Battle Castle: Teutonic Knights and the Siege of Marienburg

Battle Castle LogoOn the fifth installment of Battle Castle we travel to Prussia and visit Malbork Castle, home of the Teutonic Knights. Sprawling over 51 acres (21 hectares) Malbork is truly an impressive castle. Host Dan Snow walks us through the castles design and demonstrates how to create mud bricks in Guedelon. Then Dan teams up with Kevin Hicks to fire the siege crossbow. Watch the trailer below and then we will get into the episode.

The Construction
Strategically positioned on the banks of the Nogat river in modern day Poland, Malbork Castle would dominate the landscape for hundreds of years. Building on the flat lands of Poland gave the Knights a distinct advantage, they could use one design for all their castles. However, with no stone nearby the Teutonic Knights needed to find a suitable building material. The Knights used the clay and baked it into bricks. They would use over 10 million bricks to build Malbork Castle! The overhanging roofs also use clay tiles to keep the weather off the Knights and had the added advantage of being fire proof.

The Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights ordered a bridge constructed over the river and collected tolls from river traffic. The Knights also used an extensive moat system to guard the castle and to wash out the waste from the Knights.

To see how the medieval Knights made the bricks Dan travels to Guédelon, France where he gets first hand experience digging the clay, forming it into bricks and placing them in the kiln.

As with the other episodes we also get to see a new siege weapon. This week Kevin Hicks is back with the Siege (Heavy) Crossbow. The Siege Crossbow was about twice the size of a regular crossbow. Malbork had enough material to make 1,200 crossbows. Dan gets a chance to arm, load and fire the crossbow under the instruction of Kevin.

The crossbow was a disputed weapon in the Middle Ages. The church finally gave it’s approval only if the crossbow was used against non-Christians.

The History
The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, known by all as the Teutonic Knights was a German monastic military order. The Teutonic Knights began their service as protectors of pilgrims in the Holy Land. They received papal orders in the 13th century to hold Jerusalem and defend the Holy Land from Muslim Saracens.

The Teutonic Knights were at the height of their power in the early 15th century and that is were we see them in this episode of Battle Castle. The devastating defeat at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) marks the beginning of the end for the Teutonic Knights. After Grunwald, Polish King Jagiełło and Grand Duke Vytautas marched toward Malbork to destroy the Knights and drive them out of Prussia.

The Siege of Marienburg (Malbork) began on 26 July 1410. The Knights held out for two months under the leadership of Heinrich von Plauen. King Jagiełło believed the Knights would surrender quickly and without a fight. He was wrong. The Knights held the castle and would not surrender. Low moral and a serious case of dysentery in the Polish–Lithuanian forces turned the tide in the Knights favor. On 19 September 1410 Jagiełło withdrew his forces and returned to Poland.

The Teutonic Knights would take back most of the castles they lost by the end of 1410. However, they would be dealt another defeat in October 1410 at the Battle of Koronowo. Despite that loss, Heinrich van Plauen was elected the new Grand Master in November 1410. Van Plauen was eager to continue the fight against Jagiełło but under strong pressure from his advisors agreed to a peace treaty. The Peace of Thorn was signed in February 1411.

The Poles under King Casimir IV, the second son of Jagiełło, would capture Malbork Castle in 1457 during the Thirteen Years’ War.

The Teutonic Knights are still in service today. In 1929 they were converted to a spiritual, religious order and were surpressed by the Nazi regime during World War II. Today the Order is a charitable organization and now admits women. There is a museum dedicated to the Teutonic Knights at their former castle in Bad Mergentheim, Germany

Battle Castle: Malbork is another spectacular episode filled with rich history and outstanding design details. One more episode left, next week we travel to Spain and visit Malaga.

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