The Teutonic Knights - A Military History, William Urban

The Teutonic Knights - A Military History, William Urban

The Teutonic Knights are probably most famous for a defeat suffered late in their history, the battle of Tannenberg of 1410, a battle that has been greatly distorted by German and Polish nationalists over the years. The Teutonic Knights were the last of the major crusading orders to be formed, and although they were always associated with Germany (their formal name was the Order of the Hospital of St Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem, shortened to the German Order), they were originally formed to provide medical care in the Holy Land and only later moved to Prussia.

Urban looks at the foundation of the order, its battles in the Holy Land, and its first major commitment elsewhere, an unsatisfactory campaign in Transylvania, but its main focus is on the Baltic. This part of the book falls into two overlapping halves - the first with the Teutonic Knights crusading against the Pagan inhabitants of Prussia, Livonia and the surrounding areas and the second when their main enemies were the Christian kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania and the various early Russian principalities.

The Teutonic Knights are often portrayed in a rather negative light, either as an early manifestation of later German attempts to expand into the east, or as a barrier to the conversion of the pagans. Urban paints them in a rather more positive light, at least in the earlier part of their time in Prussia and Livonia, when he believes that their religious motivations were rather more genuine than many other authors. Although the defeat at Tannenberg had surprisingly little direct impact, it did change the nature of the organisation, and in the last few decades of its existence as a major power the order became increasingly divided and dependent on mercenaries. 

Urban has done a good job of relating the military exploits of the order, while at the same time examining the changing nature of their opponents, the development of Poland-Lithuania, the problems caused by the conversion of most of the pagans, the decreasing appeal of the crusade in the rest of Europe and the place of the Teutonic Knights in the wider Catholic church. This is an excellent study of an important and often misunderstood military order.

1 - The Military Orders
2 - The Foundation of the Teutonic Order
3 - War in the Holy Land
4 - The Transylvanian Experiment
5 - The War against Paganism in Prussia
6 - The Crusade in Livonia
7 - Territorial Rivalries with Poland
8 - The Lithuanian Challenge
9 - The Conversion of Lithuania
10 - The Battle of Tannenberg
11 - The Long Decline and the End in the Baltic
12 - The End in Livonia
13 - Summary

Appendix A: Major Figures in the History of the Teutonic Order
Appendix B: The Grand Masters to 1525

Author: William Urban
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 304
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2011 edition of 2003 original

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