The Teutonic Knights
were members of the Teutonic Order
, a monkly order established in the twelfth century as hospitale sancte Marie Theutonicorum Jerosolimitanum
or the Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem. Originally founded to care for wounded German crusaders, it quickly grew in wealth and power to gain political influence within the Catholic Church.
In 1221, the Order was granted the same privileges as the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller by Pope Honorius. By this time, the Order's rapidly growing wealth and influence were recognized by many countries and the Knights were often invited to help subdue "pagan" uprisings. The term pagan was often applied by the ruler of a country to any group which opposed their rule as in the case of Hungary in 1211 and Achaia in 1250.
Some rulers found it difficult to evict the knights after they were invited to take part in the "baptism by fire and sword" of pagan groups. This was the case in Hungary where King Andrew II eventually threw out the order in 1225. In Achaia in the Peloponnesus, the Order remained firmly entrenched until almost 1500.
Although their knights were sworn to individual poverty by their vows as monks, the Order itself was quite wealthy and well-endowed by their crusading activities. When the Third Crusade came to an end at Acre in 1291, the Teutonic Knights began to look for new justification for their existance. They settled in Marienburg (Polish: Marbork) in 1309 at the request of the Polish Duke Conrad of Mazovia. They rapidly expanded their at first small territory through shrewd diplomacy and at times outright conquest. Much of this happened at the expense of their supposed benefactor. In 1360, to quell the border skirmishes which threatened to distract the Polish king Casimir III's attention from more pressing matters, Silisia and Pomerania were temporarily ceeded to the Order for the purpose of "baptizing the pagans."
With the marriage of Lithuanian Grand-Duke Wladislaw Jagiello to the 11-year old Polish Queen Jadwiga in 1385, and Jagiello's subsequent conversion to Catholicism, Lithuania formally accepted christianity and the Teutonic Knights were once again threatened with the loss of their holdings and mission.
By this time, the Order was a highly productive member of Hanseatic League and turned huge profits on the labors of their mostly Polish and Lithuanian subjects. As such, a perennial state of near-war existed between the Teutonic Knights and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1410 at the battle of Grunwald (German: Tannenberg), the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth defeated the army of the Teutonic Knights and their sponsors. It is reported that over 22 nations were represented on the side of the Teutonic Knights. This loss bankrupted the Order and in 1467 they were forced to ceed their lands along with western Prussia to Poland.
In 1525, Grand Master of the Order Albrecht von Brandenburg converted to Luthernism, effectively ending the order as a political entity.