Post-classical history

Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach (1490-1568)

Grand master of the Teutonic Order (1511-1525), who secularized the state of the order in Prussia.

The third son of Frederick V (the elder), margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach (d. 1536) and the Polish princess Sophia (d. 1512), Albrecht was destined for an ecclesiastical career. At the age of eleven he received minor orders. His family procured Albrecht’s succession to Friedrich von Sachsen (d. 1510), grand master of the Teutonic Order. On 13 February 1511 he was received into the order and elected grand master on 6 July. In November 1512 he entered Prussia for the first time.

Albrecht’s foremost aim was to revise the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), by which the order had lost the western territories of Prussia to Poland. He refused the oath of allegiance to the Polish king and sought allies in the empire and Russia, but gained only halfhearted support. After the so- called Reiterkrieg (War of the Riders) of 1519-1521, Albrecht had to accept a four-year truce. Attempts to achieve a peaceful settlement failed. Faced with a superior foe, no external assistance, a serious lack of money, and growing discontent among his Prussian subjects, Albrecht left Prussia. In the empire he became acquainted with the Reformation and sought advice from Martin Luther, who fundamentally questioned the ideological foundations of the order and its state, suggesting its dissolution. When it became clear that the truce with Poland could not be renewed, Albrecht submitted to King Sigismund of Poland in the Treaty of Krakôw (1525), which granted him Prussia as a hereditary duchy under Polish suzerainty. Albrecht had already promoted the spread of the Reformation in Prussia and allowed many of the order’s high offices to fall vacant. In May 1525 he declared the dissolution of the order in Prussia. Its remaining brother knights were either secularized or forced to emigrate to other lands of the order.

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