Second Peace of Thorn Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Second Peace of Thorn brought an end to the Thirteen Years’ War between Poland and the Teutonic Knights of Prussia. Under the terms of the peace, Poland gained new territories, becoming more culturally diverse and acquiring a coastline on the Baltic Sea.

Summary of Event

The Thirteen Years’ War Thirteen Years’ War (1454-1466)[Thirteen Years War (1454-1466)] was but one period of strife in a region that was often the site of war or the threat of war throughout the late Middle Ages and the early modern period. For example, continual tensions, broken occasionally by overt warfare, characterized the relationship between Poland Poland and the Prussian Teutonic Order Teutonic Knights of Prussia from the late thirteenth century until 1343. In that year, the two powers negotiated the Peace of Kalisch, as a condition of which King Casimir the Great of Poland waived all claims to the disputed territories of West Prussia and Culm. Casimir affirmed that both territories belonged to the Teutonic Order, and Poland and the order then enjoyed a predominantly peaceful relationship for the remainder of the fourteenth century. In the early fifteenth century, however, new crises developed that ultimately led to the famous Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. At Tannenberg, the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania, led by Polish king Władisław II Jagiełło and Lithuanian grand duke Vytautas, crushed the hitherto invincible army of the Teutonic Order. Thorn, Second Peace of (1466) Władysław II Jagiełło Vytautas Nicholas V Frederick III (Holy Roman Emperor) Casimir IV Calixtus III Piccolomini, Aeneas Silvius Rudesheim, Rudolf von

The surviving members of the Teutonic Order were at first consumed with a desire to avenge their defeat to restore their lost pride and political power. Their already diminished resources, however, were drained a little more every year by the need to maintain a high state of defensive readiness in case King Jagiełło invaded again. Moreover, the order’s grand master committed vital resources to assist the Holy Roman Emperor in his crusade against the Hussite rebellion in Bohemia. He hoped in that way to win the emperor’s favor and perhaps an alliance against Poland.

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The Polish king, for his part, knew how expensive and risky it would be to besiege the massive castles of the Teutonic Knights, and he understood well that his knights and prelates would not be willing to authorize or take part in another campaign in Prussia. Therefore, Jagiełło contented himself with diplomatic efforts at the papal court, at the Council of Constance (1414-1418), and elsewhere, meanwhile allowing the grand masters to imagine that an invasion was imminent.

Thus, for a while, an uneasy stalemate existed between the Teutonic Order and Poland. That stalemate ended when the Bohemian Hussites decided to invade Prussia to strike at the principal supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor. Poland allowed the Hussite invasion force passage through its territory. The famed discipline of the Teutonic Order broke down. The knights removed one grand master, the convents in Germany refused to recognize his successor, and military defeat dogged their every effort in Prussia, Livonia, and Bohemia.

Konrad von Erlichshausen became grand master of the Teutonic Order in 1441 with a mandate to bring order to their chaotic situation. His solution was to centralize power in his own hands, to raise new taxes, and to demand that the traditionally autonomous Prussian cities contribute more to the Order’s political and military ambitions. Konrad was essentially successful in dealing with the Order’s own knights, partly because there were fewer of them than ever before and partly because then-current military theory stressed the wisdom of hiring mercenaries when war threatened rather than housing and feeding knights in both war and peace. Konrad’s threats, however, provoked only resistance from Prussia’s secular knights and burghers, especially those of Danzig. These various knights and burghers formed a loose affiliation called the Prussian League Prussian League to discuss their mutual interests in resisting Konrad’s policies. By the time Konrad died in 1449, the league had been expanded from a mere forum for discussion into a full military alliance.

The Teutonic Order’s new grand master, Ludwig von Erlichshausen, petitioned Pope Nicholas V and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III and obtained rulings from them that the Prussian League was an illegal organization. In 1454, when the Prussian League realized that further negotiations were hopeless, it made a preemptive strike against the Teutonic Order before the grand master could raise a mercenary army. The league quickly captured all but a few castles in West Prussia.

Grand Master Ludwig was taken completely by surprise; little had he realized that the long-standing fear of King Jagiełło had died away in the two decades since that monarch’s demise. While the army of the Prussian League besieged the grand master’s seemingly invincible residence at Marienburg, the league’s diplomats were at the court of King Casimir IV, offering to become Polish subjects in return for his support against Ludwig and the Teutonic Order.

Casimir could not send much help. His activities were restricted by a small number of nobles and prelates who mistrusted any royal action that might increase the king’s power. He nevertheless made an armed entry into West Prussia that had all the appearance of a triumphal parade until he reached the fortress of Könitz. There, surprised by the simultaneous arrival of mercenaries from Germany and a sally by the garrison, Casimir’s army was cut to pieces. The king fled back to Poland, the grand master recovered his confidence, and the Prussian League prepared for a long struggle—the Thirteen Years’ War had begun.

At length, Pope Calixtus III decided that the conflict had lasted long enough. The pope’s legates would never be able to organize a crusade against the Turks to recover Constantinople until there was peace in Poland. The pope found himself in a somewhat awkward postion, however. Calixtus had an obligation to protect the Teutonic Order, he had to respect the wishes of the Holy Roman Emperor (who was, like the pope, also the Teutonic Knights’ overlord), and he had a moral obligation to uphold the established order and the rule of law. On the other hand, Poland was a powerful land, the Prussian League had valid complaints, and neither side was likely to stop fighting merely because the pope requested it. All that Pope Calixtus could do was to send an agent to look into the matter. He chose Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, the most prominent Humanist in the Church’s service and a master of persuasion.

Piccolomini’s efforts proved largely in vain. When he realized that the war would not cease until either one side won a clear-cut military victory or everyone became exhausted, he adopted a policy of patient waiting. Later, when his elevation to the papacy as Pius II allowed him to offer inducements to various participants for cooperation, he would send legates to move the negotiations along. This, too, was to prove ineffective.

In 1457, it briefly appeared that the war was at its end. The grand master’s mercenaries, unhappy with not being paid, turned over Marienburg to the Prussian League. Grand Master Ludwig managed to escape to Königsberg, however, and the Prussian League ran out of money to pay its own mercenaries. With neither side able to claim a clear victory, the war resumed. At length, in 1462, Casimir IV sent the league significant reinforcements and a competent general to lead them. The Polish forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Puck, Puck, Battle of (1462) but it was arguably the League’s naval strength that proved the deciding factor. In the fall of 1463, the coalition led by Danzig destroyed the grand master’s fleet, and the order was deprived of a vital resource.

With the Teutonic Knights now backed into a corner, the pope sent a new emissary, Rudolf von Rudesheim, to negotiate a peace. The Second Peace of Thorn was formally agreed to on October 19, 1466. West Prussia and Culm (in the southern elbow of the Vistula River) were returned to the king of Poland, the bishopric of Ermland in the center of East Prussia became independent, and the East Prussian districts of Marienburg, Elbing, and Christburg became Polish.

Significance

The long-term consequences of the Second Peace of Thorn were significant. Most important, Poland’s territories now reached to the sea. Its new subjects were largely German-speaking, but the Polish commonwealth was already multilingual and multiconfessional. It was bound together by ties of trade and culture, toleration for diversity, and a high degree of local self-government. In the wake of the peace, “German” nobles adopted Polish customs and spoke Polish; German burghers went about their business, trading with German-speaking merchants clear to the other ends of the Lithuanian grand duchy and the Polish kingdom. All prized their right to govern themselves with minimum interference from the king and his council.

The Teutonic grand master regrouped his resources, trying to make something out of his shrunken state in East Prussia, periodically assisting the Polish king in his wars against the Turks. A new noble class began to establish itself in both East and West Prussia, a class composed of former mercenaries who had accepted fiefs in lieu of payment for their services; this class eventually developed into the famous Junker nobility of Prussia.

The peasantry never recovered completely from the ravages of war. The native Prussian freeholders and knights who had thrived in the service of the Order’s armies were now refugees. Dispersed around the countryside, taking refuge in German-speaking towns and villages, within decades they ceased to pass their native language on to their descendants. Some, like many dispossessed German farmers, became serfs.

The Thirteen Years’ War, fought to avoid tyranny, taxation, and war with Poland, did at least avoid tyranny for some. The burghers of Danzig and the other large towns profited from the enhanced opportunities for trade and the greater protection that the king could provide against competitors; the nobles enhanced their rights and privileges at the expense of the peasants. The prestige of the Polish crown was greatly enhanced. In fact, if the crown’s actual, substantive authority had been equally increased, King Casimir IV would have been powerful indeed. As was the case so often in this era, however, Casimir’s authority in his new lands was dependent on his new subjects’ willingness to allow him to exercise it.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burleigh, Michael. Prussian Society and the German Order: An Aristocratic Corporation in Crisis, c. 1410-1466. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Somewhat dour but solid account of fifteenth century Prussian society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Christiansen, Eric. The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980. Contains a first-class summary of the Peace of Thorn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davies, Norman. God’s Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Solid on Poland, though holding strong opinions; weak on the Teutonic Order.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Długosz, Jan. The Annals of Jan Długosz: An English Abridgement. Translated by Maurice Michael. Edited by Jane Allan. Commentary by Paul Smith. Charlton, West Sussex, England: IM, 1997. An abridgment and translation of one of the most important primary historical sources on medieval and Renaissance Eastern Europe, covering 965 to 1480. Includes illustrations and reproductions of contemporary maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ertman, Thomas. Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Compares Prussia’s bureaucratic absolutism with Poland’s patrimonial constitutionalism. Includes bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jasienica, Pawel. Jagiellonian Poland. Translated by Alexander Jordan. Miami, Fla.: American Institute of Polish Culture, 1978. Good on internal Polish politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Urban, William. “Renaissance Humanism in Prussia.” Parts 1-3. Journal of Baltic Studies 22 (Spring-Fall, 1991): 5-72, 95-122, 195-232. A useful series of articles on the cultural consequences of the Thirteen Years’ War.

1499-c. 1600: Russo-Polish Wars

c. 1500: Rise of Sarmatism in Poland

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