THE BATTLE OF GRUNWALD - 1410
1st Battle of Tannenberg
The Battle of Grunwald (or 1st Battle of Tannenberg) took place on July
with the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led by the king Jogaila
II Jagiełło), ranged against the knights of the Teutonic Order, led by the
Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen.
The engagement in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic
War(1409-1411) was one of the most important battles in Medieval Europe,
largest battle to involve knights.
The battle saw the forces of the Monastic State
of the Teutonic Knights
defeated, but they defended their castles and retained most of its territories.
never recovered its former power, and the financial burden of ensuing
reparations decades later caused a rebellion of
cities and landed gentry. The few
eyewitness accounts are contradictory. It took place between three small villages,
and different names in various languages are attributed to it.
The battle was fought in territory of the Monastic state of the Teutonic Order, in
the plains between
the three small villages Grunwald to the West, Stębark (Tannenberg)
to the North East, and Łodwigowo (Ludwikowice,
Ludwigsdorf) to the South. The Polish
king referred to the site in a letter written in Latin as in loco conflictus nostri,
quem cum Cruciferis de Prusia habuimus, dicto Grunenvelt which by later Polish
chroniclers was interpreted as Grunwald,
meaning green wood or forest in German. This
was rendered in the Lithuanian as Žalgiris. The Germans had their troops
Tannenberg (Stębark) (pine hill) and named the battle accordingly.
Thus, for half a millennium, the battle was referred to as
* Schlacht bei Tannenberg (Battle near Tannenberg) by Germans
* Bitwa pod Grunwaldem
(Battle of Grunwald) by Poles
* Žalgirio mūšis (Battle of Žalgiris) by Lithuanians
In languages of other involved nations the battle is called: Belarusian:
Hrúnvaldzkaja bі́tva, Ukrainian: Ґрю́нвальдська
би́тва, Gryúnvaldska býtva,
би́тва, Gryúnvaldskaya bі́tva, Tatar: Grünwald suğışı,
Bitva u Grunvaldu, Romanian: Bătălia de la Grünwald.
In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights, subject directly to the Pope, had been requested
by Konrad of Masovia
to come to the lands surrounding Culm (Chełmno) to assist in the Crusade
against the pagan Prussians. The Teutonic
Order received the territory of Prussia via golden
bulls from the Emperor and papal edict, which gave them effective
carte blanche as owners of
a new Christianized state in the region. They later received the territory of further north
Baltic coastal regions of what are now Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and showed every sign
of further expansion.
In 1385 the Union of Kreva joined the Crown of Poland and Lithuania,
and the subsequent
marriage of Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania and reigning Queen Jadwiga of Poland was to
the balance of power; both nations were more than aware that only by acting together
could the expansionist plans of
the Teutonic Order be thwarted. Jogaila accepted Christianity
and became the King of Poland as Władysław Jagiełło.
In 1409, an uprising in Teutonic-held Samogitia started.
The King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania announced that he would stand by his promises in case the knights invaded
Lithuania. This was used as a pretext, and on 14 August 1409 the Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on
the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The forces of the Teutonic Order initially invaded Greater Poland and
Kuyavia, but the Poles repelled the invasion and reconquered Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), which led to a subsequent armistice agreement
that was to last until 24 June 1410. The Lithuanians and Poles used this time for preparations to remove the Teutonic threat
once and for all.
The forces of the Teutonic Knights were
aware of the Polish-Lithuanian build-up and expected a dual attack, by the Poles towards Danzig (Gdańsk) and by the Lithuanians
towards Samogitia. To counter this threat, Ulrich von Jungingen concentrated part of his forces in Schwetz (Świecie)
while leaving the large part of his army in the eastern castles of Ragnit (Ragainė), Rhein (Ryn) near Lötzen (Giżycko),
and Memel (Klaipėda). Poles and Lithuanians continued to screen their intentions by organising several raids deep
into enemy territory. Ulrich von Jungingen asked for the armistice to be extended until July 4 to let the mercenaries from
western Europe arrive. Enough time had already been given for the Polish-Lithuanian forces to gather in strength.
On 30 June 1410, the forces of Greater Poland and Lesser Poland crossed
the Vistula over a pontoon bridge and joined with the forces of Masovia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jogaila's
Polish forces and the Lithuanian soldiers of his cousin Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great (to whom Jogaila had ceded
power in Lithuania in the wake of his marriage to the Polish queen) assembled on 2 July 1410. A week later they crossed
into the territory of the Teutonic Knights, heading for the enemy headquarters at the castle of Marienburg (Malbork). The
Teutonic Knights were caught by surprise.
In the early
morning of 15 July 1410, both armies met in the fields near the villages of Grunwald, Stębark (Tannenberg) and
Łodwigowo (Ludwigsdorf). Both armies were formed in opposing lines. The Polish-Lithuanian army was positioned
in front and East of the villages of Ludwigsdorf and Tannenberg. The left flank was guarded by the Polish forces of king Władysław
Jagiełło and composed mostly of heavy cavalry. The right flank of the allied forces was guarded by the army
of Grand Duke Vytautas, and composed mostly of light cavalry. Among the forces on the right flank were banners
from all over the Grand Duchy, as well as Tatar skirmishers under Jalal ad-Din khan, Moldovan light cavalry sent
by Alexandru cel Bun and allegedly Serbs. The opposing forces of the Teutonic Order were composed mostly of heavy
cavalry and infantry. They were to be aided by troops from Western Europe called "the guests of the Order",
who were still on the way, and other Knights who had been summoned to participate by a Papal Bull.
The exact number of soldiers on both sides is hard to estimate. There
are only two reliable sources describing the battle. The best-preserved and most complete account, Banderia Prutenorum,
was written by Jan Dlugosz, but does not mention the exact numbers. The other is an incomplete and preserved only in
a brief 16th century document. Months after the battle, in December 1410, the Order's new Grand Master Heinrich von
Plauen the Elder sent letters to Western European monarchs in which he described the battle as a war against the forces
of evil pagans. This view was shared by many chronicle writers. Since the outcome of the battle was subject to propaganda
campaigns on both sides, many foreign authors frequently overestimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces in an attempt to explain
In one of the Prussian chronicles it is mentioned that
"the forces of the Polish king were so numerous that there is no number high enough in the human language".
One of the anonymous chronicles from the German Hanseatic city of Lübeck mentions that the forces of Jogaila numbered
some 1,700,000 soldiers, the forces of Vytautas with 2,700,000 (with a great number of Russians, or Ruthenians, as they
were called then), in addition to 1,500,000 Tatars. Among the forces supposedly aiding the King of Poland and the
Polish-Lithuanian army were "Saracens, Turks, pagans of Damascus, Persia and other lands". According to Enguerrand
de Monstrelet, the knights fielded some 300,000 men, while their enemies under the kings of "Lithuania, Poland and Sarmatia"
fielded 600,000. Andrew of Regensburg estimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces at 1,200,000 men-at-arms. It must be noted that
medieval chroniclers were notorious for sensationally inflating figures, and armies of the sizes quoted were actually
impossible with the logistics technology of the day.
overall commander of the joint Polish-Lithuanian forces was king Jagiełło, with the Polish units subordinated
to Marshal of the Crown Zbigniew of Brzezie and Lithuanian units under the immediate command of Grand Duke of Lithuania
Vytautas the Great. Until recently it was believed that the Sword Bearer of the Crown Zyndram of Maszkowice was the commander
in chief of the joint army, but this idea was based on a false translation of the description of the battle by Ioannes Longinus.
The Teutonic Forces were commanded directly by the Grand Master of the Order Ulrich von Jungingen.
The opposing forces formed their lines at dawn. At about noon the forces of Grand Duke of
Lithuania Vytautas started an all-out assault on the left flank of the Teutonic forces, near the village of Tannenberg
(Stębark). The Lithuanian cavalry was supported by a cavalry charge of several Polish n banners on the right flank of
the enemy forces. The enemy heavy cavalry counter-attacked on both flanks and fierce fighting occurred.
In 1409, an uprising in Teutonic-held Samogitia started. The King of Poland and
Grand Duke of Lithuania announced that he would stand by his promises in case the knights invaded Lithuania. This
was used as a pretext, and on 14 August 1409 the Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the
Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The forces of the Teutonic Order initially invaded Greater Poland
and Kuyavia, but the Poles repelled the invasion and reconquered Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), which led to a subsequent
armistice agreement that was to last until 24 June 1410. The Lithuanians and Poles used this time for preparations to remove
the Teutonic threat once and for all. The forces of the Teutonic Knights were aware of the Polish-Lithuanian
build-up and expected a dual attack, by the Poles towards Danzig (Gdańsk) and by the Lithuanians towards Samogitia.
To counter this threat, Ulrich von Jungingen concentrated part of his forces in Schwetz (Świecie) while leaving
the large part of his army in the eastern castles of Ragnit (Ragainė), Rhein (Ryn) near Lötzen (Giżycko),
and Memel (Klaipėda). Poles and Lithuanians continued to screen their intentions by organising several
raids deep into enemy territory. Ulrich von Jungingen asked for the armistice to be extended until July 4 to let the mercenaries
from western Europe arrive. Enough time had already been given for the Polish-Lithuanian forces to gather
After more than an hour, the Lithuanian light cavalry started
a retreat towards marshes and woods. This maneuver was often used in the east of Grand Duchy of Lithuania by Mongols.
Vytautas, who had experience in battles against Mongols, used it in this battle. Only three banners of Smolensk
commanded by Lengvenis (Simon Lingwen), son of Algirdas, brother of Jogaila and a cousin of Vytautas, remained on the right
flank after the retreat of Vytautas and his troops. One of the banners was totally destroyed, while the remaining two
were backed up by the Polish cavalry held in reserve and broke through the enemy lines to the Polish positions.
Heavy cavalry of the Order started a disorganised pursuit after the
The Knights entered the marshes, while Vytautas reorganized his forces to return to battle.
At the same time heavy fighting continued on the left flank of the Polish forces. After
several hours of massed battle,
the Teutonic cavalry started to gain the upper hand. According
to Ioannes Longinus the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen
personally led a cavalry charge
on the strongest Polish unit - the Banner of the Land of Kraków. The Polish ranks
waver and the flag of the banner was lost. However, it was soon recaptured by the Polish
King Jogaila ordered most of his reserves to enter combat. The arrival of fresh
troops allowed the Poles to repel the
enemy assault and the forces of Ulrich von Jungingen
were weakened. At the same time his reserves were busy pursuing
the evading Lithuanian cavalry.
A pivotal role in triggering the Teutonic retreat is attributed
to the leader of the banner of Chełmno (Culm), Nikolaus von Renys (Mikołaj of Ryńsk), born in Prussia (identified
by Longinus as Swabia). The founder and leader of the Lizard Union, a group of Order Knights sympathetic to Poland, refused
to fight the Polish. Lowering the banner he was carrying was taken as a signal of surrender by the Teutonic troops. Accused
of treason, ultimately von Renys was beheaded by his order, along with all of his male descendants.
After several hours of fighting, Ulrich von Jungingen decided to join his embattled forces
in the main line of engagement. At this time, however, Vytautas returned to the battlefield with the reorganized forces of
the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and joined the fierce fighting. The Teutonic forces were by then becoming outnumbered by
the mass of Polish knights and the advancing Lithuanians cavalry, which all of a sudden had come pouring on the battlefield
from the surrounding forests.
Ulrich von Jungingen personally
led the assault with 16 banners of heavy cavalry, which until then were held in reserve. Jogaila, however, threw in
all his remaining reserves, as well as several already tired units. Putting up heavy resistance, the 16 banners of the
Grand Master were surrounded and began to suffer high losses, including the Grand Master himself. Seeing the fall of their
Grand Master, the rest of the Teutonic forces started to withdraw towards their camp.
Part of the routed units retreated to the marshes and forests where they were pursued by the Lithuanian and
Polish light cavalry, while the rest retreated to the camp near the village of Grunwald, where they tried to organise the
defence by using the tabor tactics: the camp was surrounded by wagons tied up with chains, serving as a mobile fortification.
However, the defences were soon broken and the camp was looted. According to the anonymous author of the Chronicle of the
Conflict of Ladislaus King of Poland with the Teutonic knights Anno Domini 1410, there were more bodies in and around
the camp than on the rest of the battlefield. The pursuit after the fleeing Teutonic cavalry lasted until the dusk.
Markward von Salzbach, the Komtur of Brandenburg, and mayor
Schaumburg of Sambia were executed by order of Vytautas after the battle. The only higher officials to escape from the battle
were Grand Hospital Master and Komtur of Elbing Werner von Tettinger. Such a slaughter of noble knights and personalities
was quite unusual in medieval Europe. This was possible mostly due to the participation of the peasantry who joined
latter stages of the battle, and took part in destruction of the surrounded Teutonic troops. Unlike the noblemen, the
peasants did not receive any ransom for taking captives; they thus had less of an incentive to keep them alive. Among
those taken captive were Konrad the White, duke of Oels (Oleśnica), and Casimir V of Pomerania- Stettin (Szczecin). The
lost battle led Bogislaw VIII of Pomerania-Stolp to cancel the alliance all Pomeranian dukes had concluded with the Teutonic
knights before, and to side with Poland in return for the southwestern areas of the defeated Teutonic Order state, yet was
unable to have these gains confirmed in the First Peace of Thorn.
After the battle Polish and Lithuanian forces stayed on the battlefield for three days. All notable officials were
interred in separate graves, while the body of Ulrich von Jungingen was covered with royal coat and transported to Marienburg
Castle. The rest of the dead were gathered in several mass graves. There are different speculations as to why Jogaila
decided to wait that long. After three days, the Polish-Lithuanian forces moved on to Marienburg and laid siege upon the castle,
but the three days time had been enough for the knights to organise the defence. Troops from Livonia were expected to
support their brothers, and the ongoing conflict with Sigismund of Luxemburg could cause problems elsewhere. After several
weeks of siege, the Lithuanian Grand Duke withdrew from the war and it became clear that the siege would not be effective
The nobility from Lesser Poland also wanted to end the war before the harvest, and the siege was lifted.
In the battle, both Polish and Lithuanian forces had taken several thousand captives. Most
of the mercenaries were released shortly after the battle on the condition that they will return to Kraków on 29 September
1410. After that move, the king held most of the Teutonic officials, while the rest returned to Prussia to beg the Teutonic
Order officials for their liberation and ransom payment. This proved to be a major drain of the Teutonic budget as the value
of a Teutonic Knight was quite high.
According to the Peace of Thorn signed in February 1411, the
Order had to cede the Dobrin Land (Dobrzyń Land) to Poland, and resign their claims to Samogitia for the lifetime of
the king. This is thought to be a diplomatic defeat for Poland and Lithuania as they pushed for attempts to dismantle the
Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights altogether. However, while the Poles and Lithuanians were unable to translate the military
victory in the battle to greater geographical gains, the financial consequences of the peace treaty were much worse for the
knights, having to pay about 5 tons of silver in each of the next four years.
The defeat of Teutonic knights' troops left them with few forces to defend their remaining territories. The
Grand Masters from then on had to rely on mercenary troops, which proved too expensive for the knights' budget to sustain.
Although Heinrich von Plauen the Elder, the successor to Ulrich von Jungingen, managed to keep hold on territories conquered