Battle of Grunwald

Summary

53.4833333320.0944444444Coordinates: 53° 29′ 0″ N, 20° 5′ 40″ E

The Battle of Tannenberg (known in Polish as Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Battle of Grunwald, and in Lithuanian as Žalgirio mūšis) was fought on July 15, 1410 in Prussia, not far from the towns of Tannenberg and Grünfelde. The army of the Teutonic Order under Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen as well as the Prussian Estates and an unknown number of mercenaries together with Western and Central European knights held the decisive encounter against a joint force of the Kingdom of Poland under King Władysław II. Jagiełło and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Grand Duke Vytautas.

The Lithuanian Wars of the Teutonic Order, which had been going on since 1303, as well as the latent rivalry between the Teutonic Order and the Kingdom of Poland, which had been in personal union with Lithuania since 1386, reached their climax in this battle. The heavy defeat of the Teutonic Order”s forces marked the beginning of the decline of the Order”s rule in Prussia as well as the rise of Poland-Lithuania as a major European power. The confrontation is considered one of the greatest battles between medieval armies of knights and has been part of the national myth of Poland and Lithuania since the 19th century.

The immediate cause of the conflict was not only Pomerelia, which had been disputed between the Teutonic Order and Poland since 1309, but also the region of Samogitia in western Lithuania, which had been fought over in fierce campaigns since 1303 and formed the land connection between Livonia and the Prussian heartland. Samogitia, as this region was called in the Middle Ages, was granted to the Teutonic Order by Vytautas in the Treaty of Sallinwerder in 1398, which was confirmed again by the Kingdom of Poland in 1404 due to diplomatic pressure from Pope Innocent VII.

As a result of the 1402 pledge of the Electoral Brandenburg Neumark, located east of the Oder River, to the Teutonic Order, in the acquisition of which Poland also showed interest, the already strained relationship between the Teutonic Order and the Kingdom of Poland deteriorated.

In addition, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas supported the Shamaites, who were dissatisfied with the rule of the Order, for reasons of power politics since 1402, so that in 1409 there was an open revolt against the Order”s rule. Both the Grand Prince and the Shamaites were supported by Vytautas” relative, the Polish King Władysław II. Jagiełło, supported them. The open partisanship of the Polish nobility in favor of the rebels was taken by the Grand Master of the Order as an opportunity to declare a “feud” on Poland – and immediately on Lithuania – on August 6, 1409.

In the autumn of 1409 mercenaries of the Order conquered the Dobriner Land, attacked lighter horsemen in Kujawy and besieged Bydgoszcz. The Kingdom of Poland and Vytautas of Lithuania were not able to raise a promising army because of the relatively late season. Moreover, winter was approaching, which justified the Grand Master”s decision to withdraw his mercenaries from Kujawy and Bydgoszcz.

On October 8, an armistice was concluded that lasted until Saint John”s Day (June 24 of the following year). In January there was a last attempt to reach a settlement: On February 15, 1410, the Bohemian King Wenceslas IV, who was called to mediate, granted the Order the right to dispose of Schamaiten on the basis of the Treaty of Sallinwerder. However, this decision was not accepted by the Polish nobility and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas. Thus, the adversaries prepared intensively for a military decision during the summer months of 1410. This war, called the “great streyth”, culminated in the meeting of the armies not far from Tannenberg.

Both sides were determined to bring about a final decision, if possible in a decisive field battle, through a campaign during the summer of 1410. In the winter of 1409

Initial situation in early summer

As early as the spring of 1410, the opponents of the war began to gather their respective formations. The Teutonic Order mobilized the available forces of all commanderies and at the same time ordered the cities and the local landed gentry to muster. The Livonian Land Master Conrad von Vytinghove, however, refused the Grand Master and invoked a truce agreement with Grand Duke Vytautas. This explains the absence of the entire Livonian branch of the Order, which was to have lasting consequences for the balance of power. Unaware of his opponents” intentions, Ulrich von Jungingen suspected an attack from the area of Bromberg or from Lithuania and waited until the enemy became active.

In late spring, the king of Poland was in the camp near Wolbórz, southeast of Łódź, where he had ordered the mass of his advancing banners from all over Poland. The king was always well informed about the actions of his adversary through informants in the Order”s country. On June 26, the main Polish army set off to the north. At the end of June, as agreed, Grand Duke Vytautas appeared with the Lithuanian contingents together with various Tatar units and the White Russian contingents. At the same time, a Polish force gathered not far from Bydgoszcz under the command of the starost there. These divisions were to become offensive in the Neumark.

The road to Tannenberg

The campaign began on June 30 with the crossing of the Vistula River at Czerwińsk nad Wisłą by the Polish army over a pontoon bridge, a novelty for that time. There the army met with the Lithuanians and their auxiliaries approaching north of the river. The united army moved into a fortified camp not far from Bieżuńs and was now directly on the border of the Teutonic Order state. From the so-called letters of renunciation sent from there by Dukes Semovit and Janusz of Mazovia as well as other noblemen, the Grand Master and his advisors were able to identify the location of the main Polish-Lithuanian force without any doubt for the first time. In addition, the first skirmishes occurred in the Neumark at the end of June, which prompted Ulrich von Jungingen to leave part of his army under the trusted commander Heinrich von Plauen at Schwetz. The army of the Order moved on Soldau on July 2, near which an advanced detachment under the Order”s Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode was already located. There it entrenched itself near Kauernick on the banks of the Drewenz River. The army of the Polish king and the force of the Grand Duke Vytautas, advancing into the Order”s territory in a concentrated manner, avoided a tactically disadvantageous confrontation in front of the fortified redoubts of the Order”s army. The allies, for their part, tried to bypass the Order”s army to the east and stormed the fortified settlements of Soldau and Neidenburg on July 8.

The main army of the Order was only a few kilometers west of the action when the storming of Gilgenburg by Lithuanians and Tatars took place on July 13. Probably due to the events there, Ulrich von Jungingen ordered the immediate departure of the army with the aim of immediately confronting the enemy. After a heavy thunderstorm fell over the camp of the Order”s army not far from Frögenau and the entire Tannenberg moorland in the following night, the armies faced each other between the villages of Grünfelde and Tannenberg as well as Ludwigsdorf and Faulen since the morning of July 15.

The surviving data on the strength of both armies differ considerably. For the Polish-Lithuanian army they range from 26,000 to 39,000 fighters, for the Order”s army from 11,000 to 27,000. Jan Długosz, the later chronicler of the battle, whose father had taken part in it, does not give any figures, but it is possible to give an estimate for the Order”s army as well as for the Polish nobility on the basis of his list of the participating banners. 000 men were under the banner of the Order, while the Kingdom of Poland led 15.000 more or less well armed fighters into the field. These estimates do not take into account the number of Lithuanians, Tatars, Ruthenians and White Russians under the command of Vytautas. The British military historian Stephen Turnbull estimates that the army of the Teutonic Order was 27,000 strong, while that of their opponents totaled 39,000 men:p. 25. This force was thus numerically superior to the Order”s army, but the fighters of the Order”s army were better armed and better trained, especially compared to the Lithuanian forces.

The actual knights of the order formed a vanishingly small minority in the army. Since each commandery, with the exception of the main houses of Marienburg and Königsberg, provided only five to seven knights of the order, there were at most four hundred knights of the order on the battlefield. However, the “sacral nimbus” of the Order, which invoked the special protection of its patroness, the Virgin Mary, must be considered of great psychological importance. The Teutonic Order had the reputation of being invincible because of this high patronage. This aspect was of great importance in the deeply religious late Middle Ages. It may also explain the later hesitation of the Polish king to give the order to attack the Order”s army. On the Polish side, a variety of prophecies, including those of St. Birgitta, were spread in the run-up to the meeting in order to compensate for this psychological advantage of the Order. Among the Lithuanian troops, the sacral regularity of Christianity had not yet significantly prevailed, so this aspect was of little importance.

King Władysław II arranged his army into three lines. On the right wing were the Lithuanians, Ruthenians and Lipka Tatars, commanded by Grand Duke Vytautas, lighter armed and armed, on the left were the Poles under the command of Jan Zyndram of Maszkowic and Zbigniew Kazimierz of Goblinic. The front line was almost three kilometers long.

The Order”s army originally stood in three lines as well. When Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen recognized the long front of the Polish-Lithuanians, he regrouped them into two lines and thus widened the formation of his army so as not to be bypassed by the enemy. On the right wing of the Order”s army stood the majority of knights from outside the Order, grouped under the banner of St. George. On both sides the knights were divided into banners. Among the Lithuanians, the warriors were divided into tribal units under the command of a boyar, while parts of the foot soldiers remained behind to protect the army camps.

Crossbowmen stood in front of the banners of the knights of the order. On a hill to the left of the order”s army, stone bushwhackers took position.

Because the Order”s army had advanced at random on the order of the Grand Master, it was now in a tactically disadvantageous position, since the mass of the Polish-Lithuanian army was in wooded terrain, so that an attack by the heavily armed knights was impossible. According to medieval battle tactics, it was emphasized to win the initiative by a frontal cavalry attack on an opponent located freely in the terrain. This option was denied to the Order”s army due to the circumstances. Thus, it had to remain defensive and await the attack of the Polish-Lithuanian army, which was disadvantageous in the summer conditions of July 15.

The actual battle began at noon. Before that, on the advice of the Order”s marshal Wallenrod, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen had had King Władysław and Vytautas each presented with a blank sword, thus calling for immediate battle. The chronicler Jan Długosz gives the alleged wording:

This action, in accordance with the German chivalric tradition, seemed necessary to the Grand Master, since Władysław II could not decide to attack. From today”s perspective, we can only speculate about the king”s motives, but it is quite understandable that he did not want to be considered an aggressor against a Christian army under the patronage of the Holy Virgin. Lithuanian sources, on the other hand, describe the king as fearful – the Grand Duke had even personally asked the king to stop his devotion and finally order the attack. However, it is also conceivable that the king, on the advice of his experienced sub-leaders, wanted to weaken the order”s army, which was lined up in battle order in the midday heat, in advance of the inevitable encounter by physically tiring the heavily armed fighters as well as their warhorses.

Attack and counterattack on the left wing of the Order Army

Independently of his request to Wladyslaw, Grand Duke Vytautas had his light cavalry attack on the right wing of the united army and opened battle at noon. This attack prompted the premature firing of the Order”s guns. The use of the costly as well as logistically intensive “fire tubes” in a field battle subsequently proved to be a tactical failure. The impetuous attack of their own troops on the left wing deprived the Stückmeister of their field of fire, and in addition the novel weapon was afflicted with technical problems: the black powder, damp from the thundershower of the previous night, proved to be unusable to a large extent. In addition, the accuracy of the field artillery, which at that time was based on stone rifles, proved to be very poor even at 150 meters, which had a lasting effect on the defense against fast mounted attacks. The artillery therefore had little effect.

The counterattack of the heavy cavalry on the left wing of the Order”s force under the command of the Order”s Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode proved to be outmatched by the lightly equipped Lithuanian cavalry. The heavily armored knights of the Order”s army pushed the attackers back, but instead of keeping a closed formation, they pursued the retreating enemy. With that, however, the order of battle in this sector disintegrated.

Attack followed by retreat, regrouping and counterattack was the usual way of fighting of the light cavalry of the steppe peoples (Tatars, Bessarabians, Wallachians), but this time this regrouping did not succeed and the Lithuanians and Tatars fled. Whether this apparent retreat of large parts of the Lithuanian contingent was a stratagem of war or more or less a well-used coincidence is a debatable question to this day. Older Polish sources report that the Lithuanians simply fled. This interpretation is supported by Lithuanian accounts, which accuse the Polish king of abandoning the Lithuanians at the beginning of the battle.

Three Belorussian banners, which according to the battle plan were supposed to hold the connection with the Polish contingents, did not join the general retreat on the Lithuanian wing. The Byelorussians, on the other hand, tried to retreat in an orderly fashion toward the center in order to connect with the Polish banners there. These divisions were completely annihilated with the exception of the Smolensk banner.

Fight on the right wing

A little later, the Polish knighthood attacked the right wing of the Order”s army under the Grand Commander Kuno von Lichtenstein and was stopped by the fifteen banners of the Prussian commanderies as well as by knightly guests of the Order. The skirmish among largely equally armed men remained there without a decision for the time being. However, the Polish imperial pannier briefly fell into the hands of the Order. The Poles immediately recaptured it in a surprising counterattack led by the knight Zawisza Czarny, according to legend, because the knights of the Order were distracted from the battle as a result of the triumphant singing of the chorale: Christ ist erstanden (Victory Hymn of the Order).

According to medieval understanding, the fall of the enemy”s main banner meant the death or capture of the enemy commander, which many warriors of the Order”s army assumed due to the spatial distance from the immediate event and interpreted as a final victory considering the Lithuanian retreat apparently degenerating into a rout. This fact explains the singing of the victory chorale, which is documented in the sources.

Since King Wladyslaw, contrary to Western European tradition, was not in the immediate vicinity of the lost main banner, but watched the battle from a distance together with Jan Zyndram of Maszkowic, the fall of the banner remained an episode. For a short time, some reserve banners were deployed under Zawisza Czarny in this critical phase of the battle for Poland, in order to temporarily outnumber the imperial banner, which was extremely important as a visual fixed point, and take it back from the knights of the Order.

Attack of the Rennbanner as well as the Knighthood of Kulm under Ulrich von Jungingen

The Grand Master then personally attempted, with his 15 reserve banners, including the Grand Master”s Rennbanner, an elite of the Order”s knighthood, a maneuver to bypass the Polish right wing, which had been exposed by the Lithuanian retreat, in order to flank the enemy and bring about a decision in his favor. However, the Kulm knighthood, which had been united in the Lizard League since 1397, refused to obey him. For this reason, and as a result of the resolute defense of the Poles, the attack failed. Fighting in the front line, Ulrich von Jungingen took the same risk as the fighters he led; he paid for the failed maneuver and his daring with his life.

There, the Grand Master proved himself devoted to the ideals of chivalry, but this later proved to be disastrous. Jungingen showed himself to posterity as a brave warrior, but not as a far-sighted commander who was able to organize stalling resistance even in the event of a lost encounter. The Grand Master seemed to have ruled out a critical phase in the battle or a generally lost encounter. Thus, the accompanying loss of any coordinated leadership is explained by the death of the army commander. This was compounded by the distribution of the major area commanders, that is, the potential deputies, among the individual wings, which made unified leadership impossible. Thus, the Order”s Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode, commander of the far advanced left wing, had probably already fallen at this point, while Grand Commander Kuno von Lichtenstein, isolated on the right wing of the Order”s army, sought to hold the ground.

The Cauldron of Tannenberg

After the fall of the Grand Master”s banner, the order of the Order”s army began to disintegrate in the late afternoon. Without leadership, the Order”s army was unable to put up an orderly resistance, and the battle became bogged down in bitter fighting between the individual banners and even knights isolated from the main army. The commander of Schlochau, Arnold of Baden, is mentioned there by name. The holding of the Grand Commander on existing positions facilitated the encirclement of this part of the army by the Polish cavalry. On the other hand, on the Polish side, the king and his advisor Jan Zyndram of Maszkowic now led Bohemian foot soldiers into battle, which caused the already thinned out ranks of the Order”s army to waver. Lithuanian forces returning to the battlefield again shifted the balance of power to the disadvantage of the Order, whose remaining army was now surrounded on the flanks. Individual units escaped annihilation by flight. Among them were the only surviving Grand Commander, the Grand Smiter of the Teutonic Order and at the same time Commander of Elbing, Werner von Tettlingen, as well as the Commander of Danzig, Johann von Schönfels and the Commander of Balga Friedrich von Zollern.

Retreating forces attempted a last defense at the Order”s army camp near Frögenau, but were finally defeated by the Polish-Lithuanian army as well as parts of their own troops, which abruptly changed fronts in view of the situation. The camp was stormed and looted. The chronicler writes:

Immediate consequences of the battle

On both sides, the outcome of the battle was considered a “judgment of God”. The battle had cost many victims. Reliable figures do not exist. Contemporary sources speak of 50,000 to 100,000 dead, wounded and prisoners, but such figures are probably exaggerations. Apart from the Grand Master, the entire leadership of the Order (Grand Territorials, Commanderies) perished, with only a few exceptions.

The fallen, most of them completely plundered, were subsequently buried in mass graves, while only the body of the Grand Master was transferred to Marienburg Castle in a dignified manner on the king”s instructions. The prisoners, among them Duke Konrad VII “the Old White” of Oels, and Kasimir, younger son of Duke Swantibor III of Pomerania-Szczecin, were to be ransomed at a later date, which partly explains the immense sum of compensation in the later negotiated peace treaty of Thorn. Primarily, the knightly prisoners were so-called guests of the Order, as most of the Order”s knights had fallen. According to medieval sources, 202 knightly brethren of the Order remained on the battlefield. The captured commander of Prussian Brandenburg, Markward von Salzbach, and the bailiff of Samland, Heinrich Schaumburg, were executed by Vytautas still on the battlefield due to earlier differences.

After the victory, the Polish-Lithuanian army camped near the battlefield for three more days. The allies invoked an old custom, according to which the warriors were given time to recover and loot the fallen. On July 19, the army set out with the goal of the Order”s main residence, the Order”s castle Marienburg. This took 11 days, as some surrendering castles still had to be taken over. Meanwhile, the defense of Marienburg, located about seventy road kilometers away from the battlefield at Tannenberg, was improvised by Heinrich von Plauen, the commander of Schwetz. Scattered remnants of the Order”s army also found refuge there.

The subsequent siege of Marienburg Castle had to be broken off unsuccessfully on September 19 due to stubborn resistance and lack of supplies for the besieging army. In addition, since the end of August a force from Livonia was approaching. A typhus epidemic among the Lithuanians and Tatars and last but not least an attack of King Sigismund, a declared ally of the Order, from Hungary on southern Poland were further motivations for the Polish king to break off the siege.

The captured 51 banners of the Teutonic Order were taken in solemn procession to the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow in late autumn and displayed there as a symbol of victory over the “Krzyżacy”. Decades later, the Polish chronicler Johannes Longinus described the banners as Banderia Prutenorum. They were last mentioned at the beginning of the 17th century, but some of them still existed around 1800. However, their whereabouts after that time are unclear. The replicas present in Krakow were brought to the Mariánské Lázn? in 1940 during the “Collection of the Flags of the Teutonic Knights”.

The remaining brothers of the order subsequently elected the commander Heinrich von Plauen as the new grand master. He then conducted a series of trials against knights who had allegedly failed in the battle of Tannenberg, as well as against castle bailiffs who had rashly surrendered their strongholds to the enemy. The most prominent defendant was the leader of the Lizard League and standard bearer at the Battle of Tannenberg, Nicolaus von Renys. He was executed for high treason in Graudenz in 1411 after further actions hostile to the Order.

Long-term effects

In the long run, the defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg meant the economically advantageous connection of Prussia to Poland”s resources and consequently for the Teutonic Order the beginning of the end of its territorial rule in Prussia based on medieval legal conditions. The myth of the “God-willed” invincibility of the Order”s army was finally broken at Tannenberg. It was still possible to defend Marienburg against the attack of the Poles and Lithuanians, but in the First Peace of Thorn, on February 1, 1411, the Order State had to cede some disputed territories to Poland-Lithuania and pay 100,000 shocks of Bohemian groschen in compensation.

Its economic and financial situation subsequently came to a dramatic head. Maritime trade declined with the creeping decline of the Hanseatic League, and latent contradictions, such as the demand for participation of the estates in the sovereignty of the land and issues in taxation, broke out openly within Prussian society.

The tributes negotiated in Thorn placed an extraordinary financial burden on the Order and the Prussian estates and ultimately led in 1454 to the uprising of the estates, united in 1440 in Elbing to form the “Prussian League” (also known as the “League before Violence”) against the feudal coercive rule of the Knights of the Order.

Also, as a result of the defeat, the Order”s reputation was permanently damaged, because at the Council of Constance Poland and Lithuania were not condemned as aggressors against Christians, as the Order aspired. The mission to the pagans in Lithuania thus finally lost its legitimacy. The Pope and the Emperor denied the Order all claims to allegedly pagan lands in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The idea of forced conversion had to be finally abandoned, which called into question the right of the Order”s state to exist in the Baltic.

The Thirteen Years” War between the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Poland and the Prussian cities allied with its king, also called the Dirty War, which broke out in 1454, ended with a heavy defeat of the Order and led to the division of Prussia in 1466 in the Second Peace of Thorn. On the basis of this treaty, the western part of the Order”s state (“Prussia royal share”) came under the sovereignty of the Polish king, and the Grand Master undertook by contract to swear an oath of fealty to the Polish king. Thus the Grand Master, who until then had acted as a sovereign, lost immensely in reputation and had to accept the subordinate rank of a vassal of the Polish crown. In this way, the rise of Poland-Lithuania to a new great power in Europe could continue.

The night before the decisive meeting, a mysterious celestial spectacle is said to have taken place in front of the full moon over the field: The shadow of a king and a monk would have fought bitterly until the monk, a symbol of the sacred knighthood of the Teutonic Order, was finally defeated. This event was subsequently interpreted as a favorable omen for a Polish victory.

During the battle, Saint Stanislaus of Cracow is said to have appeared above the Polish army, underlining the heavenly support of the Polish cause. The diffuse figure, surrounded by an aureole of light, allegedly hovered for some time over the fighting men and blessed the hosts going into battle.

The two swords offered to the Polish king and Lithuanian grand duke for tactical reasons were already considered by contemporaries and posterity as a symbol of “Teutonic arrogance”, which God punished immediately. In Poland, until the 1990s, these legendary swords were commemorated in the form of the military award of the so-called Grunwald Cross in three classes (gold, silver and bronze). Gravestones of Polish soldiers killed in the Second World War also bear this symbolism.

The first oral, later also written dissemination of these facts took place with propagandistic intention under the aspect of the in the middle of the 15th century intensifying contradiction between the Kingdom of Poland and the Prussian estates on the one side and the Teutonic Order on the other side. This conflict finally resulted in the Thirteen Years” War. The intention was to legitimize Poland”s claims and ideologically damage the Order by invoking religiously interpreted phenomena. Similar intentions apply to the Polish reception of the battle in the 19th century under the conditions of Polish partition, with the partitioning powers assuming the role of the Order.

The battle was fought on the moorland between the villages of Grünfelde, Tannenberg and Ludwigsdorf in what later became East Prussia. Gilgenburg was considered the nearest town. In 1410, the Polish king gave “Grunenvelt” as the place of the battle in a Latin letter. In the chronicle of the Polish chronicler Johannes Longinus, written decades later, “Grunwald” is mentioned, in Polish historiography since then the name Battle of Grunwald is used (also the history painting by Jan Matejko is called so. Lithuanian historiography translated the supposed “Grunwald” accordingly to “Žalgiris”. 535 years after the battle, after the expulsion of Germans after the Second World War, the village of Tannenberg was renamed “Stębark” according to old names as well, and the village of Grünfelde was renamed “Grunwald” according to Polish usage.

In (West) German usage, the Battle of Tannenberg is generally referred to, while in GDR historical literature the Battle of Grunwald was largely referred to in accordance with the Polish model. Russian, Czech, Estonian, Latvian, Romanian, Serbian, and Hungarian also speak of the Battle of Grunwald, as do English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. In contrast, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Bulgarian and Croatian speak of the Battle of Tannenberg.

Polish receptions

The Battle of Grunwald is one of the most important national myths in Polish history. Especially in the 123 years when the nation was divided between neighboring Russia, Austria and Prussia.

Of particular importance was the painting by the history painter Jan Matejko, created between 1872 and 1878, who enjoyed the relative freedoms of a comparatively liberal cultural policy in Krakow, which at the time belonged to Austria-Hungary.

Matejko based his depiction on the extremely powerful historical narrative by the Lviv historian Karol Szajnocha Jagiełło and Jadwiga 1374 to 1413, created in 1855, which throughout the 19th century was the “obligatory reference point” for all Polish commemoration of the battle. His monumental painting of 4.26 × 9.87 meters summarizes three different scenes of the battle: First, in the upper right corner, the failed attack by knights of the Order on King Władysław II. Jagiełło, in the upper left corner the capture of the camp of the knights of the Order at the end of the battle and large in the center the death of Ulrich of Jungingen. In the center of the painting, but outside the action, is the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas the Great with raised sword and completely without armor. Matejko depicts him as the commander of the Polish army. The actual strategist of the battle, King Władysław II. Jagiełło, plays only a subordinate role, because Matejko followed the account of Jan Długosz, a chronicler whose father also fought at Grunwald and who described details of the encounter to his son years later.

The painter adapted reality to his intention in this “painted with rage” painting: thus, various anachronisms in armament and the armor and deviations from historical reality can be observed.

Matejko”s painting was enthusiastically received by the public. The painter received an honorary scepter for it from the Krakow City Council on October 29, 1878 as the “King of Painters”. Time and again the painting was reprinted in magazines, on postcards and in history books for school, so that it still shapes the Poles” idea of the battle. During World War II, it was kept hidden from the Wehrmacht and SS, who wanted to confiscate and destroy it. It was also cherished during the socialist era, as the myth that the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order was slain by simple peasants allowed the battle to be interpreted as a class struggle. Today the picture hangs in the National Museum in Warsaw. There, in March 2005, Polish politician Lech Kaczyński of the national conservative PiS symbolically announced his candidacy for Polish president in front of Matejko”s painting. In 2011-2012, the work was extensively restored.

Matejko”s work also inspired the most famous literary interpretation of the subject, namely the historical novel Krzyżacy (in German translation The Crusaders) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a kind of literary black-and-white painting, the late medieval conflicts between Poles and Germans are portrayed as a struggle between good and evil. The cultural-political disputes in the province of Posen, where Sienkiewicz lived, are clearly visible as a foil. Despite its wooden plot, the novel became a great success and provided the model for numerous popular tales surrounding the Battle of Grunwald. The novel was made into a film around 1960, directed by Aleksander Ford. During the occupation by the German Wehrmacht during World War II, many fighters of the Polish underground army chose cover names from Sienkiewicz”s novel.

The anniversary of the battle was first celebrated as a national festival in 1902, triggered by the scandalous child abuse during the Wrese school strike. The quincentennial celebration, held July 15-17, 1910, not on the battlefield belonging to Prussia but in Kraków, brought together 150,000 Poles from all three partition territories and from abroad – more than Kraków”s population at the time. The highlight of this largest national rally during the entire partition period was the ceremonial unveiling of a Grunwald monument by the sculptor Antoni Wiwulski, financed by the famous Polish-American pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski. A considerable production of various texts – from patriotic songs to historiographical treatises and souvenirs – contributed to a lasting strengthening of the feeling of national solidarity against Prussian Germany.

After the restoration of Polish independence in 1918, the memory of the Grunwald victory was taken over by the state. The battle became one of the central memorials in the history lessons previously organized by the partitioning powers, and almost every Polish town was now given an ulica Grunwaldzka, a plac Grunwaldzki or a most Grunwaldzki.

After the Second World War, Poland, occupied by the Wehrmacht for almost six years, once again commemorated the “Triumph of Grunwald”: in 1945, the graphic artist Tadeusz Trepkowski (1914-1954) created a poster associating the Battle of Grunwald with the Battle of Berlin in early 1945, in which Polish contingents had also taken part. In this administratively controlled way, in addition to stirring up anti-German resentment, the memory of the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939 and the forced resettlement of Poles from Ukraine, which now belonged to the Soviet Union, was to be suppressed.

On July 15, 1960, the 550th anniversary of the battle, the Grunwald Memorial was solemnly inaugurated.

A movement with nationalist tendencies created by the communist Polish Security Service in 1981 as a counterweight to Solidarność also bore the name Grunwald. This was one of the last attempts to put the battle and the memory of the victory over the Teutonic Order in the service of communist ideology. After the end of martial law in Poland in 1983, this attempt was discontinued due to non-acceptance.

In today”s Polish society, the unreserved glorification of Grunwald, apart from the view of ultra-nationalist circles, is increasingly giving way to a differentiated image that extends to the ironic. This image was formed not least under the aspect of an annual historical spectacle on the former battlefield, which was increasingly carried out from a commercial point of view. Since the 1990s, the memory of the battle of 1410 has been kept alive by ever more extensive “re-enactments”, i.e. battle scenes re-enacted by traditional groups in historical costume. In view of this annual event, a Polish magazine ran an ironic headline as early as the summer of 1998: “The crusaders are tired of losing, so next year they”ll be victorious.”

That such a view could not diminish the national pride in the victory is proven by the fact that a number of sports clubs were named after the battle site.

The commemoration of the victory of 1410 is still very much alive today and allows subliminal anti-German resentment to be called up with terse allusions. For example, during the 2008 European Football Championship, before a preliminary round match between the German and Polish national teams, various Polish tabloid media commemorated the defeat of the Teutonic Order in the battle.

In July 2010, as part of the 600th anniversary of the battle, the current Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Bruno Platter also gave a speech and laid a wreath at the historic site near Stębark, following an official invitation from the President of Poland.

Reception in Lithuania

Especially in connection with the recent history of this state, the Late Middle Ages are considered to be the “great time” of Lithuania. This view results mainly from the great Lithuanian territorial gains in the east during the 14th century and the victorious outcome of the conflict with the Teutonic Order, which lasted for generations, in the first decade of the 15th century. The Polish-Lithuanian personal union, on the other hand, was always met with suspicion in the Lithuanian homelands. Although in the 15th and 16th centuries Lithuania, in union with Poland, succeeded in rising to the status of a great Eastern European power, the nation shared Poland”s decline in the course of the 17th century. Lithuania”s latent rivalry with the Poles, who were actually allies, is evident precisely in the evaluation of the Battle of Tannenberg. In this context, Lithuanian chroniclers accuse the Poles of failing to provide assistance. Overall, the country believed itself to be blatantly undervalued in the regard of its army and the role of its Grand Duke Vytautas in the Battle of Žalgiris.

This attitude continues to the present day. Evidence of this is the production of a separate feature film about the battle, completed in 2008, as Lithuania”s presence in Aleksander Ford”s 1960 production was reduced to an extra role.

The Lithuanians” unbroken pride in the battle won against the Teutonic Order is evidenced, among other things, by the renaming of a Lithuanian sports club Vilnius FK Žalgiris.

Memory from a Prussian-German perspective

The Teutonic Order was viewed with distance in Protestant Prussia, not least because of warlike disputes with the Prussian estates in the middle of the 15th century. It was not until the middle of the 19th century, with the significant participation of the historian Heinrich von Treitschke, that public opinion began to change: From then on, the Order embodied the “German mission in the East” and assumed the role of a “cultural carrier against Slavicism” in historiography. Consequently, the historical image of the Battle of Tannenberg was revised from a relatively neutral assessment to a portrayal of a tragic defeat. This view is impressively reflected in the novel Heinrich von Plauen by Ernst Wichert. In it, the heroically handsome Ulrich von Jungingen is spoken of as the antagonist of his cunningly ugly opponent Władysław II. Jagiełło.

Under the impression of the integrating evaluation of Tannenberg on the Polish side, at the end of the 19th century there was a move to counter the Polish commemorations with a “German component”. The consequence was an unreserved glorification of the Teutonic Order as the “colonizer of the German East” by nationalist circles in Wilhelmine Prussia.

The German myth of the Second Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914, in which the Imperial German Army destroyed the 2nd Russian Army under General Samsonov in a kettle battle during the First World War, was also based on commemorative ceremonies that are still celebrated regularly on a small scale today. The commander-in-chief at the time, Paul von Hindenburg, expressed to Kaiser Wilhelm II his wish to name the battle after Tannenberg, which was actually 15 kilometers away, to erase the “disgrace of 1410.” The erection of the Jungingenstein in 1901 and the monumental Tannenberg Monument in 1927, which was actually intended to commemorate the victory of 1914 but whose architecture was based on a medieval order castle, were intended in the first half of the 20th century to tie in with the ostensible continuity of history with thoughts of revenge for the defeat in the First World War.

After 1933, the battle in the First World War was primarily commemorated, although the Teutonic Order was given some appreciation in terms of the Nazi doctrine of the “people without space”. Adolf Hitler glorified eastern colonization as early as 1924 in his book Mein Kampf. The highlight of the nationalist-influenced remembrance was the burial of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, who died in 1934, in the Tannenberg Monument.

In 1944, against the backdrop of the Warsaw Uprising, Heinrich Himmler ordered the complete destruction of Warsaw, pointing out by way of justification that Warsaw was “the capital, the head, the intelligentsia” of the Polish people, “which has been blocking our east for 700 years and has been in our way since the first battle at Tannenberg.”

After the end of the Second World War, with the loss of Germany”s eastern territories, the two battles at Tannenberg also fell out of the focus of public interest.

Scientific literature

Monographs

Visual and heraldic representations

Sources

  1. Schlacht bei Tannenberg (1410)
  2. Battle of Grunwald