History Files


European Kingdoms

Northern Europe




Livonian Order of Knights / Order of the Brothers of the Sword
AD 1202 - 1561

This knightly order is known by various names, including the Livonian Knights, the Order of the Brethren, the Christ Knights, the Sword Brethren, the Militia of Christ of Livonia, or the Order of the Knights of the Sword. One reason is because they were formed and operated in what are now the Baltic States, amid fractured tribes of peoples who did not have writing of their own, and as part of the German-led Northern Crusade to Christianise (and profit from) the region in a period of little administrative permanence in the region. Officially, they began as the Order of the Knights of the Sword, and from 1237 were known as the Livonian Knights.

In 1201, Bishop Albert from Bremen in Germany landed in the Baltics with his followers at the mouth of the River Väina,and founded the town of Riga (in modern Latvia). The following year he founded the Livonian Order of Knights for the purposes of conquest and Christianisation in the Baltics. Their headquarters was at Fellin (now Viljandi in Estonia). In 1237 the Livonian Knights joined the Teutonic Knights as an autonomous branch.

While the Danes were busy taking over and securing all of North Estonia by force, The rest of the country was undergoing the same process from the south. What is now Estonia and Latvia quickly came to be governed by German prince-bishops in Courland, Dorpat, Ösel Wiek, and Riga, while the Livonian Knights conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia.

1202 - 1204

Bishop Albert of Buxhoeveden

Crusader-bishop in the Baltics & first grand master of the Knights.


The bishop of Riga assumes the style 'prince of Livonia', and makes Livonia part of the Holy Roman empire, although this is not formalised until 1 December 1225. Part of the bishop's territories are given as a fief to his standing army, the Livonian Knights.

Livonian Knights
A later, slightly romantic depiction of Livonian Knights during their crusader period in the Baltic States

1208 - 1210

The Estonian counties fight various battles to regain lost land from invading forces, ending in their biggest victory at the River Ümera. It is around this time that a particular Estonian chief emerges (one of the very few to be named at any period). Lembitu makes an attempt to unite the various Finnic tribes in Estonia to fight against the Livonian Order and German crusaders. He raises an army which numbers several thousands and raids south and east, reaching Pskov in the Novgorod republic, below Lake Peipsi.


The small principality of Koknese on the right bank of the River Daugava is taken over by the Order of the Knights of the Sword, as they are known at this time.

1204 - 1209

Vinno / Wenno von Rohrbach

Of Kassel-Naumberg. Killed by a Knight.

1209 - 1236

Volkwin von Winterstein

Of Kassel-Naumberg. Killed at Schaulen.


A short-lived Latgal principality which is subject to Polotsk and which is situated in Gersik, or Gersike, on the right bank of the Daugava around 150 kilometres south of Riga is conquered by the Order.

1219 - 1227

Over the course of this period, North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. In 1220, following quarrels between the Danes and the Livonian Knights over the exact borders between their conquests, Denmark agrees to submit the southern Estonian provinces of Sackala and Ugaunia which are already under the control of the Order. Bishop Albert submits to Denmark the provinces of Harria, Vironia, and Jerwia.


The Danes are temporarily eclipsed in North Estonia when the Order conquers all of their territory.

1236 - 1238

The Order of the Knights of the Sword are decimated by the Samogitians and Semigallians (two peoples who are situated between the Lithuanians and the Lats in what is now southern Latvia) at the Battle of Schaulen (Saule) in 1236. The following year, what remains of the Order joins the Teutonic Knights as an autonomous branch in Livonia, now known as the Livonian Order, or Livonian Knights. While being subject to the grand master of the Teutonic Knights, the Livonian Knights continue to operate on their own behalf. Now unable to hold onto North Estonia securely, the parishes of Harria and Vironia are returned to the Danes under the terms of the Treaty of Stensby in 1238, which is mediated by the Pope. However, the Knights keep Jerwia.

1237 - 1238

Hermann Balk (Balke)

1238 - 1241

Dietrich von Grüningen

1241 - 1244

Andreas von Velven (Felben)


Along with Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, the Teutonic Knights are defeated by Alexander Nevsky, prince of Novgorod, on 5 April at the Battle of the Ice on the shores of Lake Peipsi (Peipus). This halts the eastwards expansion of the Knights. However, the Livonian Knights record a success with the final conquest of the Couronians.

1244 - 1245

Heinrich von Heimburg

1245 - 1247

Dietrich von Grüningen

1247 - 1253

Andreas von Stirland

1253 - 1254

Eberhard von Seine (Seyn)


Mindaugas is crowned king of Lithuania, and he transfers part of the Samogitian territories to the Livonian Knights as a means of ensuring peace.

1254 - 1257

Anno von Sangershausen

1257 - 1261

Burchard von Hornhausen


At the end of a two year truce, the eager Samogitians inflict a defeat on the Knights at the Battle of Skuodas. Their success encourages the Semigallians to rebel.


The Livonian Knights, along with the Teutonic Knights, are abandoned by their Estonian and Couronian vassals and defeated again, this time severely, at the Battle of Durbe in Livonia by the Samogitians. As a result, numerous rebellions break out against the Teutonic Knights all across the Baltics, including military expeditions by the Lithuanians and a general uprising across Prussia, and it takes around thirty years before complete control is regained.


Georg von Eichstadt

1261 - 1263

Werner von Breithausen


The situation on Livonia's southern border has deteriorated greatly over the past three years, and doesn't improve when the king of the Lithuanians is murdered by his nephew.

1263 - 1266

Konrad von Mandern (Manstadt)

1266 - 1270

Otto von Lutterberg


With both German crusaders and Lithuanians from the Baltics impinging on the territories of the various Rus principalities that are still vassals of the Golden Horde, Khan Mongke Temur sends troops to Novgorod to eject the Livonian Knights.


Andreas von Westphalen

1271 - 1273

Walther von Nordeck (Nortecken)

1273 - 1279

Ernst von Ratzeburg (Rassburg)

1279 - 1280

Gerhard von Katzenelnbogen

1280 - 1282

Konrad von Feuchtwangen


Mangold / Manhold von Sternberg

1282 - 1288

Wilhelm von Nindorf

Alternatively Wilken or Willekin von Endorp.

1288 - 1290

Konrad von Hazzigenstein

Alternatively Konrad von Hattstein or von Herzogenstein.

1290 - 1293

Halt von Hohembach

Alternatively Balthasar Holte.

1294 - 1295

Heinrich von Dinkelaghe

Alternatively Heinrich II von Dumpshagen.

1296 - 1298


1298 - 1305

Gottfried von Rogge

1305 - 1306

Wennemar I


The principality of Polotsk is secured by the brother of Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania. Successive Lithuanian rulers help in fending off attacks by the Livonian Knights.

1307 - 1322

Gerhard von Jork

Alternatively Gerhard II or Conrad von Jocke or Conrad von Jorke.

1322 - 1324

Konrad Kesselhut

Alternatively Konrad Ketelhoed, Johannes Ungenade.

1324 - 1328

Reimar Hane

1328 - 1340

Eberhard von Monheim

1340 - 1345

Burchard von Dreileben


The St George's Day Uprising sees a large-scale Estonian revolt beaten by the Livonian Knights, using a mixture of treachery and battle. Three years later, the Danish king sells North Estonia to the Knights for ten thousand marks. All of Estonia is now ruled by a German nobility class.

1345 - 1359

Goswin von Herike


The Danish king sells North Estonia to the Livonian Knights for ten thousand marks. This gives the Knights' superiors, the Teutonic Knights, control over the bishopric of Reval. All of Estonia is now ruled by a German nobility class. The official transfer of power takes place on 1 November 1346.

1359 - 1364

Arnold von Vietinghof

1364 - 1385

Wilhelm von Friemersheim


Bishop Dietrich of Dorpat hates the Livonian Knights with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Knights with Lithuania, Mecklenburg and the notorious Victual Brothers who are Baltic pirates. The Knights invade the bishopric but achieve no success. In the end their lack of results removes from them the right to demand military service from the Livonian bishops.

1385 - 1388

Robin von Eltz

1388 - 1389

Johann von Ohle

1389 - 1401

Wennemar Hasenkamp von Brüggeneye

Alternatibely Wolmer von Brüggeney.

1401 - 1413

Konrad von Vietinghof


The Battle of Tannenberg on 15 July witnesses Polish and Lithuanian forces under Polish leadership halt the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Knights. After this defeat, the Livonian Order begins to weaken and disintegrate.

1413 - 1415

Dietrich Tork

1415 - 1424

Siegfried Lander von Spanheim

1424 - 1433

Cysse von Rutenberg

Alternatively Zisse, or Cisse von dem Rutenberg.

1433 - 1435

Frank von Kersdorf


Grand Prince Zygmunt of Lithuania crushes the opposition forces of Swidrygiello and his ally, the Livonian Knights. This proves to be the last invasion into Lithuania to be carried out by the Knights.

1435 - 1437

Heinrich von Bockenvorde (Schüngel)

1438 - 1450

Heinrich Vincke von Oberbergen

1450 - 1469

Johann von Mengeden (Osthoff)

1470 - 1471

Johann Wolthus von Herse

1471 - 1483

Bernhard von der Borch

1483 - 1494

Johann Freitag von Loringhoven

1494 - 1535

Wolter von Plettenberg

1501 - 1503

As the Orthodox Rus border Livonia to the east, the Knights can claim to be holding an outpost of Catholic Europe, and while they are more than interested in trade with the Rus, the expansion of Moscow up to Livonia's borders at this time complicates matters. War between Moscow and the Knights breaks out in 1501. Livonians, uniting their forces under the leadership of the Knights, defeat Moscow's army near Lake Smolensk in 1502, and a truce is concluded the following year which lasts until 1558. The Russians are prevented from expanding westwards to the Baltic coast.


The monastic state of the Teutonic Knights is secularised during the Protestant Reformation and replaced with a duchy in East Prussia, robbing the Livonian Order of its support and supreme leadership.

1535 - 1549

Hermann Hasenkamp von Brüggeneye

1549 - 1551

Johann von der Recke

1551 - 1557

Heinrich von Galen

1557 - 1559

Johann Wilhelm von Fürstenberg

1550 - 1561

Gotthard Kettler

Became first duke of Courland.

1558 - 1561

Following Russian provocation and the conquest of Dorpat, the Livonian Wars erupt in the Baltic States between 1558-1583. The Livonian Knights and the archbishop of Riga seek help from Sigismund II of Poland-Lithuania, pawning five Order castles and two archbishopric castles together with their surrounding territory to help procure it. However, the army of the Livonian Knights is completely destroyed by the Russians at the Battle of Ergeme in 1560, and a year later, on 29 November, the master of the Order, Gotthard Kettler, acknowledges the supreme power of Sigismund II over all areas regarding the Order, including its territories, formally dissolving the Livonian Knights.

Gotthard Kettler
Gotthard Kettler, last master of the Livonian Knights and first duke of Courland

1562 - 1569

Gotthard Kettler becomes the first duke of Courland in 1562 under Polish suzerainty, and the Polish governor of Livonia itself. As individuals the former knights retain their vast estates in the Baltics. North Estonia surrenders voluntarily to the Swedes. Southern Estonia remains part of Livonia and this is drawn into the Lithuanian state which, in 1569, is effectively merged with Poland to form a united monarchy.