergy accepted them, and they spread rapidly
among the people.  Services began to be said in the vulgar tongue, and images
and other ornaments were pulled down in the churches, especially in the
country districts.

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