Post-classical history

Wolter von Plettenberg (d. 1535)

Master of the Teutonic Order in Livonia (1494-1535).

Wolter von Plettenberg was born in Westphalia around the year 1450. He joined the order in Livonia in about 1464. After holding minor offices, he became marshal of Livonia in 1489 and master in 1494, serving for over forty years. In the face of the expansion of Muscovy, which had subjected Novgorod and Pskov and threatened the eastern frontier of Livonia, Plettenberg attempted to reform the economic basis of the Livonian military forces and launched a massive campaign to raise funds from the West to pay for mercenaries. He concluded an alliance with Lithuania against Moscow and started hostilities in 1501, which culminated in a battle at Lake Smolino near Pskov in 1502, where the Livonians remained undefeated. A treaty with Muscovy the following year ensured peace until the beginning of the Livonian War in 1558 and brought Plettenberg fame as the last great victorious master of Livonia.

After the Lutheran Reformation, Plettenberg was forced to accept the spread of Protestantism, which remained, however, mostly confined to the towns. The secularization of the order in Prussia by Grand Master Albrecht von Brandenburg put pressure on the Livonian branch, but Pletten- berg did not follow the Prussian example. The traditional political structure of the order had survived better in Livonia, and unlike Albrecht, Plettenberg was bound to the institutions of the order through his long career. In 1526 Plettenberg gained the status of a prince of the Holy Roman Empire (Ger. Reichsfürst), which further ensured the independence of the Livonian branch from the ambitions of the master of the order in Germany.

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