BECK index

German Empire 1250-1400

by Sanderson Beck

Germany and the Empire 1250-1313
Germany under Ludwig and Karl IV
Austria 1250-1400
Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1250-1400
Teutonic Knights, Prussia, and Livonia

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
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Germany and the Empire 1250-1313

Friedrich II, Italy and German Empire 1197-1250

Improved agriculture and clearing of more land in Germany and the colonies, particularly by the Cistercians, had helped the producers’ harvests to double while population tripled between 1100 and 1300. Yet millions of acres of forests in western Europe were destroyed to increase land for crops and grazing and in using wood for industrial furnaces. A growing economy gradually improved the plight of most peasants as the villication system was replaced by tenant farmers growing their own crops. Peasants had to work for the lord about half the week, and to leave the manor they had to get the lord’s permission and pay a fee. By the end of the 13th century increased arable land and new markets had improved the agricultural economy.

Increasing trade and urbanization led to the development of merchant guilds in the 12th century as three annual fairs founded market places that expanded into towns and cities. As industry specialized, the merchant guilds were replaced by the guilds of craftsmen and artisans, who sold their products directly to consumers. The guilds regulated prices, set standards for wages and hours of work, controlled the quality of products, and promoted their business as well as providing other social benefits for their members and families. Apprenticeship in the home of a master might last from two to ten years until the rank of journeyman was achieved. Journeymen traveled to learn and gain experience. Journeymen could apply for guild membership by presenting a masterpiece and passing an examination. Then they could settle down, raise a family, and take an apprentice into their homes.

The example of the Lombard League gaining freedom for cities in northern Italy led to the Rhenish League by 1255 and the Swabian League in 1331. The Hanseatic League became the most prosperous. By the end of the 13th century they had ports at the mouths of the Elbe, Weser, Oder, and Vistula, and they had established markets in London, Bruges, Bergen, and Novgorod. The Hanseatic merchants monopolized the importing of herring and cod, and they shipped furs, amber, lumber, grain, and flax from Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Prussia to Bruges and London for wool, cloth, and minerals. Inland the merchants did business at the popular trade fairs. The medieval economy increasingly used coined money. The cities developed self-government and laws. A serf who escaped from a manor and lived in a city for a year became free and did not have to return to the former owner. Some German cities became free imperial cities while others negotiated their rights with a local prince. Gradually the craft guilds were represented in the city councils, which administered the government and justice.

The Béguines took vows of chastity and poverty and earned money by teaching, nursing, spinning, or sewing. Christian morality disapproved of usury, the collecting of interest on loans, and financial speculation was condemned by the Church councils at Lyon in 1274 and Vienne in 1311. So Jews and rationalizing Lombards acquired much wealth in the profitable business of money-lending. Resentment by Christians at the riches and land acquired by Jews in this way often resulted in persecution. One hundred Jews were burned in the synagogue at Munich in 1285.

In 1250 Friedrich II was succeeded by his son Konrad IV, who left Germany under his father-in-law Otto II of Bavaria and carried on the campaign in Italy; but he died in 1254. Willem of Holland married Elizabeth of Brunswick in 1252; after Konrad’s death he extended his power from the Rhineland as he was accepted by princes of the Rhenish league and northern Germany. Willem fought over Zeeland with Countess Margaret of Flanders but was killed while invading Friesland in 1256. Cornwall earl Richard, brother of England’s Henry III, bribed the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz with 8,000 silver marks each and promised the Wittelsbach count palatine of the Rhine an English princess with a dowry of 12,000 marks. With the approval of Bohemian king Ottokar II, Richard was elected emperor in January 1257; but three months later King Alfonso X of Castile sent 20,000 silver marks and was also elected by Archbishop Arnold of Trier, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg, and the devious Ottokar, though Alfonso never came to Germany to be crowned.

Disputes between the citizens and the bishops occurred in many cities. In 1252 citizens of Leipzig destroyed the Zwingburg of the despotic abbot of St. Augustin. In the largest city of Cologne, which had about 50,000 people, a long struggle went on when Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, who sided with Pope Alexander IV and was supported by Count Engelbert, tried to deprive cities of their privileges. After attacking Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and being imprisoned, the freed Archbishop next encroached on Cologne; his new currency was so unpopular that he had to flee to Bonn and raise fortifications. Archbishop Konrad’s siege of Cologne failed, and in 1258 he incited the large weaver guild to expel the burgher families. When Konrad died in 1261, he was succeeded by Engelbert, who garrisoned the city with mercenaries. A citizen named Eberhard von Buttermarkt persuaded the people to recall the burghers; they stormed the watchtowers of the new archbishop and freed the city in 1262, as Engelbert fled to Rome and had Cologne put under interdict. Failing to get the weavers against the burghers, Engelbert promoted dissension between prominent burgess families; but he was eventually imprisoned in an iron cage while an Aachen despot and his three sons were killed by butchers with axes.

In 1247 a citizen of Mainz called Arnold of the Tower had organized a movement against the heavy tolls on the Rhine and other exactions and robberies by the nobles which led to forming the Rhenish League. The archbishops, bishops, and nobles from Mainz, Cologne, Worms, Speyer, Strasbourg, Basel, and Metz gained more independence and formed a public peace treaty that spread in 1255 to the Rhineland, Westphalia, and to southern and northern Germany. When Jews of Halle were persecuted by Archbishop Ruprecht von Magdeburg in 1261, citizens protected them. Citizens of Wurzburg forced Bishop Tring to lift the interdict in 1265 and defeated his successor Berthold in a battle at Kitzingen in 1269. The citizens of Augsburg defeated Bishop Hartmann. By 1271 the League had sixty Rhenish and Swabian towns and had overcome several robber knights.

Bohemian king Ottokar II expanded his power by acquiring the duchies of Austria and Styria, which were recognized by Richard of Cornwall in 1262. He also gained territory east of the Rhine in 1266 and the duchy of Carinthia in 1269. Papal legate Gudeo presided over an assembly of prelates at Vienna in 1267 that confirmed the canonical laws of Pope Innocent III against the Jews. Christians were not allowed to associate with Jews, who were required to wear distinctive marks on their clothes and even a pointed hat. After Richard died in 1272, the princes to maintain their independence unanimously chose the less powerful Count Rudolf of Hapsburg as king, and papal diplomacy persuaded Alfonso to give up his claim. Ottokar denounced the election but was defeated and killed by the forces of Rudolf and the Bavarian Wittelsbach family in 1278. The duchies of Austria and Styria were given to Rudolf’s Hapsburg sons Albrecht and Rudolf II, though the princes blocked their election in 1287 and 1290. Albrecht was not trusted because of his extreme cruelty. When citizens of Vienna revolted against his tyranny in 1287, his siege starved them into capitulating to the loss of all their privileges; he also ordered some blinded and others mutilated.

In February 1284 the 67-year-old King Rudolf married 14-year-old Isabella, daughter of the late duke of Burgundy, to extend his territory. He was resented for trying to increase his power over the princes, and rebels claiming to be Friedrich II or Konrad arose. Dietrich Holzschuh led followers along the Lower Rhine; but those in northwest Germany supported the King, who seized the pretender and had him burned at Wetzlar. Rudolf’s loyal friend, Bishop Heinrich of Basel, was appointed archbishop of Mainz and primate of Germany. Count Florence of Holland had gained revenge against the West Frisians, who had killed his father Willem II, and then he invaded the bishopric of Utrecht. In 1287 Rudolf promulgated his Land Peace in German.

Brabant and Guelders came into conflict over the succession of the Limburg duchy, and on July 7, 1288 in the battle of Worringen the Brabantines led by Duke Jan won the duchy and captured Archbishop Siegfried of Cologne, Guelders, Nassau, and other lords and knights. He kept Siegfried a prisoner for a year before releasing him for a large ransom. King Rudolf maintained a large army and defeated the rebel Count Palatine Otto IV and French allies at Besançon in July 1289. Near the end of the year Rudolf went to Erfurt and suppressed the marauders of Thuringia. He held court, and princes came from all over Germany to pay him homage. Rudolf invested his son-in-law Wenceslaus II of Bohemia with the duchies of Breslau and Silesia, and he recognized Bohemia as an imperial elector. He went to Swabia in November 1290 but was too old to travel to Rome to be crowned emperor. In May 1291 he convoked a diet at Frankfort-on-the-Main, but he became very ill and went to the ancient city of Spires, where he died on July 15.

After King Rudolf’s death in 1291 Mainz archbishop Gerhard got his cousin, Count Adolf of Nassau, elected king. Adolf gave to the electors large concessions in money, especially to Archbishop Siegfried of Cologne. Seventeen days after Rudolf’s death, Swiss cantons in the Schwyz, Uri, and Nidwaldon valleys formed a federal pact to live by law instead of violence with mutual self-defense, though Albrecht of Austria defeated their coalition the next year. Zürich survived a siege, and the liberty of the Schwyz (recognized by Friedrich II in 1240) was confirmed by the Landrecht of 1294, which was renewed for the Uri and the Schwyz three years later by Adolf.  A famine in the Rhine valley in 1296 stimulated a revival of the flagellants.

King Adolf tried to expand his power by getting 30,000 marks from England’s Edward, and he promised to fight against France. This enabled him to purchase Thuringia in 1295, but he pillaged and robbed them and had to fight them for four years. Adolf also failed to keep many of his promises. In February 1298 Albrecht began marching an army of Austrians, Hungarians, and Bohemians from Vienna through Bavaria to Swabia, where many knights volunteered. Adolf did not respond to a summons, and on June 23 Gerhard and the electors charged him with devastating Thuringia, mistreating its priests, violating peace and law, committing perjury against princes and towns, and persecuting the Church. The electors found him guilty, and ten days later Albrecht’s army defeated and killed Adolf in a battle near Gollheim. On July 27 the Electors met at Frankfurt and elected Albrecht king of Germany.

However, Pope Boniface VIII excommunicated Albrecht as a rebel and proclaimed himself vicar-general. Albrecht I (r. 1298-1308) was crowned at Nuremberg and levied large fines on the cities of Franconia that had murdered Jews after an alleged desecration of the Christian wafer by one Jew. The fanatical Rindfleisch had Jews of Rottingen burned on April 20, 1298. The Jewish community in Wurzburg was wiped out on July 24. Jews in Nuremberg used arms to defend themselves but were slaughtered on August 1. The persecution spread from Franconia to Bavaria and Austria and affected 100,000 Jews that year. Albrecht kept Zürich out of the Swiss confederation. In 1299 Albrecht betrothed his oldest son Rudolf to Philip IV’s daughter Blanche and made a treaty with France, angering Archbishop Gerhard. Albrecht also abolished the tolls on the Rhine that had provided such wealth for the Archbishop and the ecclesiastical princes. When Jan, the last count of Holland, and his wife were poisoned in 1299, his cousin Jan II of Hainault claimed Holland and Zeeland. Albrecht summoned him to Nimwegen to justify this; but fearing a plot against his life, Albrecht retreated.

A revolt by Rhenish princes was joined by the count palatine Rudolf the Stammerer of Wittelsbach and by the house of Nassau led by Adolf’s brother, Archbishop Diether of Trèves. Albrecht proclaimed himself king of the Romans on October 14, 1300, but on April 13, 1301 Pope Boniface refused to recognize his authority and summoned Albrecht on the charge of murdering King Adolf. On May 7 Albrecht called upon the German people to assist him against the unlawful tolls on the Rhine and the exactions of the princes. Albrecht led his forces along the Rhine and in a year conquered the Palatinate, Mainz, Cologne, and Trèves, forcing the princes to submit. Albrecht sent a deputation to Rome in March 1302, and he offered to defend the Pope’s claims in his conflict with France. Boniface needed an ally and recognized Albrecht as king of the Romans on April 30, 1303. Albrecht promised to fight the Pope’s enemies, not to appoint an imperial governor in Lombardy and Tuscany for five years, and to be just to the defeated electors on the Rhine.

Albrecht invaded Bohemia in the autumn of 1304. Wenceslaus II died of tuberculosis in June 1305, and this was followed quickly by the murder of Wenceslaus III. Albrecht returned to Bohemia and got his son Rudolf elected king, but he died too in July 1307. His younger brother had to yield to Heinrich of Carinthia, who was elected king of Bohemia. Albrecht was preparing to suppress rebellions by the Swiss and others when he was assassinated at Baden in Aargau on May 1, 1308 by a conspiracy led by his young nephew, Duke Johann of Swabia, whose mother Agnes was the daughter of Ottokar and hated the Hapsburgs.

The electors chose Heinrich of Luxembourg on November 27, 1308, and Heinrich VII was crowned king at Aachen on January 6, 1309. He negotiated with Pope Clement V, who set February 2, 1312 as the date for his imperial coronation. On August 10, 1310 Heinrich took an oath to keep his promises to the Pope and to defend his rights and the interests of the Church. A deputation of Czechs at Frankfurt impeached their King Heinrich before Heinrich VII, who deposed him and on August 30 married his 13-year-old son Jan to the Bohemian princess Eliska. Heinrich of Carinthia entrenched himself in Prague, which was captured on December 19 as Heinrich fled to Tyrol. Then Jan of Luxembourg was crowned king of Bohemia. Duke Friedrich the Fair of Austria agreed to return Moravia to Bohemia.

Meanwhile Heinrich VII was on his way to Italy with an army that increased as he traveled to Turin, Asti, Novara, and Milan. There he was welcomed by the powerful Guido della Torre and was crowned king of Lombardy on January 6, 1311. Matteo Visconti persuaded the Della Torre to attack the Germans. Then Visconti treacherously sided with Heinrich; Guido fled as his castle was plundered and burned. This put the Germans on the side of Visconti and the Ghibellines against Della Torre and the Guelfs. Lombards rebelled against the King’s treachery and drove out his governors. When Cremona took in Guido and the Guelfs, Heinrich put it under the imperial ban. His army refused Cremona’s submission, executed the main rebels, banished hundreds, and destroyed its walls and gates and the houses of the rebels. Brescia was besieged from May to September while a plague decimated the German army. Heinrich’s beloved Queen Margaret died at Genoa. King Robert of Naples seized the castle of Sant’ Angelo in Rome. Avoiding the Guelf cities, the imperial army traveled by sea from Genoa to Pisa, where they were welcomed by Ghibellines on March 6, 1312.

The imperial army of 2,000 knights entered Rome on May 7, 1312. The Neapolitans refused to surrender, and fighting in the streets killed inhabitants and plundered and burned the city. Pope Clement V had refused to leave Avignon, and on June 29 Cardinal Nicholas of Ostia crowned Heinrich VII at St. John Lateran. Many German soldiers went home, and only 900 knights remained. The Pope reacted against Heinrich’s fighting the Neapolitans, threatening him with excommunication if he did not submit to his arbitration. Heinrich protested the challenge to this authority, but he released the prisoners and restored Roman towers and castles. He summoned King Robert to an imperial tribunal. Heinrich subdued Perugia and other Tuscan towns, but his siege of Florence failed. He convened a diet at Pisa, but Robert did not appear and was declared an enemy of the empire. Robert turned for help to Philippe IV and the French pope Clement, who forbade the Emperor to make war on Naples. Heinrich deposed Robert. Heinrich’s son Jan prepared to invade Italy with his army; but Heinrich had caught malaria, and he died on August 24, 1313. Some believed that a Dominican priest had poisoned him with the sacrament.

Germany under Ludwig and Karl IV

When tutelage over the young dukes of Lower Bavaria was granted to Friedrich, Duke Ludwig of Upper Bavaria challenged his cousin and defeated him in the battle of Gammelsdorf on November 9, 1313. In October 1314 the rival armies of Friedrich and Ludwig camped outside of Frankfurt, which closed its gates to both armies while the electors voted five to four for Ludwig over Friedrich. Ludwig of Bavaria was crowned at Bonn by the archbishop of Cologne, but a low-intensity civil war began. Ludwig recognized the Swiss confederation’s independence from the Hapsburgs in 1316; but he became discouraged in 1320 when Archbishop Peter of Mainz died. The Hapsburgs did not press their advantage until 1322 when Leopold invaded Bavaria from the west and Friedrich led a large force up the Danube. King Jan of Bohemia fought for Ludwig and attacked Friedrich at Mühldorf on September 28, 1322; Friedrich and 1,300 Austrian nobles were captured. Friedrich’s supporters abandoned his cause, and Ludwig wisely offered clemency. Ludwig gave the Mark of Brandenburg to his eight-year-old son Ludwig.

On October 8, 1323 Pope John XXII promulgated a bull that presumed his authority to judge the election of the emperors, and he summoned Ludwig on pain of excommunication. Ludwig published a vindication of his rights on January 5, 1324 at Frankfurt, but he was excommunicated on March 23. After three months clergy who still recognized him were suspended. The Pope continued to threaten Ludwig with punishments, and on May 22 Ludwig published his Appeal of Sachsenhausen in which he called for a general council. In theology he sided with the Franciscan Spirituals. Ludwig kept Friedrich a prisoner in Trausnitz castle until a treaty was signed on March 13, 1325 in which Friedrich recognized Ludwig as the legitimate ruler. However, Friedrich was not able to persuade his brothers or the electors, and so he returned to captivity at Munich despite the Pope’s releasing him from his oath. Ludwig renewed the friendship with his childhood companion and made Friedrich co-ruler of the empire. The Pope and electors objected to this, and in the treaty signed at Ulm on January 7, 1326 they agreed that Friedrich would rule Germany as king and that Ludwig would be crowned Roman emperor. They mollified Jan of Bohemia by giving him Silesia. Friedrich withdrew from the regency of the empire, and he ruled only Austria until his death on January 13, 1330.

In 1326 Pope John XXII instigated Poland and Lithuanians to invade Brandenburg, where they burned 150 villages. Ludwig went to Milan and received the iron crown in May 1327, and he restored the Visconti to get money for his troops. In Rome four Syndics of the People crowned Ludwig emperor on January 7, 1328. The Pope reacted by calling for a crusade against Ludwig. Three months later Ludwig proclaimed John XXII deposed, and he installed the Spiritual Franciscan, Pietro Rainalducci, as Pope Nicholas V. To avoid being stoned by the people, both Ludwig and Nicholas left Rome on August 4. Ludwig held court at Munich, where he was advised by the Franciscan leader Michele of Cesena and the philosophers Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham. Despite all this controversy most Germans accepted both Emperor Ludwig and Pope John.

When Benedict XII succeeded John in 1334, Ludwig tried to make peace with him; but the Pope demanded that he surrender all his imperial rights until they were vindicated by the Church. After Heinrich of Carinthia died on April 2, 1335, Ludwig gave Carinthia and southern Tyrol to the Hapsburgs and northern Tyrol to his sons. In July 1337 he agreed for money to provide 2,000 soldiers in alliance with Edward III against France, but Jan of Bohemia and the Hapsburgs sided with France. Despite the continuing interdict, on July 15, 1338 the German electors proclaimed that the king elected by a majority of votes could exercise sovereignty without confirmation by the Pope. In August a diet at Frankfurt approved two imperial ordinances. The first forbade anyone to obey the papal excommunications or interdicts, and the Licet iuris declared that the elected emperor needed no confirmation from anyone else. Ludwig ordered the clergy to perform regular services or face punishment. Ludwig met with Edward III at Koblenz and appointed him imperial vicar, but in March 1341 Ludwig made a treaty with France and withdrew the vicariate from Edward. France’s Philippe VI tried to mediate between Ludwig and Pope Benedict XII. In 1342 Ludwig imposed an annual tax of one florin on every Jew who had at least twenty florins.

Ludwig antagonized the princes of Germany. In Tyrol he annulled the marriage of Jan Heinrich of Luxembourg and Margaret Maultasch so that she could marry his son Ludwig of Brandenburg. Pope Clement VI brought new charges against Emperor Ludwig. When Ludwig’s brother-in-law, Count Willem of Holland, died childless in September 1345, he gave Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland to his sister, even though her sisters were married to Edward III and the margrave of Jülich. In April 1346 Karl (Charles) of Luxembourg went to Avignon and made major concessions to Pope Clement, and in July he was elected king of Germany. Karl’s father, Jan of Luxembourg, was the son of Emperor Heinrich VII, and they both went to fight for France. When Jan was killed at the battle of Crécy, Karl escaped and became king of Bohemia. Ludwig died while hunting in October 1347.

News of Ludwig’s death did not stop Karl from invading Bavaria with a large army. After plundering it they moved through Swabia and went down the Rhine to Mainz before going back to Bohemia. The Wittelsbach princes retained a few cities, but the rest submitted to Karl. Like his father Jan, Karl had spent much time at the French court and was cosmopolitan. He could speak and write Latin, French, German, Czech, and Italian. The electors delayed, and in January 1348 they offered the crown to Edward III of England. Karl promised that his subjects would be allowed to volunteer against France, and Edward declined the position. Ludwig’s sons turned to Friedrich of Meissen, but Karl defeated him easily. On January 30, 1349 they elected Günther of Schwarzburg against Karl, but he was recognized only around Frankfurt. Karl purchased some princes and cities, won over the Count Palatine by offering his daughter in marriage, and compelled Günther and his allies to accept the treaties of Eltville. Karl allowed Heinrich of Mainz to keep his temporal power and the Wittelsbach family their lands and rights. The elder Ludwig kept Tyrol and Carinthia. Günther agreed and soon died. Karl IV was elected at Frankfurt on June 17, 1349, and on July 25 the archbishop of Trèves crowned him at Aachen.

The bubonic plague known as the Black Death swept through Europe in 1349 and 1350, taking an estimated 25 million lives. Basel lost 14,000 people and Strasbourg and Erfurt 16,000. In Germany 124,434 Franciscans died in the plague. Fanatical Flagellants walked from town to town, lashing themselves with iron-spiked scourges, carrying crosses, and singing hymns. Each procession lasted 33 days, and the movement was expected to go on for 33 years. They blamed priests for their luxury and hypocrisy and believed absolution by the Church was inadequate. They taught that all men are equal before God and preached repentance, confessed, and forgave sins; but they persecuted Jews. Eventually they were declared heretics and enemies of society. Jews were accused of poisoning wells. Thousands of Jews were killed, and their property was confiscated. In Strasbourg 2,000 were burned in February 1349 and 400 at Worms in March. The Jewish quarter of Frankfurt was exterminated in July. A reported 6,000 Jews were killed in Mayence, and an entire community of 3,000 died in Erfurt. Margrave Ludwig of Brandenburg ordered all the Jews in Konigsberg burned and their goods confiscated.

After the flagellants were stopped in Cologne in 1357, not much more was heard of them in western Germany. A secret movement was led by the messianic Konrad Schmid in the 1360s in central and eastern Germany, and he claimed to be the king of Thuringia as the resurrected Friedrich. In 1353 Pope Innocent VI had appointed the first papal inquisitor in Germany to counter the Beghards. Pope Urban V appointed Emperor Karl’s chaplain, Walter Kerlinger, as inquisitor for Germany. He tried more than forty suspected heretics at Nordhausen and burned the seven, probably including Schmid, in 1368. An epidemic that year stimulated the flagellant movement that continued underground and sprang up from time to time for many decades.

Karl IV delayed going to Italy until September 1354. He kept the promises he had made to become king, and Cardinal Peter of Ostia crowned him emperor at Rome on Easter Sunday in 1355. He entered and left the city on that day and quickly went back to Germany. Many princes attended the Diet at Nuremberg in the winter of 1355-56. Karl announced a new currency, toll reductions, peace on rivers and highways, and new regulations for the royal elections. The election law was supplemented at the Diet at Metz in December 1356 and became famous as the Golden Bull. The electorates were declared hereditary, and no one could appeal their judgments to the emperor. The seven electors were the king of Bohemia, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg, the count palatine of the Rhine, and the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trèves. Future elections were to be held in Frankfurt, and no elector could bring more than fifty armed men. Karl even added the injunction that the sons of electors were to be taught Italian and Czech as well as German and Latin.

When Duke Albrecht II of Austria died in 1358, his successor Rudolf IV had five documents forged to confirm that Hapsburg lands were independent of the empire and indivisible. Karl had Petrarch exam them, and he declared them spurious; so the German diet rejected them. The count of Württemberg fought for Rudolf; but when Karl defeated him, Rudolf submitted and was pardoned. After Karl’s third wife Anna gave birth to Wenceslaus in 1361, Karl became more conservative about his power. The elder Ludwig died that year, and sixteen months later his son and heir Meinhard died. Meinhard had married Rudolf’s sister, and his mother was Margaret Maultasch, who gave Tyrol to Rudolf before retiring in Vienna. The Wittelsbachs objected, but their family wrangling led to Stephen taking Upper Bavaria in 1363. Ludwig the Roman and Otto owned Brandenburg and Lusatia, and they announced their intention to leave them to the house of Luxembourg. This induced Karl to occupy Brandenburg and Lusatia with his army and accept their homage. In February 1364 the treaty signed at Brünn made peace between the Luxembourgs, the Hapsburgs, and Hungary. If Karl and his brother Wenceslaus died without an heir, their land would go to the Hapsburgs. If the royal house of Hungary failed, the Hapsburg lands would go to the Luxembourgs. Tyrol was granted to the Hapsburgs.

The pious Karl visited Avignon in 1365 and was ridiculed for his devotion to the Church. He promised that a crusade could pass through Germany, and Alsace was ravaged up to the walls of Strasbourg. Karl tried to regain authority in Burgundy by having himself crowned at Arles. He wanted to go to Italy to prepare the way for the Pope’s return, but the Black Death returned to Germany in 1367. By the time Karl raised an army large enough, Urban was already in Rome. Karl’s expedition against the Visconti was a failure, and his subservience to the Pope appeared foolish. After receiving some revenues from Italian cities he returned to Germany in 1369. Urban went back to Avignon and died in 1370. His successor Gregory XI was Karl’s friend.

After Ludwig the Roman died in 1365, the weak Otto gave up the government of Brandenburg to Karl for six years. While the King was in Italy, the Brandenburg nobles led by Klaus von Bismarck expelled the royal council. When Karl returned, he came into conflict with Otto and his heir Friedrich. The King formed an alliance with Swabian cities (a violation of the Golden Bull) and invaded Brandenburg. Otto and Friedrich had made an alliance with Hungary, but Karl arranged a marriage between his son Sigismund and King Lajos’s daughter Mary. The Wittelsbach princes lacked support, and in August 1373 they ceded Brandenburg to the house of Luxembourg in the treaty of Fürstenwalde. Otto was allowed to keep several cities and castles for the rest of his life, and Friedrich was given the money that Karl made the cities of southern Germany pay for their lack of support in the war. In 1372 Swabian cities had rebelled against Karl’s Landfriede (Public Peace), and his judgment demanded large sums from them to pay for the war in Brandenburg.

Karl IV used diplomacy to get his son Wenceslaus elected king while he was still alive, and he was chosen at Frankfurt on June 10, 1376 and then crowned at Aachen. Fourteen Swabian cities reacted by forming a league for mutual defense against anyone threatening them with new taxes. Karl laid an imperial ban on them and attacked Ulm; but his force was repelled, and he left the war to the southern princes. In 1377 the league defeated Ulrich, the son of the count of Württemberg, in the battle of Reutlingen. The imperial vice-regent Wenceslaus made peace at Rotenburg and guaranteed the cities the right to unite in defense. The next year Karl ended the war between the league and Württemberg to the cities’ advantage. On November 29, 1378 Karl died at Prague.

Karl’s son Wenceslaus became king of Bohemia at age seventeen. He was called Wenzel by Germans and continued his father’s building and patronage of literature. At the Frankfurt Diet in February 1379 he and the Rhenish electors called upon the people to adhere to Pope Urban VI, but Count Adolf of Nassau was named archbishop of Mainz by schismatic Pope Clement VII and supported him. The electors of Cologne, Trèves, and the Palatinate met at Ober-Wesel in January 1380 and condemned the opponents of Urban. They wrote to Wenceslaus asking him to govern the empire or resign; but he accepted Adolf and did not punish him.

Princes supported by lesser nobles tried to get the prosperous towns to accept princely government and taxation, but in 1381 the leading towns of Swabia and the Rhineland formed leagues and tried to ally themselves with the Hanseatic League and the Swiss cantons. Against the league of Swabian cities confederations of knights formed the Company of Horners in Hesse, the Falconers in Westphalia, the League of St. George in Franconia, the League of St. Wilhelm in south Germany, and the famous League of the Growling Lion in the region between the Rhine, Lahn, and Main. To counter these leagues the princes formed an alliance at Nuremberg in 1383. At an assembly at Heidelberg in July 1384 Wenceslaus mediated a truce between the town leagues and the Nuremberg alliance. In February 1385 the Swabian town-league formed an alliance with four Swiss cantons. Wenceslaus relieved Leopold of his imperial office over Upper and Lower Swabia in August 1385 because of his adhering to Avignon.

In 1386 Leopold and Swabian nobles tried to regain the town of Sempach from the Swiss; but they were defeated, and Leopold and 656 nobles were killed. The next year the King’s deputies were able to extend the truce for three more years. Then Archbishop Pilgrim of Salzburg, an ally of Swabian towns and an agent of the King, was imprisoned by the Wittelsbachs Stephen, Friedrich, and Ruprecht the younger of the Palatinate. The war spread from Swabia to Franconia. Eberhard of Württemberg defeated the Swabian league at Döffingen, and the Palatine elector Ruprecht defeated the Rhenish league near Worms. In 1389 the Swiss gained an advantageous peace from the Hapsburgs, and on May 5 Wenceslaus during the Reichstag at Eber was able to promulgate a Public Peace for southern Germany. General leagues were banned, but the towns could go to regional courts of arbitration composed of two princes, two citizens, and a president appointed by the king.

In 1390s Wenceslaus was busy with conflicts in Bohemia with the nobles and clergy. He liked to hunt and turned to drinking. Karl’s son Sigismund had inherited Brandenburg in 1378; but after he became king of Hungary in 1387, his cousin Jost became the margrave of Brandenburg. They supported the discontent, and in 1394 they even imprisoned Wenceslaus in Vienna until he escaped. Rhenish electors governed in the west, and Wenceslaus’s investiture of Milan’s ruler Gian Galeazzo Visconti as duke in 1395 was not accepted. In 1398 Wenceslaus proclaimed a Public Peace at the Diet of Frankfurt, but it had little effect. The King went to Rheims and met with the mad Charles VI, and they called for the resignation of both Popes.

The Rhenish electors and other princes summoned the Estates at Ober-Lahnstein. They waited ten days for Wenceslaus to appear and charged him with selling Milan to the Visconti, Genoa and other portions of the imperial domain to the French, selling blank letters patent for offices, granting immunity to robbers, mistreating prelates and nobles, allying with Poland against the Teutonic knights, wasting imperial revenues in Bohemia, destroying the University of Prague, indulging in debauchery and drunkenness, and neglecting the administration of the empire. Annual revenues from all Germany’s royal possessions had fallen to an average of 30,000 florins. When Wenceslaus failed to show up, they deposed him on August 20, 1400, and the next day they elected Ruprecht III of the Palatinate. That day 77 Jews were executed.

German Empire 1400-1517

Austria 1250-1400

Eastern Europe 1095-1250

When his father Albrecht (Albert) IV died about 1239, Rudolf inherited upper Alsace, the Aargau, and the Breisgau, and he became the count of Hapsburg. He extended his domains by marrying Gertrude of Zollern-Hohenberg-Haigerloch about 1245. Rudolf supported Emperor Friedrich II and his son Konrad IV. In 1253 Rudolf led a group of knights in a midnight attack on the city of Basel that set fire to a nunnery, for which Pope Innocent IV excommunicated him. Rudolf repented, and in 1254 he joined the Teutonic Order in a crusade against the Prussian Sambians. Turmoil in Germany enabled Rudolf to increase his land holdings. He was chosen as a leader in Swiss cantons and Zurich. He attacked Basel again and negotiated a peace.

After the death of Friedrich II in 1250, Ottokar as margrave of Moravia led an army into Austria and was welcomed by some Austrian nobles and the clergy in 1251. Ottokar II (r. 1253-78) became king of Bohemia and made a treaty with Hungary’s Bela IV that recognized Ottokar in Austria and Bela in Styria; but in 1258 Styrian nobles revolted and were supported by Bohemia. Two years later the Hungarians were defeated, and Styria was ceded to Bohemia. Ottokar inherited Carinthia in 1269, and in 1271 Ottokar’s governor in Styria, Ulrich von Durrenholz, conquered Carniola and became captain of Friuli.

In 1273 the electors made Rudolf king of the Germans, and he was crowned on October 24 at Aachen. The next year Pope Gregory X recognized Rudolf, who renounced imperial rights in Rome and promised to lead a crusade. King Rudolf summoned Ottokar to the imperial diet in 1274, challenging his Babenberg inheritance of Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola; but Ottokar refused to recognize Rudolf, whom he called “a poor count of Hapsburg.” The Diet condemned Ottokar for holding the fiefs illegally and authorized Rudolf to enforce their judgment. Rudolf had gained the support of Ludwig II of Bavaria by marrying his daughter Matilda to him, and on December 20, 1274 Rudolf’s son Albrecht married Elizabeth, daughter of Count Meinhard II of Tyrol. The Lichtensteins and other wealthy Styrians met at the Rein monastery and swore loyalty to Rudolf on November 19, 1276. Rudolf’s army besieged Vienna, and on November 26 Ottokar signed a treaty relinquishing the fiefs, accepting a double marriage between their children with the dowry of the northern part of Austria extending his Bohemian kingdom.

Ottokar’s queen Kunigunda urged her husband to fight back, and he gathered allies from Poland, Saxony, and Bavaria. Rudolf organized his Austrian and Styrian knights and was aided by soldiers from Hungary’s Ladislaus IV. The armies met in the Marchfeld at Dürnkrut on August 26, 1278. Ottokar was killed and defeated as 14,000 men died. Rudolf granted Bohemia to his seven-year-old son-in-law Wenceslaus II, who was Ottokar’s heir, but Margrave Otto IV of Brandenburg ruled as regent. Rudolf was to hold Moravia for five years so that its revenues could pay for his war expenses. Queen Kunigunda retained only the province around Prague. Rudolf governed Austria himself and resided in Vienna. In December 1282 at the Diet of Augsburg he granted Styria and Austria to his sons Albrecht and Rudolf, and in 1286 he granted Carinthia to Duke Meinhard of Tyrol. That year Rudolf launched a new persecution of the Jews, and the famous Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg left Germany and was imprisoned in Alsace, where he died seven years later. Rudolf asserted the right of the monarch to tax the cities. He was not crowned emperor because he would not risk traveling to Italy. Rudolf died at Speyer on July 15, 1291. Austria would be a possession of the Hapsburgs until 1918.

Albrecht I (r. 1291-1308) had gained experience governing with his father, but he was not elected to succeed him as king of Germany. He made a treaty with Andras of Hungary on August 26, 1291 and gave him his daughter Agnes in marriage. Albrecht crushed rebellions by the Styrians in 1292 and by Austrian nobles in 1295-96. In June 1297 Albrecht persuaded four of the electors to summon German king Adolf to answer charges. When Adolf refused to appear, the Diet deposed him on June 23, 1298. Then Albrecht’s army defeated and killed Adolf at the battle of Gollheim. Albrecht was elected at Frankfurt on July 27 and crowned Albrecht I at Aachen on August 24. He had seven sons and five daughters. He urged princes to enforce the laws against private warfare, and he protected peasants and the persecuted Jews. In 1299 he made a treaty with Philippe IV of France, and that year Albrecht tried to seize Holland and Zeeland but failed.

In 1303 Pope Boniface VIII recognized Albrecht as king of Germany. After King Wenceslaus III died, Albrecht’s son Rudolf was elected king of Bohemia on April 1, 1306. Rudolf imposed heavy taxes, looted the churches, and persecuted the complaining bishop of Prague. When they revolted, he gathered an army and besieged the fortress of Horazdovitz. At the age of 22 Rudolf died of dysentery in July 1307. When Tobias of Bechyn proposed Albrecht’s son Friedrich to replace him, Ulrich of Lichtenburg and the local nobles killed Tobias and two other Austrian leaders, putting Heinrich of Carinthia on that throne. Also in 1307 Albrecht invaded Thuringia, but he was defeated at Lucka. While marching to suppress a revolt in Swabia, Albrecht was murdered on May 1, 1308 by his nephew Johann of Swabia and assassins. Johann escaped to the mountains and went to Italy disguised as a friar. He confessed to Pope Clement V, who turned him over to Emperor Heinrich VII. Johann was called “the Parricide” and was held in a convent at Pisa until he died in 1313.

Albrecht’s sons Friedrich and Leopold were governing Austria and Styria together and continued to do so after their father’s death. They went after the murderers and came into conflict with the Swiss in 1315 at Morgarten and were defeated. When Emperor Heinrich VII of Luxembourg died in 1314, Friedrich and Ludwig II of Bavaria vied for the German crown, resulting in a war that lasted eight years until Ludwig’s forces defeated and captured Friedrich and 1,300 nobles at the battle of Mühldorf on September 28, 1322. Leopold continued to fight. In the Treaty of Trausnitz signed on March 13, 1325 Friedrich renounced the imperial crown; but when he could not persuade his brothers, he returned to Munich as a prisoner. Ludwig offered to let Friedrich govern Germany with him; but after Leopold died on February 28, 1326, Friedrich withdrew to rule only Austria until his death on January 13, 1330.

Albrecht II of Austria (r. 1330-58) was called “the Wise” and “prince of peace” for his skilled diplomacy except in relation to the Swiss. He was also called “the Lame” because he suffered from paralyzed legs. In August 1330 Albrecht and his brother Otto made peace with Ludwig II at Hagenau. By renouncing the German crown in 1335 Albrecht acquired Carinthia and Carniola from Ludwig of Bavaria. That year Albrecht mediated a conflict between Pope Benedict XII and Emperor Ludwig, and two years later he aided France’s Philippe VI in his struggle against Ludwig and King Edward III of England. Albrecht’s daughter Margarete married Count Meinhard III of Tyrol, and upon his death in 1365 Austria acquired Tyrol. After Ludwig died in 1347, Albrecht supported his successor Karl (Charles) IV of Luxembourg. Austria suffered from the Black Death in 1348 and 1349 when Vienna lost 40,000 people.

Although Zurich desired independence, the Austrians used force to bring it into the Helvetic Confederacy in 1351. Albrecht tried to make amends by rebuilding and paying people for their losses. When the burghers refused to submit, he besieged the town with 16,000 men. The conflict was mediated by Albrecht’s sister Agnes, the queen of Bohemia; but a dispute broke out over the release of Johann of Hapsburg. The Forest Cantons came to their defense and defeated the Austrian army. In 1352 Albrecht gathered a force of 30,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry and besieged Zurich again. The elector of Brandenburg mediated a complicated treaty. More disputes arose, and Albrecht appealed to Emperor Karl IV, who was perceived as siding with Austria. Many of Albrecht’s allies left, but he allowed the Hungarians to ravage the area. Karl presented a deceptive award which Zurich accepted, but which the Swiss refused to ratify. Finally Albrecht went back to Vienna in despondency. His son Rudolf, who ruled Swabia, agreed to an armistice for eleven years. Albrecht devised rules of succession for Austrian lands and gave constitutions to Styria and Carinthia. While Germans were persecuting Jews, Albrecht protected them in Austria. In 1355 he declared his four sons equal heirs and urged them to “remain united through brotherly love.” Albrecht II died in July 1358, and his body was buried at the Carthusian monastery he had founded in 1332.

Upon Albrecht’s death his oldest son Rudolf IV was only 18, and so he ruled without his brothers. He promulgated the Privilegium majus, which has been called a “patriotic forgery” that invented a tradition for Austrian independence. His father-in-law Emperor Karl IV refused to accept this, ordered the seal of the Austrian chancellery destroyed, removed him as grand bailiff of Alsace, supported the Swiss against him, and refused to grant him Tyrol. However, Rudolf annexed Tyrol in 1363. He reformed Austria’s fiscal system and reduced the feudal lords’ power over the towns by developing municipal liberties. He reorganized the guilds in Vienna, created the bishopric there, and founded the University of Vienna shortly before his death in 1365.

Albrecht III was 15, and his brother Leopold III was 14 when they began ruling Austria together in 1365. In 1369 the Wittelsbachs sold their claim on Tyrol to Austria. In 1379 Austria was divided with Albrecht III receiving Lower Austria and Leopold III ruling Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and part of Tyrol. In 1382 the Austrians protected Trieste from Venice and acquired its domain. However, on July 9, 1386 Leopold was killed fighting the Alemmanic Swiss at the battle of Sempach. The war went on until 1388 when a truce began, which in 1394 Leopold IV extended for twenty years. Leopold III was succeeded by Wilhelm (r. 1386-1406), Leopold IV (r. 1386-1411), and Friedrich IV (r. 1402-39). When the capricious tyranny of Wenceslaus (Vaclav) IV provoked a civil war in Bohemia, Albrecht intervened on behalf of the nobles; but he became ill and died on August 29, 1395. He was succeeded by Albrecht IV (r. 1395-1404).

German Empire 1400-1517

Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1250-1400

The cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden had a long history of independence until opening the St. Gotthard Pass increased the value of the route to Italy. Uri came under the authority of the Emperor in 1231 but had the right to appoint its own magistrate. In 1240 Emperor Friedrich II granted the same right to Schwyz and Nidwalden. Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne formed an ancient confederation. Lucerne submitted to the Hapsburgs in 1244, and the others did in 1252. Bern and other towns were set up by feudal families for defense, trade, and administration. The Hapsburg, Savoy, and Kyburg families survived; but in 1264 most of Kyburg was taken over by Rudolf of Hapsburg. When Peter II of Savoy died in 1268, Rudolf obtained Freiburg and forced Bern to submit. Rudolf was elected king of Germany in 1273 and imposed burdensome taxes throughout his domains. In 1289 Schwyz lent men to Rudolf at the siege of Besançon for the guarantee they would remain independent. When he died in 1291, those in the Forest Cantons began a resistance movement and revived the confederation. The three cantons promised each other mutual help against aggression, and conflicts were to be settled by arbitration. Judges in their courts had to be natives of the valley and could not buy their offices. All the inhabitants over the age of fourteen except bondsman were allowed to participate and vote.

On October 15, 1291 Uri and Schwyz made a three-year alliance with Zurich, and they joined Constance, Lucerne, and Swabian and Burgundian princes to oppose the claims of Rudolf’s son Albrecht. In 1292 he defeated them, but his siege of Zurich failed. The men of Schwyz confirmed their liberty in the Landrecht of 1294, and in 1297 King Adolf of Nassau renewed the exemption that Friedrich II had given Uri and Schwyz. Bern defeated the Austrians at Dornbühl in 1298, but Albrecht II (r. 1298-1308) reimposed Austrian taxes and administration. However, his successor, Emperor Heinrich VII, confirmed Unterwalden’s liberties and freed the three cantons from all external jurisdiction except the imperial courts. The Austrian dukes continued to make their claims.

After Heinrich’s death in 1313, the men of Schwyz led a revolt against the Austrians by pillaging the monastery of Einseideln on January 6, 1314 and by supporting Ludwig of Bavaria in the struggle for imperial power against Albrecht’s son Friedrich the Handsome. Austria subdued the towns of Zurich, Bern, Glarus, Bernese Oberland, and Lucerne. Duke Leopold led an invasion, but the Austrians were routed on November 15, 1315 in the narrow pass of Morgarten on the Schwyz frontier; Leopold fled, leaving on the field more than 1,500 men. This defeat caused the Count of Strasbourg to retire from an invasion of Unterwalden. The Swiss infantry armed with halberds had defeated the feudal cavalry. The pact of Brunnen on December 9, 1315 formed a federal union of three states and prohibited any foreign alliance without permission of the confederates. In 1316 Ludwig confirmed the liberties of the three Forest Cantons, and on March 1, 1317 he appointed a native of Uri imperial bailiff of Leventina and Urseren, opening the pass. Duke Leopold agreed to a truce with the Forest Cantons on July 19, 1318 that lasted with a few interruptions until the end of the century.

On November 7, 1332 the burghers of Lucerne formed a perpetual alliance with the peasants of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. In 1336 the artisans in craft guilds took power away from the nobles in Zurich. In 1339 the nobles of Freiburg challenged the power of Bern, but on June 21 Bernese troops assisted by men from the Forest Cantons defeated the coalition of nobles near Laupen. Bern had made an alliance with the Forest Cantons in 1323 and renewed it 1341. During the plague of 1348 many Jews in the region of Lake Geneva were burned at the stake. After an attempted coup by the Zurich aristocrats failed in 1350, Zurich joined the Swiss alliance on May 1, 1351. Austria besieged Zurich in 1351, 1352, and 1355. The men of Glarus fought off an Austrian army at Nafels in 1352 and were admitted into the alliance with Zurich and the Forest Cantons. On June 23, 1352 the burgesses of Zug took over their town and joined the alliance. On September 14 Margrave Ludwig of Brandenburg mediated a truce between Austria and the Swiss Confederation. Bern formed an eternal alliance with the three Forest Cantons on March 6, 1353, though it retained its alliance with Austria. Zurich had to relinquish its conquests when it agreed to the peace of Ratisbon with Austria in 1355.

On March 31, 1361 Emperor Karl IV confirmed the new privileges of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. The three conquered Zug in 1364 or 1365 but continued to pay dues to Austria. On March 7, 1368 the knight Peter of Torberg prevented war by persuading Austria to relinquish Zug to the Confederation. On October 7, 1370 six cantons without Bern and Glarus signed the Priests’ Charter (Pfaffenbrief) that made clergy and laity subject to the same laws, prohibited unauthorized military expeditions, and made majority votes binding. In 1393 eight cantons including Bern and Solothurn established laws of war that controlled looting; protected women, children, and church property; and repudiated deserters.

In 1375 Duke Leopold III of Austria asked for help against French and English incursions, but only Bern and Zurich agreed to a defensive alliance. When Enguerrand de Coucy invaded Lower Aargau, they expelled the pillagers in three battles at Büttisholz, Ins, and Fraubrünnen. De Coucy retreated in the spring of 1376, but people resented the devastation of the country by the Hapsburgs. Nonetheless the truce of Torberg was extended to 1387. On November 10, 1382 Count Rudolf of Kyburg tried to end his lawsuits by attacking Solothurn, whose allies, the Bernese, asked for help from the Forest Cantons. The Kyburgs were forced to surrender Burgdorf and Thun to Bern.

After Duke Leopold inherited territory in 1379 and tried to assert his authority, Bern, Zurich, Zug, and Solothurn joined a union of Swabian and Rhenish towns in 1385. On December 28 the men of Lucerne took over the Austrian fortress at Rotenburg, and in the spring of 1386 the Forest Cantons helped them free Entlebuch and destroy Peter of Torberg’s castle at Wolhusen. The Swabian towns made a truce with Austria on July 17, but the confederates withdrew from the Swabian league. Duke Leopold led an army of mercenaries and knights in Aargau, destroyed Willisau, and moved on Sempach, an ally of Lucerne. At Meierholz they encountered 1,500 men from Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. Leopold and many of the knights were killed by the peasants. The men of Zurich and Glarus took Wesen in the north, and on August 11 Bern went to war against Freiburg. The army of Leopold’s brother, Duke Albrecht III, attacked Wesen and the barricades in the valley. The mountaineers and the Schwyz at Nafels drove them back, and the confederates went on the offensive at Rapperswil, Büren, and Nidau until the Swabians mediated a truce that was ratified by Albrecht and lasted until April 23, 1396. All the confederates agreed on July 10, 1393 to the Covenant of Sempach, which established discipline, apportioned booty, suppressed pillage, and prohibited military action that was not in defense of justice. When Zurich also made treaties with Austria, burgesses rose against the Austrian faction. This led to a 20-year peace agreement between Austria and the Confederation on July 16, 1394 that confirmed freedom of trade and arbitration.

Swiss Cantons and Confederation 1400-1517

Teutonic Knights, Prussia, and Livonia

German Empire 1095-1152
Germany’s Friedrich and Heinrich VI 1152-1197
Friedrich II, Italy and German Empire 1197-1250

In the 12th and 13th centuries the German empire had grown through colonization in the northeast and by increase in population. Orders of knighthood had been formed as the age of chivalry reached its peak in the colonial crusades as well as those to free the holy land. Sons of aristocrats served as pages in the castle of their father’s liege lord. Military training began at age 14 and lasted seven years with sports and games such as running, jumping, swimming, wrestling, fencing, archery, riding, and hunting. Tournaments were ceremonial sports to impress ladies; but the brutal combats often ended in death. The virtues of the knight were discipline, self-control, moderation, courage, perseverance, and loyalty. They were expected to fight for the Church and the oppressed poor while defending widows, orphans, and pilgrims. Traveling merchants might be defended by virtuous knights or robbed by vicious ones. Castles were built to make the knights invulnerable, and their increasing body armor had the same objective.

The Order of Teutonic Knights was founded at Acre in 1190 and was given special privileges by Friedrich II in 1226. Friedrich regularly supported the Teutonic Order. Their crusade into Prussia began in 1230, and in 1237 a papal bull approved uniting the Livonian Order with the Teutonic Order. Otto of Brunswick helped knights conquer the tribes by building castles at Kreuzburg, Bartenstein, and Rössel by 1241. Sventopelk of Pomerania attacked Prussia and raised a widespread revolt that killed Germans. Only Pomezanians remained loyal to the German settlers. A reported 40,000 Christians died in Kulmerland. Varmians, Natangians, and Bartonians drove Germans out of the north except from Elbing and Balga. Prince Sventopelk made peace in 1243 and 1248, but war broke out again until 1253.

Pope Innocent IV in 1245 granted full indulgences for all those who went to Prussia. In the next five years the Landmeister Grüningen conquered the Kurs in East Prussia. His successor Struckland made the Zemgals pay tribute and even fought Lithuanians. He built the town of Memel on the Tange in 1252 to prevent Kurs from getting weapons from the Sambians. In 1254 the Bohemian king Ottokar, the Hapsburg Rudolf, and Otto of Brandenburg led more than 60,000 crusaders from Elbing to Balga and regained Varmia, Bartonia, and Natangia and even conquered the Sambian peninsula, founding the town of Königsberg.

In 1260 the Prussian Brothers faced a revolt that slaughtered many in their colonies. That year Lithuanians defeated the Livonian army at Durben and killed the Landmeister, the Marshal of Prussia, and 150 knights. The Kurs revolted, and Mindaugas and his Lithuanians invaded Livonia as far as Pernau. Russians plundered Ugenoi, and the Osilians rebelled in Estonia. These events inspired more Sambians to revolt against the Germans. Then the Danes subdued Est, and the Kurs were defeated. The Lithuanians suffered losses at Dünamünde and before Wenden. Alexander Nevsky died in 1263, and the Lithuanian leaders Tautvilas of Polatsk and Mindaugas were also killed that year. The Order defeated the Zemgals and built Mitau. The rebellion lasted thirteen years, and Germans adopted the policy of exterminating Prussian rebels. By 1263 most of the Sambians had been destroyed. The natives were reduced to serfdom.

Pope Urban IV had been trying to organize a crusade against the Mongols but now was asking men to take the cross to save the Order in the north. Their forts were relieved by the duke of Brunswick and the landgrave of Thuringia in 1265, and the next year Otto named a castle Brandenburg. The margrave of Meissen won victories in 1272, and the next year the Varmians and Natangians made peace, followed by the Bartonians. The central region had been subjugated by 1277, exterminating the stubborn Pogezanians and subduing the Nadrovians, Skalovians, and Sudavians, who settled in Sambia. The Yatwingians were devastated in 1283, and by then only 170,000 natives remained in Prussia. That year one leader brought 1,500 warriors to live under the Order, and Skurdo took the rest to Lithuania. Revolts attempting to arouse external enemies in 1286 and 1295 both failed. Prussia gave the Teutonic knights an additional base to add to their many bailiwicks in Germany and Italy. The Germans colonized Prussia with fortified towns for peasants and burghers who came from Strasbourg in 1285 and other towns in the first half of the 14th century. However, they failed to educate the indigenous Prussians in the rights of citizens, and many plotted revolts.

In the 14th century fighting in Prussia continued using guerrilla tactics, and both sides committed atrocities. Lithuanians would burn captured knights in their armor, and the knights plundered and massacred the inhabitants. The Teutonic Order battled the Poles from 1326 to 1333, but in 1343 King Kazimierz agreed to the Peace of Kalisz that enabled the Order to keep East Pomerania and Danzig for more than sixty years. Lithuanians led by Gedymin (r. 1316-41) and Olgerd’s brother Keistut attacked the knights. Livonia suffered from a feud between the archbishop of Riga and the Order. In 1308 the Archbishop criticized the Order for luxury, cruelty, and injustice and then accused them of sodomy and witchcraft, asking Pope Clement V to suppress the Order. In 1309 Grand Master (hochmeister) Siegfried von Feuchtwagen moved his commandery to Marienberg.

Livonia was ravaged by an Estonian revolt in 1343 and then by the Black Death. The Order annexed Danish Estonia in 1346 and governed Livonia, Kurland, Prussia, and East Pomerania. Jan of Bohemia led three crusading expeditions against Lithuania, and Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode defeated Keistut and Olgerd on the Strawa in 1348 and led the Order 1351-82 during its most illustrious era. Between 1345 and 1377 Prussia mounted seventy expeditions and Livonia thirty. The number of knights in Prussia increased to about seven hundred. Winrich helped defend Konigsberg against a Lithuanian attack in 1370. He managed to maintain friendly relations with Poland and extended his domain nearly to Vilnius. He died in 1382, the same year as Keistut and King Lajos of Poland.

When Jogaila (Jagiello) became king of Poland in 1386, he promised to convert the Lithuanians to Christianity. This removed the justification for the Baltic crusades, and the Order declined. In 1399 Grand Master Konrad von Juningen (r. 1394-1407) with 500 men from the Order joined Lithuanians and Ruthenians in an attack against the Golden Horde in Russia that destroyed two-thirds of the Lithuanian army led by Vytautas. That year the Samogitians conquered the fortress of Memel. In 1398 the knights took over the Swedish island of Gotland from pirates. The Danes then seized the island, but the Order recaptured it with 15,000 troops in 1404. Prussia permitted English merchants to enter their ports in 1388; but in 1397 English cloth was confiscated at Danzig and Elbing, and the next year the Grand Master renounced the 1388 treaty.

German Empire 1400-1517

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
For information on ordering click here.


Crusaders and Byzantine Decline 1250-1400
Eastern Europe 1250-1400
Catholic Ethics 1250-1350
German Empire 1250-1400
Scandinavia 1250-1400
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1250-1400
Italian City States 1250-1400
Dante and Marsilius
Petrarca and Boccaccio
Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400
France and National War 1250-1400
England, Scotland, and Ireland 1250-1400
Mystics, Wyclif, Gower, and Chaucer
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronology 750-1300
World Chronology 1300-1400
Chronology of Europe to 1400

BECK index