The Teutonic Knights were warrior monks who fought to convert pagans to Christianity and also built and governed their Monastic State of the Teutonic Order all along the Baltic coast in northern Europe. At the core of their organization was a group of 3000 highly trained and well equipped warrior monks…men who also gave up all their worldly goods and lived a celibate and very strict monastic life. Every day for 300 years their long daily prayer included these words: We pray for Duke Friedrich of Swabia and King Heinrich his brother, who was Emperor, and for the honorable burgers of Lubeck and Bremen, who founded the Order.
Kaiser Heinrich VI. (1165-1197), son of Friedrich I. “Barbarossa”, was the German Emperor who gifted the Empire’s eagle symbol to the Order of Teutonic Knights, whose organization was founded in 1190 during the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. The eagle, along with a gold cross gifted to the order by the King of France, was then emblazoned onto the center of the black crusader cross and this combination image became the official symbol of the Teutonic Grandmasters.
Heinrich supported the Knights in their first years by making his brother, Friedrich of Swabia, the first Grandmaster. Thus Heinrich and Friedrich ensured that the Knights had a viable organization. The Teutonic Knights…starting out as a hospital organization for Germans in the Holy Land… quickly expanded into a fighting force of ordained warrior monks. They established headquarters in Venice and crusaded both in the Holy Land and in northeastern pagan Europe. Eventually the Northern Crusades became their only focus and led to the conversion of all pagans in northeastern Europe.
The German knights thus created and governed a large and successful Roman Catholic nation, located all along the Baltic coast. It was linked to the Holy Roman Empire, but legally independent and outside the German borders. Their Monastic State of the Teutonic Order was a meritocracy that lasted for 300 years, and every day during those 3 centuries, the priests included in their prayers the men who helped them in the beginning… Kaiser Heinrich and Grandmaster Friedrich.
Interesting side notes:
Kaiser Heinrich VI …who only lived for 32 years…was also a poet and influenced the onset of the medieval concept of chivalry. His portrait was the first of 100 in the German medieval book of poetry, the Codex Manesse, also referred to as the Heidelberger Grosse Handschrift.
Also worth mentioning…in 1193, Kaiser Heinrich arrested Richard the Lionheart, King of England, whom he had captured on his way back from the Third Crusade. Richard was imprisoned at Trifels Castle, in revenge for Richard’s support of a massive conspiracy against the emperor…which included the Archchancellor of Germany, Duke Ottokar I of Bohemia, as well Heinrich the Lion, the Swabian House of Zähringen and the Pope. Ignoring the threat of excommunication by Pope Celestine III for imprisoning a former crusader, he held the English King for a ransom.
Richard the Lionheart procured his release in exchange for a huge ransom and his oath of allegiance to Heinrich. He and Richard ceremoniously reconciled at the Hoftag in Speyer during Holy Week 1194… the English King publicly regretted any hostilities, genuflected, and cast himself on the Emperor’s mercy. Richard was then released and returned to England.