Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Teutonic Knights

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From Heinrich von Treitschke, Origins of Prussianism (1862):
Who can understand the innermost nature of the Prussian people and the Prussians State unless he has familiarized his mind wtih those pitiless racial conflicts whose vestiges, be we aware of them or not, live on mysteriously in the habits of our people. A spell rises from the ground which was drenched with the noblest German blood in the fight on behalf of the name of Germany and the most sublime gifts of mankind.

As soon as the power of the Ascaniers in Brandenburg collapsed, the Teutonic Knights valiantly took up their position to defend the breach in German civilization, and once more after the victory of the Poles in Prussia the House of Hohenzollern took measures to restore order in distracted Brandenburg.

Of all the German lands, Prussia alone could at this time rank with the west in respect of the triumphant position of chivalry. For it was no mere pugnacity or love of adventure which impelled the Teutonic Knights into the Lithuanian war. The essential qualities of a militarist State were at work. The more capable among the Grand Masters knew very well how to maintain religious discipline in the Order, how to discourage participation in the tournament craze of the new times, and yet how to turn to chivalry’s own advantage its finer imaginative trends. “It was in Prussia that he became a knight” — such was for generations the highest praise that could be given to a Christian nobleman; and the knight errant who had been in Prussia would proudly wear the black cross of the Teutonic Knights to the end of his days. Even kings regarded it as an honour when the Order enroled them among its associate brethren, and no higher praise could Chaucer find for the knight among the Canterbury pilgrims than to say: “In Lettow had he reysed and in Ruce.”

Wherever they went, the Knights were wont to dispaly an almost ostentatious valiancy and ingenuity.

-trans. Eden & Cedar Paul
-German title: Das deutsche Ordensland Preußen.

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