Crusade or Christianization? The polemic against the Teutonic Knights in light of French travelers’ accounts of the late Middle Ages

Loïc Chollet

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/OM.2015.008

Abstract


As a continuation of the political unrest opposing the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand-Duchy of Lithuania to the Order of the Teutonic Knights, the conversion of the last Baltic pagans was among the cases debated by the council of Constance (1414–1418). While the Teutonic Knights used to storm Lithuania twice a year, with the help of knights coming from all over Europe, Polish spokesmen intended to prove that no baptism could be achieved this way. The aim of this paper is to use narratives relating the experiences of some French travelers (crusaders or diplomats) who had the opportunity to encounter the Baltic reality. A comparative study of the texts read during the council of Constance with the writings of Guillaume de Machaut, Philippe de Mézières or Guillebert de Lannoy enable the researcher to see this quarrel in a new light. Looking at these foreign sources leads us to understand that some of the facts used by the Polish and Lithuanian spokesmen in Constance to darken the Teutonic Order’s image were already known by a few people in Western Europe. In particular, Cracovian rector Paulus Vladimiri (Paweł Włodkowic)’s characterization of the Teutonic raids as worldly and disconnected from Christian ideals match the critics formulated by Philippe de Mézières on the noblemen’s crusades. Vladimiri’s questioning of the effectiveness of the Order’s methods to bring baptism to Baltic pagans was also raised in at least two French travelers’ testimonies. However, if the remnant of paganism within the territory held by the Teutonic brothers was noted by some visitors, it was not explicitly disapproved of; for these Frenchmen mostly interested in chivalric activities and honorable deeds, the conversion of unbelievers was far less important than it was for the Polish and Lithuanian diplomats at Constance. Whilst the same facts were observed by both, their interpretation differed heavily.

Keywords


Later crusades; conversion of unbelievers; council of Constance; Teutonic Order; Lithuania; French participation in the Baltic crusades

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