Teutonic Order, a medieval military order modeled on the Hospitallers of St. John, which changed its residence as often as the latter. These residences, marking as many stages in its development, are: (I) Accon (Acre), its cradle in Palestine (1190-1309); (2) Marienburg, Prussia, the center of its temporal domination as a military principality (1309-1525); (3) Mergentheim in Franconia, which inherited its diminished possessions after the loss of Prussia (1525-1805); (4) finally, Vienna in Austria, where the order has gathered the remains of its revenues and survives as a purely hospital order. A Protestant branch likewise subsists in Holland.
(I) There was already a Teutonic hospital for pilgrims from Germany in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, with a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, who is still the patroness of the order and after whom the name Mariani is sometimes given to its members. But this establishment, which was under the jurisdiction of the Grand Master of St. John, was broken up at the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin (1187). During the Third Crusade German pilgrims from Bremen and Lubeck with the Duke of Holstein established a temporary hospital under the besieged walls of Acre; this was a large tent, constructed from the sails of their ships, in which the sick of their country were received (1190). After the capture of Acre this hospital was permanently established in the city with the cooperation of Frederick of Suabia, leader of the German crusade, and at the same time religious knights were attached to it for the defense of pilgrims. The Order of Teutonic Knights was founded and took its place beside the other two orders of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers and the Templars. As early as 1192 they were endowed by Celestine III with the same privileges as the Order of St. John, whose hospital rule they adopted, and as the Order of the Temple, from which they borrowed their military organization. Innocent III in 1205 granted them the use of the white habit with a black cross.
The emperors of the House of Suabia heaped favors upon them. Moreover, they took sides with Frederick II even after he had broken with the papacy and in opposition to the other two military orders. During the Fourth Crusade, when the gates of Jerusalem were for the last time opened to Christians, under the command of this emperor, the Teutonic Knights were able to take possession of their first house, St. Mary of the Germans (1229). But it was not for long and before the end of the century they left Palestine, which had again fallen under the yoke of Islam (1291).
(2) A new career was already open to their warlike and religious zeal, in Eastern Europe, against the pagans of Prussia. This coast of the Baltic, difficult of access, had hitherto resisted the efforts of the missionaries, many of whom had there laid down their lives. To avenge these Christians a crusade had been preached; a military order founded with this object, the Swordbearers (see Military Orders), had not been very successful, when a Polish duke, Conrad of Massovia, determined to ask the assistance of the Teutonic Knights, offering them in return the territory of Culm with whatever they could wrest from the infidels. Hermann of Salza, fourth Grand Master of the order, was authorized to make this change by Honorius III and the Emperor Frederick II, who, moreover, raised him to the rank of prince of the empire (1230). The knight Hermann Balk, appointed Provincial of Prussia, with twenty-eight of his brother knights and a whole army of crusaders from Germany began this struggle which lasted twenty-five years and was followed by colonization. Owing to the privileges assured to German colonists, new towns arose on all sides and eventually Germanized a country of which the natives belonged to the Letto-Slavic race. Thenceforth the history of this military principality is identified with that of Prussia (q.v.). In 1309 the fifteenth Grand Master, Sigfried of Feuchtwangen, transferred his residence from Venice, where at that time the knights had their chief house, to the Castle of Marienburg, which they made a formidable fortress.
The number of knights never exceeded a thousand, but the whole country was organized in a military manner, and with the constant arrival of new crusaders the order was able to hold its own among its neighbors, especially the inhabitants of Lithuania, who were of the same race as the natives of Prussia and, like them, pagans. In the battle of Rudau (1307) the Lithuanians were driven back, and they were converted only some years later, with their grand duke, Jagellon, who embraced Christianity when he married the heiress of the Kingdom of Poland (1386). With this event, which put an end to paganism in that section of Europe, the Teutonic Knights lost their raison d’etre. Thenceforth their history consists of incessant conflicts with the kings of Poland. Jagellon inflicted on them the defeat of Tannenberg (1410), which cost them 600 knights and ruined their finances, in order to repair which the order was obliged to have recourse to exactions, which aroused the native nobility and the towns and provided the Poles with an opportunity to interfere against the order. A fresh war cost the order half its territory and the remaining half was only held under the suzerainty of the King of Poland (Treaty of Thorn, 1466). The loss of Marienburg caused the transfer of the Grand Master’s residence to Konigsberg, which is still the capital of Prussia properly so-called. To maintain itself against the kings of Poland the order had to rely on Germany and to confide the office of Grand Master to German princes. But the second of these, Albert of Brandenburg (1511), abused his position to secularize Prussia, at the same time embracing Lutheranism (1525). He made Prussia an hereditary fief of his house under the suzerainty of the Crown of Poland.
Nevertheless, the dignitaries of the order in the remainder of Germany faithfully preserved its possessions, and having broken with the apostate chose a new Grand Master, Walter of Cronenberg, who fixed his residence at Mergentheim in Franconia (1526). After the loss of Prussia the order still retained in Germany twelve bailiwicks, which they lost one by one. The secession of Utrecht (1580) meant the loss of the bailiwick of that name in the Low Countries. Louis XIV secularized its possessions in France. The Treaty of Luneville (1801) took away its possessions on the left bank of the Rhine and in 1809 Napoleon abandoned its possessions on the right bank to his allies of the Confederation of the Rhine. The Teutonics retained only the bailiwick in the Tyrol and that in the Austrian States.
Thus the order became purely Austrian, under the supreme authority of the Emperor of Austria, who reserves the dignity of Grand Master for an archduke of his house. Since 1894 it has been held by Archduke Eugene. There are at present 20 professed knights who are bound to celibacy while they enjoy a benefice of the order, and 30 knights of honor who are not bound to this observance, but who must furnish an entrance fee of 1500 florins and an annual contribution of 100 florins. Moreover, their admission exacts a nobility of sixteen quarterings. The revenues of the order are now devoted to religious works; it has charge of 50 parishes, 17 schools, and 9 hospitals, for which object it supports 2 congregations of priests and 4 of sisters. Moreover, it performs ambulance service in time of war; it pays the cost of the ambulance, while lay Marians are engaged as ambulance bearers. Thus, after various vicissitudes the Teutonic Knights are restored to their original character of hospitallers. Besides this Catholic branch in Austria the order has a Protestant branch in the ancient bailiwick of Utrecht, the possessions of which have been preserved for the benefit of the nobility of the country. The members, who are chosen by the chapter of knights, must give proof of four quarterings of nobility and profess the Calvinistic religion, but are dispensed from celibacy. When Napoleon took possession of Holland in 1811 he suppressed the institution, but as early as 1815 the first King of the Low Countries, William I of Orange, reestablished it, declaring himself its protector.
The present order comprises 10 commanders, Jonkheeren, and aspirants (expectanten), who pay an entrance fee of 525 florins and have the right to wear in their buttonhole a small cross of the order.