The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/27 – The Battle of Grunwald, Poland

In the year 1190, under the directions of the Duke of Holstein, pilgrims from Bremen and Lubeck established a hospital in Acre. The new hospital was named after the Blessed Virgin Mary, was erected in 1120-1128 and was under the jurisdiction of the Order of Saint John the Baptist. This new hospital was erected outside Saint Nicholas gate, made out of the timber and sails of the ships, which transported the Germanic crusaders to the Holy Land. In 1187, Saladin destroyed the hospital in Acre. The son of the Emperor Fredericke I, Barbarossa Fredericke and Duke of Swabia, mustered the military arm, which protected pilgrims arriving at the hospital. Although the physical hospital of Acre was destroyed, the crusaders and clerics that worked there, mostly Germans, were united under the auspices of a new military and hospitaller Order. In February 6, 1191, the ‘Teutonic Knights of Saint Mary’s Hospital’ was established by His Holiness Pope Clement III, confirming this body as the “Fratrum Theutonicorum Ecclesiae S. Mariae Hiersolymitanae” by the Bull ‘Quotiens Postulatur.’ The same privileges of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint John the Baptist, were granted and re-confirmed by Pope Honourius III to the Teutonic Order. The Virgin Mary was the Teutonic Order’s principal Patron Saint, followed by Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint George, the Roman Tribune. The Teutonic Order adopted the rule of the Knights of Saint John and borrowed military elements from the Templars; however, the Teutonic Order functioned completely independently of both the Templars and the Hospitallers.

Pope Innocent III in his Bull of February 19, 1199, called ‘Sacrosancta Romana’ confirmed the manner in which the Teutonic Order was constituted. The Order consisted of knights and priests. The noble knights vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience, to help the sick and pilgrims, and to fight the infidel enemy. The priests, who were not necessarily of aristocratic birth, were to; celebrate Mass and religious offices, in charge of administering the sacraments to the knights and the sick and to follow the knights in war, as to aid them in their spiritual needs. Their blue mantle, charged with a black cross, was worn over a white tunic; a uniform approved by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and confirmed by the Pope in 1211. The second hospital and first Teutonic house in Jerusalem was called ‘Saint Mary of the Germans’ and was soon conquered by the enemy. In 1229, during the Fourth Crusade the Teutonic Knights retook the house of Saint Mary, which they occupied till the year 1291 when the entire territory was re-captured by Islam.

The Teutonic Order found itself in Polish territory, invited there by the Polish Duke Conrad of Massovia. They assisted the Poles in repelling the Prussian pagans who threatened the North. When the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello embraced Catholicism and married the heiress of the Kingdom of Poland in 1386, paganism was vanquished and the German Teutonic Knights could in theory, be well pleased for this Polish conversion. However, the Order had acquired much land and did not desire to forfeit it, the Germanic Order’s ambitions became purely political. This period would witness a change in thought, as the knights were not protecting pilgrims in the Levant, nor fighting pagan Slavs (for they were now Catholic) the Order became more interested in keeping their territories and did not relinquish such lands to the Catholic Polish heirs. A war between Christian brothers was inevitable. In 1410, at the Battle of Tannenburg or Grunwald, the Poles finally defeated the Teutonic Order. Our Lady’s intercession in this event was crucial in bringing a just victory to the Poles. The defeated Order was at this stage bankrupt and reduced its political and military operations. In 1467, the whole of western Prussia was ceded to Poland. The Grandmaster’s residence at Marienburg was moved to Germany. Marienburg or Mary’s City, was a splendid palace immensely fortified and today is called Malbork, in Poland. The steady descent of the Order into loosing its ‘raison d’etre’ or ‘reason and purpose of existence,’ reached its zenith when the Grandmaster Albert of Brandenburg, abandoned the Faith and embraced the Lutheran heresy. The apostasy occurred in those troubled times during the Protestant reforms. The Teutonic Order, which fought the Islamic threat and the pagan Slavs, would now apostatize into heresy and disobedience to the Pope in Rome and the Latin Church. Nonetheless, the Teutonic Order had many representatives in most European Countries. A few centuries later, the Order gave assistance to Austria by sending one thousand Knights, to fight during the Siege of Vienna against the Ottoman troops.

In 1385, Lithuania entered into a union with the Polish Kingdom, and the following year the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vladyslav Jagiello, married the Queen of Poland and acceded to the Polish throne. He therefore became a Catholic, and changed his name to Wladyslaw Jagiello. Most of his Lithuanian subjects became Catholic too. In 1410, at the Battle of Grunwald, the Teutonic Order was under the command of the German Grandmaster Ulrich von Jungingen, while the Polish and Lithuanian Alliance were commanded by Ladislaus II or Wladyslaw Jagiello, the Polish King. On August 14, 1409, the Teutonic Grandmaster Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the Polish-Lithuanian State. The Teutonic Order intended to conquer Poland and create its own Teutonic Country. In the winter of 1409, throughout the lands of Poland and Lithuania, all the necessary preparations were made for the impending military conflict between Christians. Swords were sharpened and annealed, spears and pikes made, horses properly trained and shod, and armor was perfected. The Polish army received the assistance of 1500 pagan Tartar cavalrymen, who later fled before the mighty Teutons. The event of the fleeing Tartars, further proves the assertion that a victory against the Germanic Order would occur only through the miraculous aid of God, who does not need pagan Tartars to accomplish a victory. Bohemians, Moldavians, and a few Russians also aided the Lithuanian and Polish Alliance. The Teutonic Order was also marshalling an army consisting of Teutonic Knights from Germany, Prussia, Holland, Austria, France and England.

Initially, the German Grandmaster sent two envoys to negotiate peace on his exclusive terms and conditions. The Polish King listened patiently to the German heralds. Following their salutation the offer of the Teutonic Ulrich was forwarded. They presented him with two swords and said that these swords were the offer of the Grandmaster to the King, for him not to delay the battle any further and to stop hiding in the forest and groves. The Teutonic Army offered the Poles their base and camping site, this to allow the King enough comfort to organize his army, while the Teutonic Knights would retire. The King accepted the swords and with much humility and patience and with tears in his eyes said: “Even though I do not need the swords of my enemies, as I have in my army a sufficient amount, however, in the name of God, for securing greater help, protection and defense in my just cause, I accept these two swords brought by you and sent by the enemies who desire my blood and my destruction as well as that of my army. I will turn to Him as to the most just avenger of pride, which is unbearable, to His Mother, the Virgin Mary, and to my patrons and those of my Kingdom: Stanislaw, Albert, Waclaw, Florian, and Jadwiga, and I will ask them to turn their anger against the enemies, the proud as well as the wicked, who cannot be appeased and led to peace by any just manner, by any modesty, by any of my requests, if they do not spill blood, do not tear out entrails and do not break necks. Placing my trust in the most sure defense of God and His saints, and in their steadfast help, I am sure that they will shield me and my people with their might and intercession and will not allow me and my people to succumb to the violence of such horrible enemies with whom I strove for peace so many times. I would not be reluctant to conclude it even at this moment, if only it could be done according to just conditions. I would withdraw the hand extended to battle even now, although I see that heaven most clearly foretells my victory in battle by the swords you have brought me. I do not at all claim the choice of a battlefield, but, as becomes a Catholic and a Catholic king, I leave it to God, wishing to have whatever place of battle and whatever outcome of the war that God’s mercy and fate will determine for me today, hopeful that the heavens will put an end to the Teutonic relentlessness so that as a result, their wicked and unbearable pride will be defeated once and for all. For I am sure that heaven will support a more valid cause. On the field we tread, on which the battle will be waged, Mars, the mutual and just judge of war, will erase and humiliate the impudence of my enemies, which reaches to the skies.”(1)

The right wing of the Polish army moved slowly whilst singing ‘Ojczysta Piesn’ the homeland song invoking “Bogurodzica” or “God’s Mother” for help. The first to perform an attack was the Lithuanian commander, Duke Alexander, who was impatient and could not wait any longer. It was a rare sight, the clash of these two powerful armies fighting at close quarters. The clatter was so great that it was heard for miles around. Knight attacked knight, armor against armor and the coward was indistinguishable from the brave. When the spears were broken, the armies clung together so tightly; that the swords and axes could not be held properly. The Prussian force was successful at pulling down the Royal Polish standard of the white eagle, however, the Poles raised it once again and struck hard at the Prussians. Most of the Prussian leaders had fallen, but the Czech and the Teutonic forces pressed on, encouraging the Prussians in the process. Sixteen fresh units of Teutonic Knights entered the thick of battle, heading straight for the Polish King who stood alone with his body guard. The King immediately sent a messenger to one of his units, to speedily succor his person. The Knights, who were engaged in battle, did not go to the rescue. King Wladyslaw Jagiello himself desired to attack the enemy regardless of the fact that the number of his bodyguard was in comparison, relatively small. A German knight, Dypold Kokeritz of Ecber in Lusatia, Meissen, clad in full armor rode ahead of his Prussian regiment. He advanced to the Polish King and waved his spear, in an invitation for a dual. One of the King’s secretaries, Zbigniew, crashed his broken spear into the Prussian knight, who fell from his horse and was then struck by a blow on the forehead by King Wladyslaw. In return for his courageous stand, Wladyslaw Jagiello desired earnestly to knight his secretary straight on the battlefield. Zbigniew refused saying that he would rather serve Jesus Christ than any earthly King. The Polish King replied that if he were to win the battle, he would elevate the youth to the rank of a bishop. Zbigniew did eventually become the Bishop of Krakow and was acknowledged by Pope Martin V. The Teutonic Knights were made aware regarding the end of the Prussian, this discouraged the troops who initiated a slow retreat. The Poles attacked the fresh Teutonic units and defeated them, slaying most and capturing the rest. One Teutonic Knight, Jerzy Gersdorff, who carried the banner of Saint George in the Teutonic army, rather than shamefully escape fell to his knees and desired to be taken prisoner together with forty of his comrades. He placed the standard of Saint George at the King’s feet. The battle was over and the Poles were the victors. Within the Teutonic wagons, pine firebrands soaked with tallow and tar and arrows greased with tallow and tar were found. These were to be used to chase the fleeing royal Polish army. According to Jan Dlugosz, the secretary of the Bishop of Cracow on the Teutonic Knights, he commented: “In their delusion caused by pride, they were too eager to anticipate an outcome which rested in God’s hands, not leaving any room for God’s power. But according to God’s just verdict, obliterating their pride, the Poles were putting them in those fetters and chains. It was an event worth watching, and also surprising, when it comes to pondering matters concerning human fate, that the lords were put in their own fetters and chains, which they themselves had prepared, and the enemies’ wagons, amounting to several thousands, were plundered within a quarter of an hour by the king’s army, to such a degree that not a trace was left of them.”(2)

Jan Dlugosz also claimed that: “Some pious and humble men, who were allowed to see it by God’s mercy, saw in the air during the battle an illustrious man clothed in a bishop’s robes, constantly blessing the Polish army, as long as the battle went on and the victory was on the side of the Poles. It was believed that it was Saint Stanislaw, bishop of Cracow, patron of the Poles and the first martyr, thanks to whose intercession and help the Poles, as is known, won this famous victory… Fifty thousand enemies perished in that battle and forty thousand were taken prisoner. It was reported that fifty-one banners were taken. The victors became rich with the enemy’s booty. The road was covered with corpses for many miles, the soil was soaked with the blood of the dead, and the air was filled with the cries of the dying and of the moaning.”(3)

The Poles attribute the miraculous intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, as one of the reasons for their victory against the Germanic Teutonic Knights. Their songs of praise and veneration, ‘Ojczysta Piesn’ to “Bogurodzica” or “God’s Mother,” became the Polish Nation’s national anthem.




Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: