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Hazard, H. W. (ed.) / The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries
(1975)

XVI: The German Crusade on the Baltic,   pp. 545-585 PDF (16.2 MB)


Page 584

 584 A HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES III 
the town of Elbing, and the bishopric of Ermland. The rest of Prussia, including
the important sections of the commanderies of Christburg, Elbing (without
the town of Elbing), Osterode, Balga, Brandenburg, Königsberg, Ragnit,
and Memel, were to be retained by the grand master as a fief held of the
king of Poland. It was provided also that half of the order must thenceforth
consist of Poles. The second treaty of Thorn thus separated what was called
in the 1930's the Polish Corridor to the Baltic, the less heavily German-colonized
West Prussia, from Germanized East Prussia. 
The second treaty of Thorn for all intents established the indepen dence
of the Livonian and German branches of the order. In Prussia after this date
the grand masters were able to undertake the coloniza tion of the wilderness
with the aid of Polish and Lithuanian peasants, but they were unable to prevent
the deterioration of the status of both the German and Prussian free peasants
to a position of virtual serfdom. Unable to pay in cash the mercenaries they
had brought to Prussia, the Knights had to reimburse them with lands, and
thus enlarged the original class of noble colonists with further members
of the aristocracy from which these mercenaries came. Through its policy
of selling to the nobility lands it could not cultivate, the order lost its
predominant position as a landholder in a state now largely agricultural.
The flight of the peasants to the remaining towns—in an effort to escape
the pressure of an aristocracy struggling to restore the ruined economy by
creating large commercially managed es tates—was stopped only by binding
the peasant to the soil and then imposing upon him additional labor services.
The order thus deep ened the hatred of the peasantry. 
It would finally attempt to save itself by associating the grand mastership
with the petty dynasties of Germany. In 1498 the Wet tiner Frederick of Saxony
would be elected grand master, to be succeeded in 1511 by the Hohenzollern
Albert of Brandenburg Ansbach. Albert would bring the order in Prussia to
an end in 1525 by transforming it into a hereditary duchy of Prussia, to
be held by the Hohenzollerns as fiefs of the Polish crown. The dissolution
would take the form of a treaty with king Sigismund I of Poland, and it would
not be made until Albert, after consulting with Martin Luther in 1523, decided,
together with many of the Knights, to become Lutheran. The Prussian knights
would offer little resistance to this transformation; as administrators of
property formerly belonging to the order they would join the ranks of the
Prussian Junker aristoc racy. 
The Livonian branch of the order would manage to prolong its 


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