Post-classical history

Dobrin, Order of

The Order (or Knights) of Dobrin is the conventional name given in modern scholarship to a small military order established in northeastern Poland with the objective of carrying on the missionary crusade against the heathen Prussians.

The order’s relatively short existence means that its history can only be reconstructed in fragmentary fashion from a small number of sources, principally contemporary documents, the chronicle of the abbey of Oliwa, and the later Chronicon Terre Prussiae of the early fourteenth-century priest of the Teutonic Order Peter von Dusburg.

Although some scholars date its origins to as early as 1216-1217, most believe that the order was founded in 1228 or shortly before, on the initiative of Christian, bishop of Prussia. It was intended to provide the bishop with an armed force that would support his mission to convert the Prussians. The order is referred to in the Latin sources as Milites Christi de Prussia (Knights of Christ in Prussia), Milites Christi fratres de Dobrin (Knight Brethren of Christ of Dobrin), or variations of these names.

The first definite information on the new order dates from 4 July 1228, when it received donations from Conrad, duke of Mazovia, and Günther, bishop of Plock. These consisted of lands and rights within a narrow strip of territory in the north of the Polish duchy of Mazovia, stretching from the right bank of the river Vistula as far as the Prussian frontier, and centered on the castle of Dobrin (mod. Dobrzyn, Poland), with some smaller possessions on the left bank of the Vistula. These donations, which were confirmed by Pope Gregory IX on 28 October 1228, formed the order’s principal landed possessions, although it did come to acquire smaller properties outside its theater of war, notably in Pomerania.

The order followed the Templar rule, and its insignia was a red sword and star on a white surcoat. Its initial strength was 15 knight brethren and an unspecified number of soldiers, servants, and other personnel, which may have been as high as 150. It is unlikely that the order ever exceeded this strength. Only a handful of the knight brethren are known by name: they include Bruno, the first master. The majority were Germans by origin, from Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and the region of the Lower Elbe in northwestern Saxony.

For most of its short existence, the order seems to have been occupied in defending Christian Mazovia from the heathen Prussians, rather than being able to take the offensive against them. The decisive downturn in its fortunes occurred in 1233, when Bishop Christian was captured by the Prussians. The Knights of Dobrin were now deprived of their principal protector, and both the papacy and the new bishop of Plock, Peter, favored the bigger and more powerful Teutonic Order as the main military force to carry on the crusade against the Prussians. The Knights of Dobrin were incorporated into the Teutonic Order in 1235. Duke Conrad contested the Teutonic Order’s possession of the lands he had originally granted and repossessed the territory of Dobrin after arbitration by the papal legate, William of Modena.

Meanwhile Master Bruno and some dissident knight brethren had refused to accept the incorporation into the Teutonic Order, and had moved some 240 kilometers (150 mi.) further east, settling at the castle of Drohiczyn on the river Bug, which they had been granted, with its surrounding territory, by Duke Conrad (1237). Their new task was to defend this part of Mazovia against the Prussian Iatving tribe and the Orthodox Russians. However, this small force disintegrated in the face of Russian attacks in 1238, in the course of which Bruno was captured. The surviving members returned to their home countries, and the order’s few remaining possessions were sold off.

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