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Order of the Knights of the Sword / Livonian Order of Knights
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 or Livonian Order.

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 Order of the Knights of the Sword for the purposes of conquest and Christianisation in the Baltics. Their headquarters was at Fellin (now Viljandi in Estonia). In 1237 the defeated and depleted 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 Order conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia.

(Additional information by Leitgiris Living History Club, from Architectural Archaeology Surveys at Saaremaa's Maasi Castle, Garel Püüa (Saaremaa Museum, Lossihoov), and from External Link: Leitgiris.)

1202 - 1204

Bishop Albert of Buxhoeveden

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

1207

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 Order of the Knights of the Sword.

Livonian Knights
This image is taken from a somewhat later, slightly romanticised depiction of the Order of the Knights of the Sword, but their general uniform is of the same style as that of the better-known European crusaders of the Near East

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 Order of the Knights of the Sword 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.

1209

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.

1215

A short-lived Lat 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

Over the course of the next decade North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. This begins with the arrival of a Danish fleet led by Valdemar II. On 15 June 1219, he attacks the fortress of Lindanäs. The battle is a hard-fought one and the Danes are close to admitting defeat when, according to tradition, a red cloth with a white cross falls from the sky, inspiring them to fight on and conquer the town.

In the same year the Order of the Knights of the Sword raid Vironian lands, aided by contingents of recently christened Lets, Livs, Sakalians, Ugaunians, and 'Jervians' (presumably people of the Alempois). The raid continues for five days, killing and pillaging Vironian people and settlements, before several elders request a truce. One admits - without having much of a choice - that he is ready to accept the Christian god. The other Vironian elders also accept Christianity and the German crusaders take the customary hostages in the form of the sons of elders to ensure that the truce is maintained.

Livonian Knights
The Livonian Knights - otherwise known as the Livonian Brethren of the Sword, the Order of the Knights of the Sword, or more simply as the 'Order' or 'Brethren' - did the dirty work of extinguishing resistance to the German crusaders and their imposition of order on the Estonian and northern Balt tribes

1220

Following quarrels between the Danes and the Order of the Knights of the Sword over the precise borders between their conquests, Denmark agrees to submit the southern Estonian provinces of Sakala and Ugaunia (Dorpat) which are already under the control of the Order. Bishop Albert officially submits to Denmark and North Estonia the provinces of Harria, Vironia, and Jerwia.

1224

German crusaders recapture all of the rebellious Estonian provinces and Vyachko of Koknese is reduced to holding just the Unguenois centre at Tharbata. Bishop Hermann of Buxhoeveden takes control of Ugaunia from his base in Dorpat while the Order is granted control of Sakala. Tharbata is conquered later in 1224 and all of its Unguenois and Rus defenders are killed, Vyachko included.

1227

The Danes are temporarily eclipsed in North Estonia when the Order of the Knights of the Sword conquers all of their territory from the heartland of their powerbase in central Livonia. Duke Canute and Archbishop Andreas are kicked out of the country by the resurgent Estonians.

The role of the Estonian elders on Ösel-Wiek is effectively terminated when that island is finally conquered. Ösel-Wiek is established as one of four bishoprics in Livonia. The territory is divided between the archbishop of Riga, the Order of the Knights of the Sword, and the city of Riga. Over the course of the next few years, the city of Riga loses its domain and the island remains under the governance of two landlords - the bishop of Saare-Lääne (Ösel-Wiek) and the Order.

1229 - 1234

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant with Gottfried's departure from the post. Authority over the bishopric falls to the bishop of Riga and the Order of the Brothers of the Sword. When Heinrich I assumes the position, its seat is moved to Leal (Lihula), with the result that the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek can also be referred to as the bishopric of Leal (Lihula). In 1251 the seat is moved again, to Perona (Vana-Pärnu).

1236 - 1238

The Order of the Knights of the Sword is 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 or Šiauliai) 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 and also have control of Ösel-Wiek.

1237 - 1238

Hermann Balk (Balke)

1238 - 1241

Dietrich von Grüningen

1241 - 1244

Andreas von Velven (Felben)

1242

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

Second term.

1247 - 1253

Andreas von Stirland

1253 - 1254

Eberhard von Seine (Seyn)

1253

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

1259

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.

1260

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 known as the Great Prussian Uprising.

The bishop of Courland leaves and only re-enters the territory in 1290. The Prussians win several battles against the hard-pressed Knights, with Duke Skomantas of the Yotvingians attacking the stronghold of Chełmno in 1263, and by 1264 the situation is critical. Reinforcements arrive from Germany and the Order launches an attack against the rebels, with final defeat of the Prussians coming in 1274.

1261

Georg von Eichstadt

1261 - 1263

Werner von Breithausen

1263

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

1268

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.

1271

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

1282

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.

1294 - 1297?

The seat of the bishop of Ösel-Wiek appears to fall vacant again. Once again authority over the bishopric very likely falls jointly to the now-archbishop of Riga and the Livonian Knights.

1296 - 1298

Bruno

1298 - 1305

Gottfried von Rogge

1305 - 1306

Wennemar I

1307

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. At the same time the seat of the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek falls vacant again - between about 1307 and 1310 - to be administered by the archbishop of Riga alongside 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

Governor of North Estonia (1346).

1343 - 1345

The St George's Night Uprising sees a large-scale Estonian revolt beaten by the Livonian Knights, using a mixture of treachery and battle. However, the Order is unable to prevent some disasters, such as the loss of Pöide Castle on Ösel-Wiek, and the probable massacre of its entire garrison. After he has led the reconquest of the island, Burchard von Dreileben oversees the building of a replacement called Maasi Castle on the north-west coast. His successor, Goswin von Herike, soon enlarges the new castle.

St George's Night Uprising
The oppressed Estonian peasants began the St George's Night Uprising in 1343, which was brutally put down by the Livonian Order, resulting in the Order being able to take control of all of the major Danish strongholds in the duchy of Estonia

1345 - 1359

Goswin von Herike

Abdicated.

1346

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

Former governor of North Estonia (1348).

1364 - 1385

Wilhelm von Friemersheim

1379

Bishop Dietrich of Dorpat hates the Livonian Knights with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Order alongside Lithuania, Mecklenburg, and the notorious Victual Brothers - Baltic pirates. The Order invades the bishopric but achieves no success. In the end its lack of results removes from it 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

Alternatively Wolmer von Brüggeney.

1401 - 1413

Konrad von Vietinghof

1410

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

Cisse / Cysse von Rutenberg

Zisse, or von dem Rutenberg. North Estonia (1423). Died.

1433 - 1435

Frank von Kersdorf

1435

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. Lithuania, at least, is now too powerful for them.

1435 - 1437

Heinrich von Böckenförde

Governor of North Estonia (1429). Died in office.

1438 - 1450

Heinrich Vincke von Oberbergen

1450 - 1469

Johann von Mengeden (Osthoff)

Governor of North Estonia (1442). Died after 1469.

1470 - 1471

Johann Wolthus von Herse

Governor of North Estonia (1468). Died 1471-1473.

1471 - 1483

Bernhard von der Borch

Related to Simon, bishop of Reval (1477-1492).

1479 - 1480

The seat of the archbishop of Riga remains temporarily vacant as competing claims delay the process of appointing a replacement. The Livonian Order proposes Simon von der Borch, bishop of Reval and relative of Bernhard von der Borch. Both have been staunch opponents of Archbishop Silvester Stodewescher. Pope Sixtus IV, however, prefers the candidate who has been put forward by Grand Master Martin Truchseß von Wetzhausen of the Teutonic Knights - Stephan Grube.

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.

1525

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

Son of governor of North Estonia of same name (1485)?

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 was the last grand master of the Livonian Knights until the Order was destroyed in battle in 1560, but then he became the 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.