Carlsberg Foundation 12: How the Danish king and the Teutonic Order communicated with each other – the case of Eric of Pomerania

Mihkel Mäesalu & Stefan Pajung

As far as historians know, Eric of Pomerania sent only two letters to the Master of the Livonian Branch of the Teutonic Order during his whole reign as king of Denmark, Sweden and Norway (1396–1439/40), and never sent his ambassadors to Livonia. We also know of only two letters and just one embassy the Masters of the Teutonic Order in Livonia sent to king Eric.

The embassy headed to Eric’s court in the year 1419 with the goal to prove to the king that the Livonian Master Siegried Lander von Sponheim had not slandered Eric during a meeting with the Teutonic Order’s North-Estonian vassals in the year 1414. The year 1419 was truly the lowest point in Eric’s relations with the Teutonic Order. The year he negotiated (but never ratified) an alliance with the king of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania with the goal of conquering the lands of the Teutonic order in Livonia and Prussia. So, the envoys of the Livonian Master arrived at Eric’s court during the time he was contemplating a war against them. Even though Eric did receive the ambassadors and heard them out, he refused to accept the gift of two horses the Livonian Master had sent him. In doing so he expressed his adverse attitude towards the Teutonic Knights.

Portrait of Eric of Pomerania by an unkown artist
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is all that we know of the correspondence between Eric of Pomerania and the Teutonic order in Livonia. In the previous blog post we discussed how Eric was interested in regaining the duchy of Estonia with legal means. Why then did Eric and the Master of the Livonian Branch of the Order correspond so sparsely with each other? Why didn’t they discuss the ‘Estonian question’ and attempt to reach a solution? 

Well Eric did in fact negotiate the ‘Estonian question’ with the Teutonic Order, just not with the Master of Livonia. It was just that king Eric corresponded with the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who represented the Livonian Master.

The Teutonic Order had a hierarchical system of internal government. The Order was headed by the Grand Master, who administered a part of the order’s lands personally. The regional masters in Livonia and Germany were subject to the Grand Master, but governed the lands of their respective branch of the order enjoying a fairly large amount of autonomy. In the 13th century, when the Grand Master resided in the crusader states in Palestine, the Master of the Teutonic Order in Livonia corresponded with the Danish kings and their viceroys in Tallinn himself. But starting from 1324, when the headquarters of the Teutonic Order were moved to Prussia and the Grand Master started to govern there, he also began to gradually take over the communication of the Livonian Master with Christian kings and lords.

By the end of the 14th century, it was common for the Grand Master to represent the Livonian Master in correspondence with Denmark, Germany, Poland etc. So, when Eric of Pomerania made an alliance (never ratified) with the Teutonic Order in Prussia and Livonia in 1423, he negotiated it solely with the Grand Master. No representative from Livonia was present in the negotiations.

The seal of Eric of Pomerania as king of the Scandinavian kingdoms.
The seal depicts a coat of arms made by combining elements from the arms of the three kingdoms along with the arms of the duchy of Pomerania.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

King Eric clearly respected the internal hierarchy of the Teutonic Order and rarely communicated with the Master of the Order in Livonia. But did he do so because he considered the Livonian Master as beneath his status, that is of too low a rank to correspond with his esteemed royal person? Or did he do it just out of convenience?

Well, the Grand Master corresponded regularly with Eric and acted as an arbiter between the king and his many enemies in Northern Germany. Eric even involved the Grand Master in peace negotiations with his rebellious subjects in Sweden. As letters and envoys were travelling back and forth between Denmark and Prussia, it was quite easy for Eric to address his concerns about Livonia to the Grand Master. At the same time, we know that the Teutonic Order in Livonia was in intensive communication with the lords-lieutenant of king Eric in Finland and Sweden. So, Eric could (and occasionally did) send letters and messages to the Teutonic Order in Livonia through his lords-lieutenant in the kingdom of Sweden, but usually preffered to address the matters to the envoys of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order instead.

But did the subsequent Danish kings of the 15th century do the same? Find out in our future blog posts.