28 February 2010

Hermann von Salza 4th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights

In his excellent work, Maxims of Christian Chivalry, Kenelm Digby gives this account of Hermann von Salza, who became the 4th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights in 1211. 

His heroic deeds against the infidels and his honor were celebrated throughout the world.  Humble in prosperity, never cast down at a reverse of fortune, Hermann, as a statesman, a ruler, and a soldier, is equally great, and corresponds with the ideal of a perfect man.  Such was his personal character that Pope Honorius III and Emperor Frederick II chose him to be the arbitrator between them, and both showed him equal respect and friendship.  He is described as an Achille in bravery and an Ulyssess in prudence.  He conquered everywhere and founded towns.  Like a lion in war, he was a mild and gracious ruler over his new people.  He gave them instructors, took care of the sick, defended the priests, and gained the hearts of all.

Between 1230 and 1238 the Teutonic order under him flourished in its greatest splendor and regained the honor, accorded by the Pope, to be equal to both the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar.  After all its wars, Prussia, it is said, became within forty or fifty years the most flourishing and the best governed land in Europe.  It has been said also that, in consequence of the institutions of the knights, the people of Prussia, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the first half of the fifteenth century, enjoyed more freedom than any German state now possesses.  It is certain that the knights in Prussia, like the Benedictine monks in other parts, tilled the land, planted vines, reclaimed waste fens, and erected magnificent structures.  The towns were enclosed with thick walls and towers, and more than 1000 churches and convents were built in less than seventy years.  Enough has been seen to prove that the valor of Chivalry was not the spirit of ferocious barbarians but that of generous and devout men who were humane and lovers of their country and disinterested benefactors of the human race..

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