15 July 1410, in Mazovia, 70 miles south of Gdansk and Kaliningrad, the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War climaxed in one of the greatest and consequential engagements of the Middle Ages, the Battle of Grunwald.
"You will tremble at my voice: Grunwald, swords, King Jagiełło! Armors were hacked while wind blew and howled; piles of corpses, piles of bodies, and a river of blood flowed!" (Stanisław Wyspiański, Wesele / The Wedding)
|Jan Matjeko’s epic painting “The Battle of Grunwald” from 1878|
There were crusades led against Constantinople, against Albigensians, Bogomils and Hussites, against pagan Wends, Finns and Balts, against enemies of the Papacy and one even against the Prussians, in 1234. After the Teutonic Knights got off the wrong foot as the unloved last-born of the great Military Orders founded in the Holy Land like the Knights Templar and Hospitaller and a first failed attempt of founding an order-state in Transylvania in 1225, they approached the task in the Baltics during the episode of the Northern Crusades known as “Preußenfahrt” with Teutonic precision. A hundred years later, the State of the Teutonic Order stretched along the coast of the Baltic Sea from Gdansk to the shores of Lake Peipus and the River Narva, some 100 miles west of modern St Petersburg, and was arguably the best organised, most profitable and advanced body politic in Northern Europe, rivalling the Italian City States. At the cost, though, of the subdued and forcibly baptised local peoples and the neighbours, prominently what was left of the principalities of Kiev and the Rus, the Lithuanian Princes and the King of aspiring Poland. Annexing their prosperous territories, converting them, just in case, to Catholic Christianity, cutting them off from trade and, in general, lording it over everyone and everything they got their hands on with their know-it-all and holier-than-thou attitude, the Teutonic Knights were not exactly popular in Northeastern Europe. And their military setbacks, against the invading Mongols at Legnica in 1241 and against Alexander Nevsky’s Novgorodians on the Ice of Lake Peipus a year later proved that they were not invincible. However, even the alliance of Lithuania and Poland could not seriously challenge the Order for 150 years. But the Teutonic Knights’ time had finally come, when King Władysław II Jagiełło and Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithunia finally managed to mobilise their followers en masse over the Order’s latest incursion into Dobrzyń Land northeast of the River Vistula in 1409.
|Wojciech Kossak (1856 - 1942): "The Battle of Grunwald" (1931)|
Alphonse Mucha, "Slavic Epic - After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs" (1924)
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