Calrsberg Foundation 16: The changing attitude of Christian I towards the Teutonic Order in Livonia

Mihkel Mäesalu and Stefan Pajung

As we wrote in our twelfth and fourteenth blog-posts the communication between the Danish king and the Teutonic Order in Livonia went mostly over Prussia. This means that usually the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order represented his subordinate Master in Livonia in correspondence and negotiations with the Danish king.

King Christian I of Denmark (1448–1481), Norway (1450–1481) and Sweden (1457–1464) drastically changed this established way in the years 1454–1455. From that time on Christian and his successors on the Danish throne began to exchange letters and envoys directly with the Teutonic Knights in Livonia. Not only did king Christian suddenly end the old tradition of letting the Grand Master represent the Livonian knights before the king, he also drastically cut diplomatic correspondence with the Grand Master of the Order during these years. How did such a sudden change take place?

King Christian I and Queen Dorothea
Painting by an anknown artist, ca. 1500
Housed at The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg, Denmark
Source: Wikimedia commons

The Teutonic Knights suffered a major crisis during the years 1454–1466, when the burghers and liegemen of Prussia rose up against the rule of the Teutonic Order and chose to subject themselves to the King of Poland. This Thirteen Years War decimated Prussia – the power-base of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. With the Second Peace of Torun (1466) the wealthier western part of Prussia went to the King of Poland, whereas the Grand Master was left with the poorer and sparsely populated eastern parts of Prussia.

The Teutonic Order in Prussia and Livonia after the year 1466
Author: S. Bollmann
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights had enjoyed a position of political importance in the Baltic Sea area and Scandinavia up to the beginning of the war in Prussia in 1454. As he was now desperately seeking for allies and financial aid, his previous political importance vanished during the war. Already at the end of the year 1454 Christian I agreed to support the Teutonic Order with his fleet, but only in return for substantial sums of money, which the Grand Master was unable to pay. So the Livonian Master was drawn into the negotiations between Christian and the Grand Master in early 1455, and finally agreed to pay the sum Christian had demanded.

From that time on Christian began to increasingly correspond with the Master of the Teutonic Knights in Livonia, even asking them to forward his letters to the Grand Master. Evidently the sinking of the Grand Masters political importance during the war of 1454–1466 gave Christian I the opportunity to put an end to the Grand Masters influence on royal correspondence with the Teutonic Knights in Livonia. At the same time the war in Prussia gave Christian I an opportunity to extend his political influence to Livonia. It was precisely between 1456 and 1462 when Christian was politically most active in Livonia.

In October 1457 the Teutonic Knights in Livonia agreed to subject themselves to Christians protection for fifteen years and to pay him 1000 Rhenish Guilders every year for the duration of the protection agreement. The king on the other hand promised to provide Teutonic Knights with 500 warriors every year, if the Knights ask him to do so. As soon as the war in Prussia ended – in 1466 – the Teutonic Knights in Livonia withdrew from this agreement of protection, claiming that the king had not followed the terms of the agreement. He had sent his troops to the Knights only once, and furthermore had in 1458 made peace with the enemies of the Order and withdrawn completely from engagement in the war against Poland and the rebellious Prussian noblemen and towns. Christian had forced the Teutonic Knights in Livonia to make yearly payments to him without giving them much in return.

At the same time, Christian I involved himself in an internal conflict in the bishopric of Osilia, supporting a local cleric Johann Vatelkanne as Bishop of Osilia against Jodokus Hogenstein – an influential priest-brother of the Teutonic Order. When this conflict escalated into a small scale war during the years 1461–1463, warriors in the king’s service actually fought against the troops of the Teutonic Order.

The changes in communication implemented by Christian I in the 1450ies remained in effect until the 16th century. The Grand Master was out of the way and the Teutonic Knights in Livonia were open to the influence of the Danish king whenever the king had the interest and the means for active politics in the Eastern Baltic.