In 1525 Albert met the King of Poland at Cracow, and formally resigned
his office as grand master of the Teutonic order, making over his dominions to
the King, and receiving from him in return the title of hereditary Duke of
Prussia. Shortly afterward he followed Luther's advice, and married the
princess Dorothea of Denmark. Many of the knights followed his example. The
annals and archives of the order were transferred to the custody of the King
of Poland, and were lost or destroyed during the troubles that subsequently
came upon that kingdom.
A considerable number of the knights refused to change their religion and
abandon their order, and in 1527 assembled in chapter at Mergentheim to
consult as to their plans for the future. They elected Walter de Cronberg
grand master, whose appointment was ratified by the Emperor, Charles V. In
the religious wars that followed, the knights fought on the side of the
Emperor, against the Protestants. In 1595 the commandery of Venice was sold
to the Patriarch and was converted into a diocesan seminary; and in 1637 the
commandery of Utrecht was lost to the order. In 1631 Mergentheim was taken by
the Swedes under General Horn.
In the war against the Turks during this period some of the knights, true
to the ancient principles of their order, took part on the Christian side,
both in Hungary and in the Mediterranean. In the wars of Louis XIV, the order
lost many of its remaining commanderies, and by an edict of the King, in 1672,
the separate existence of the order was abolished in his dominions, and its
possessions were conferred on the Order of St. Lazarus.
When Prussia was erected into a kingdom, in 1701, the order issued a
solemn protest against the act, asserting its ancient rights over that
country. The order maintained its existence in an enfeebled condition till
1809, when it was formally abolished by Napoleon. In 1840 Austria instituted
an honorary order called by the same name, and in 1852 Prussia revived it
under the designation of the Order of St. John.