The film of Knights of The Teutonic Order was based
on the novel ‘Krzyzacy’ by the Polish author Henryk
Sienkiewicz. The novel was focusses on the events
leading up to the Battle Of Grunwald which took place in
1410 between the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy
of Lithuania and their allies on one side and the Knights
of The Teutonic Order on the other. It was the decisive
engagement of the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic war
(1409-11) and the greatest battle of medieval Europe.
The novel was written in a time when no Polish state
existed and Poles lived in areas controlled by other states
(the empires of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary).
Sienkiewicz is said to have written it to encourage Polish
confidence and pride against Germany. It was originally
published as series of magazine episodes between
1987-89 and printed as a full book 1900. It was reputed
to be the fi rst book published in Poland after the
Second World War.
The Teutonic Knights were a crusading German military
order under Roman Catholic vows who formed at the end
of the 12th Century in Acre in Palestine. Following the end
of the Crusades they moved back to Transylvania but were
expelled when they requested that they be placed under
Papal authority rather than that of Andrew of Hungary. In
1226 they were asked by Konrad I, Duke of Masovia in
west central Poland, to help him defend his territory and
subdue the ‘pagan’ Baltic Prussians. Over the next 50
years the Knights waged a campaign of aggression
against the Prussians. They eventually conquered them
and ran the land as a sovereign monastic state. Those
Prussians who remained un-baptised either fell in battle,
were enslaved or forced into exile. To further facilitate the
spread of Christianity the Knights encouraged immigration
from other Christian Central European territories.
Throughout this time the Knights continued to carry out
attacks on the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy
In 1386 Jogaila the Grand Duke of Lithuania was baptized
into Christianity and married Queen Jadwiga of Poland
and became Wladyslaw II, King of Poland. The alliance conversion of Wladyslaw
removed the rationale for their
crusade against pagan Lithuania. However, their attacks
still continued and they invaded both, now Christian,
states in 1398. At this time neither Poland or Lithuania
were militarily prepared to engage the Knights in battle.
Following a series of uprisings and political manoeuvre
the Knights declared war on the two states and invaded
again in the summer of 1409. An armistice was agreed that
ran until the next summer. The Poles and Lithuanians used
this time to prepare to remove the Knights from their land
once and for all. In July 1410 the Polish/Lithuanian forces
marched into the Knights territory.
Taken by surprise the Knights fell back and organised a
line of defence along the river Drweca. On the morning
of July 15 the opposing armies met near the villages of
Grunwald and Tannenberg. There are only two reliable
accounts of the battle – one by Polish historian Jan
Dlugosz and another anonymous incomplete document
from the 16th century. Various other accounts claim that
over 3 million soldiers were on the field of battle. More
recent historians put this figure in the tens of thousands.
What is known is that following a day of fighting the
numbers and tactical superiority of the Polish and
Lithuanian forces completely routed the Knights. Their
Grand Master and the majority of the upper order were
killed and their army left in disarray. The battle precipitated
a slow decline that resulted in the end of the Teutonic
Order as a force in Central Europe.
The battle is regarded as one of the most important in the
history of Poland. Even now every July thousands of
re-enactors gather at Grunwald to reconstruct the battle
and a festival is held to commemorate the day.