Teutonic Knights, Or Knights Of The Hospital Of St. Mary in Jerusalem, a powerful religious and military order which originated during the crusades. The hospital of St. Mary in Jerusalem, from which the order derives its canonical name, was founded soon after the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099. A German merchant and his wife threw open their dwelling to the poor and sick of their own nation; a chapel was afterward attached to the house by permission of the patriarch and dedicated to St. Mary. The establishment, to which the founder devoted all his wealth, was after its extension maintained by alms collected among the Germans; and a number of distinguished persons also devoted their property and services to the same purpose, assuming a religious dress and binding themselves by monastic vows (1119), with the approbation of Pope Calixtus II. During the siege of Acre in 1189 charitable burghers of Bremen and Lubeck established a guild of hospitallers for German soldiers, whose numbers were so great after the death of Frederick Barbarossa that the merchants made tents with the sails of their vessels, and called to their assistance the brethren of St. Mary in Jerusalem. Both confraternities were then organized into one order by Duke Frederick of Swabia, who obtained the approbation of Pope Celestine III., Feb. 23, 1192. The new order retained the rule of St. Augustine adopted by the German brotherhood in Jerusalem. None were at first admitted to membership but Germans of noble birth; about 1221 half-knights or sergeants, as among the templars and hospitallers, were added, as well as priest-chaplains. The dress was black with a white mantle, upon which was a black cross with a silver edging.
The order had an elective grand master, who first dwelt at Jerusalem, then when Palestine fell into the hands of the Turks at Venice, and at the close of the 13th century at Marburg. Conrad, duke of Maso-via, called the Teutonic knights, then under the famous grand master Hermann of Salza, to his assistance about 122G, to repel the incursions of the heathen Prussians and Lithuanians, and to help in spreading the gospel among them. He gave them the territory of Culm on the Vistula, and from this point they extended their conquests over the territory of Prussia, and with the aid of the knights sword-bearers over Courland and Livonia, exterminating the pagan inhabitants with fire and sword. In 1309 the grand master fixed his seat at Marienburg. Possessing the richest and most commercial provinces of the north, the order became exceedingly powerful; and at the beginning of the 15th century, when it had reached its greatest prosperity, its territory extended from the Oder to the gulf of Finland, and its yearly revenue was estimated at 800,-000 marks. Nobles from all parts of Europe flocked to its banner. Internal dissensions, luxury, and unjust and oppressive acts threatened its decline from this period, and a conflict with the Polish kings hastened it.
In the battle of Grunwald or Tannenberg in 1410 they were totally defeated by Ladislas Jagel-lon; and after a subsequent long war with Casimir IV., West Prussia was given up to Poland, and for East Prussia they were compelled to do homage (1466). An attempt to regain their independence deprived them of East Prussia, which in 1525 was presented by Sigismund I. of Poland to the grand master, the margrave Albert of Brandenburg, as a hereditary duchy. The order was now reduced to a mere shadow of its former greatness. In 1527 the grand master fixed his seat at Mergentheim in Swabia, became a spiritual prince of the. German empire, and had under him 11 provinces divided into commanderies. In 1805 the peace of Presburg gave to the emperor of Austria the rights, revenues, and possessions of grand master of the Teutonic order; but in the campaign of 1809 Napoleon while at Ratisbon abolished the order on April 24, its widely scattered territory, comprising about 850 sq. m. with 88,000 inhabitants, falling to the princes in whose dominions it was. It was revived in the Austrian empire in 1834 and placed under the protection of the imperial family; it was more fully reorganized in 1840. From 1863 till his death in Mexico, the archduke Maximilian was grand master.
The present grand master is the archduke Wilhelm.