The Teutonic Order or Teutonic Knights were a religious order of crusading knights famous for their crusades and campaigns in the Holy Land, Hungary, Lithuania and Prussia. They conquered and created a monastic State in north-Eastern Europe where they ruled for 400 years.
Origins - Middle East
The background to the formation of the Deutscher Orden or Teutonic Order was the Third Crusade (1189-92), the effort by the three most powerful monarchs of Catholic Western Europe to regain Jerusalem for Christiandom. For the German Imperial participants this was something of a disaster even before reaching the Holy land and amongst the remnant arriving to take part in the siege of Acre were the men who established a field hospital, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In March 1198 their new hospital in Acre was granted Papal recognition as an independent military order, the Tratres Domus hospitalis sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum (Brethren of the German Hospital of St. Mary), which organisation became better known as the Teutonic Knights.
Although never as rich nor as influential as the largely French Order of Templars or the more mixed Knights Hospitallers, the Teutonic Knights acquired lands within the Crusader States in the Middle East, mostly in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and established a military presence within the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, their ally. The Order's most important site was Montfort Castle in northern Palestine, which became its headquarters. In 1244, however, this new order was almost wiped out by the forces of the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt at the battle of La Forbie, near Gaza. Jerusalem was also lost, and in 1271 Montfort fell to the new Mameluk rulers of Egypt and Syria. The Order moved its headquarters to Acre but it too fell in 1291, and these defeats effectively marked the end of the Teutonic Knights' power in the Middle East.
The knights headquarters were re-established in Venice under Conrad von Feuchtwangen who was elected Hochmeister or Grand Master.
In 1226, Conrad, the Polish Duke of Marsovia, in difficulty with constant raids over his territory by the heathen old Prussian tribes, invited the religious military order of the Teutonic Knights to conquer the Prussians. In return for the Order's service, Grand Master Hermann von Salza wanted to have its rights documented beforehand, by treaty, that was to be confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Roman Curia. Therefore:
- "Brother Konrad had offered and promised to furnish brother Herrmann, Honorable Master of the Holy Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem (Teutonic Order).. with the Culmensis Land between his march and the Prussians and equip them (T.O.) well, so they may take Preussenland (Terra Prussiae) in possession... we recognize the fact, that this land is included in the realm of the empire, we trust the judgement of the Master... we recognize all land in Prussia as an ancient right of the empire ...".
Conrad decided to make one last attempt at subduing the Prussians, and on the suggestion of Bishop Christian of Oliva, in 1228 Conrad founded his own Order of the Knights of Dobrzyń, for another Prussian Crusade - and was again defeated. In view of a now imminent Prussian invasion, Conrad signed the Treaty of Kruszwica in 1230, according to which he granted Chełmno province to the Teutonic Knights and the Order of Dobrzyń was incorporated into the Teutonic Order. By this donation, disclaiming any enfeoffment, Conrad acknowledged the forthcoming establishment of the State of the Teutonic Order. The Knights, under the command of Hermann Balk crossed the Vistula river and conquered Chełmno, erecting the castle of Thorn in 1231. In 1234, Pope Gregory IX issued the Golden Bull of Rieti, confirming Conrad's treaty with the Teutonic Knights, stating that the lands conquered by the Order were theirs, and were only subject to the Pope, and not a fief of any other monarch.