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Dec 2, 2023

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Poland’s Early Kings – Part 4

A series focusing on the Poland of old, when warring tribes were common and kings were really tested by the mettle in their swords, the strength in their words, the philosophy of their politics, and the honor in their hearts…..



For some years the Teutonic Knights harbored the illusion that they could break up the new ties linking Poland and Lithuania. They thought that in their anxiety to preserve peace with the Order, Poland would refrain from committing her forces in defense of Lithuania. Their calculations proved false.

  When a deadly threat developed against Lithuania at the beginning of the 15th century, Poland rallied to her support. That was in August 1409. The same month the Teutonic Order declared a war on Poland, which lasted over a year. In the first stage at the end of summer, the Teutonic Knights seized the district of Dobrzyn and captured Bydgoszcz. Shortly after, Bydgoszcz was recaptured by a Polish force and a truce was concluded. Operations were resumed in June 1410. This time Poland took the offensive. In July the combined Polish-Lithuanian army routed the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald. In October, a Polish army won another victory at Koronowo. The military might of the Order was broken once and for all.

  According to the Peace of Torun, concluded in February 1411, the Order returned the Dobrzyn region to Poland and the province of Samogitia to Lithuania. Poland never considered the Peace of Torun anything more than a truce.

  At the news that King Ladislaus Jagiello was mustering his forces against the Teutonic Order, illustrious Polish knights at the Hungarian Court of Sigismund of Luxembourg, forsook all goods and property in Hungary, spurned the favors of King Sigismund, who proved to be hostile to Poland, left his court and arrived in Poland to fight against the Teutonic Knights. That was May 1410.

  In 1410, Jagiello, King of Poland, supreme lord of Lithuania, was sixty-two. For eight months without a break this aging man hardly ever dismounted his horse, preparing the country for a final reckoning with the mortal enemy. He journeyed back and forth from North to South and East to West, organizing great hunts to provide meat supplies for the approaching campaign. He held meetings with his commanders and personally supervised the levy of forces in Little Poland and Ruthenia. He never for a moment relinquished the reins of normal government. In this work he was assisted by Mikolaj Traba, Deputy Chancellor of the Realm and future archbishop, the king’s junior by ten years, by Vytautas, his cousin, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and a number of the highest dignitaries of the Realm.

  On June 30th, five days before the truce ended, the king unexpectedly crossed over a pontoon bridge to the right bank of the Vistula at Czerwinsk at the head of the Little Poland Army, and joined forces with Grand Duke Vytautas awaiting him with the Lithuanian army and with the Dukes of Mazovia leading reinforcements. The pontoon bridge was built in great secrecy in Kozienice Forest by Jaroslaw, a master-carpenter. The maneuver took the enemy completely by surprise. The Teutonic Knights expected that the Dobrzyn region would be the theater of operations, convinced that Poland’s first concern would be to recover that territory. Thanks to the king’s brilliant strategy, the theater of operations was transferred to enemy territory. This caught them unaware, Maneuvers by the Polish-Lithuanian Army repeatedly took the enemy by surprise, right up to the day of the battle.

  On July 14th, the Teutonic Host under the personal command of Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen, mustering 21,000 knights in amour, 6000 foot and 5000 armed retainers, took up positions in the vicinity of the village of Grunwald. At dawn of the next day the Polish-Lithuanian Army, number 18,000 knights, 3000 foot and 18,000 armed retainers, took up positions facing the Teutonic force.

  The Teutonic Army stood in battle array on an open plain waiting for Jagiello to lead his forces out of the woods where they were mustering for battle. They had prepared a trap for them. Immediately behind their advanced positions, a line of deep well-concealed pits had been dug, in which the charge of the Polish knights was expected to flounder.

  The king delayed the opening of the battle counting that the heat of the July sun would affect the enemy standing in open ground.

  Sensing the danger, the Grand Master decided to provoke the king to give battle. He dispatched heralds with two swords for the King and for Grand Duke Vytautas, bearing the message that by this gift the Grand Master hoped to give heart to his enemies and encourage them to leave their hideout in the woods. As the heralds delivered this insulting message, the Teutonic Army gave ground leaving an open space in which the king could deploy his forces.

  The battle opened shortly after. The enemy stratagem with the pit-falls failed. The king first sent his light Lithuanian horse into battle. Faster and easier to manoeuvre than heavily armed knights, they swerved to right and left at the first sign of danger without disorder. Then the king ordered his heavy troops to charge, the Poles on the left wing, Lithuanian and Ruthenian troops on the right. After an hour’s heavy fighting, the Lithuanians were dispersed, leaving only three Ruthenian squadrons still fighting on the right wing. On the left wing, the battle took an entirely different course. The Polish knights had the advantage, but the outcome of the battle was still in the balance. It was decided only after both sides had committed all their reserves to battle. The Grand Master personally led the charge of sixteen crack squadrons which was to decide the battle. But the king had expected this and order part of his reserve to outflank the enemy from the rear and dispatched the rest against the Grand Master. This move proved decisive. The Teutonic army was encircled in a steel ring of Polish knights and infantry. Only a few managed to escape and for the rest there was no hope.

  The Grand Master, nearly all of the highest dignitaries of the Order and most of the Teutonic Knights fell in battle. Seventeen thousand were killed and fourteen thousand taken prisoner. The enemy camp with a vast amount of booty was captured. Such was the Polish-Lithuanian victory over the Teutonic Order.

  Unfortunately, it did not end the war. Despite their crushing defeat at Grunwald and another Polish victory at Koronowo three months later, the power of the Order was not completely broken. Although they never regained their former might, their stubborn resistance secured them favorable peace conditions. The Order restored the Dobrzyn region to Poland and Samogitia to Lithuania, but retained possession of Pomerania.

      . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .