The City of London and Poland's Partitioning


The plans of the merchant elites of the City of London to undermine the Catholic Church in Europe involved efforts to destroy the greatest Catholic state in Central and Eastern Europe – the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The merchant elites planned to achieve this aim by strengthening its enemies, Protestant Prussia and Orthodox Russia. The process of a steady downfall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been stretched across many centuries and was associated with German aggressive eastward expansion, in particular the operations of the allies of the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights of Prussia.

The Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem, in short the TEUTONIC KNIGHTS, was founded in 1198 in the Holy Land by the German crusaders from Bremen and Lübeck. Originally its purpose was to care for the wounded like Knights Hospitaller, and to live under the Templar rule.92 However, lack of fighting men in the Holy Land forced them to transform into a proper military order which fought alongside the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller. Through shrewd diplomatic manoeuvres, Teutonic Knights acquired land in Italy, Germany and Palestine, but as the Turks began to steadily drive the crusaders off the Holy Land, they began to look for other crusading options. In the first half of the thirteen century king András II of Hungary invited the grand master of the Teutonic Knights, Hermann von Salza, to come to Transylvania and repel the invasions of pagan Cumac tribes. The Teutonic Knights successfully repelled the invaders but were subsequently expelled from Hungary as soon as the king of Hungary realised they were trying to establish an autonomous state. Soon thereafter, in 1226, they were invited to Poland by a regional duke, Konrad I of Masovia, to help to fight against the raids of the Baltic Prussian pagans. The Teutonic Knights accepted the invitation and soon began a ruthless extermination of the pagans in Prussia and alongside the Baltic coast. In the territory they conquered, they built ring of castles and established towns: Thorn (Toruń) in 1231, Kulm (Chełmno) in 1232, Elbing (Elbląg) in 1237, Königsberg (Królewiec, today's Kaliningrad) in 1286. In 1237, the Teutonic Knights merged with another German military order based on the Templar rule, Livonian Brothers of the Sword, increasing their lands by the territory of Livonia (present-day Latvia and Estonia), gaining much control over the Baltic coast. Some Polish regional dukes had also invited Knights Templar and Hospitallers to Poland, during the 12th and 13th century, in time of Poland's fragmentation, to provide military protection against enemy invasions. They were granted lands mainly in the province of West Pomerania (Pomorze Zachodnie), Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) and Silesia (Śąsk).93 On April 9, 1241, at Legnica in Silesia, Polish knights and Knights Templar fought side by side against the Mongol invadors, who previously ransacked cities of Lublin and Sandomierz in the east of Poland.94 During a long and fierce battle, the Mongols used some toxic fumes or gunpowder, most likely derived from China, which caused panic among the knights and their horses, permitting the Mongols to struck a decisive blow.95 Mongols then moved southward towards Hungary, where few days later they defeated the Hungarians southwest of the Sajó River, in one of the bloodiest battles of the medieval period. The Mongols repeatedly raided Poland and Hungary in the next decades but both countries, unlike the Russian lands, stayed outside of their sphere of influence.

When the Pope ordered the dissolution of the Knights Templar Order in 1307 their lands in Poland had been taken over by Knights Hospitaller. Many Templars joined other religious-military orders, and some most probably took refuge with the Teutonic Knights, possibly hiding some of their treasures in Poland.96 Soon thereafter, in 1308, the Teutonic Knights conquered the strategically important territory of Pomerania at the Baltic coast with the ancient Polish town of Gdańsk. This was the most important port for the export of Polish grain so its annexation brought the Teutonic Knights into conflict with the Polish rulers. Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Sigfried von Feuchtwangen, transferred the Order's headquarters from Venice to Marienburg (Malbork) in Pomerania, making it the capital of their new state, the Teutonic order state of Prussia. Thus, whilst the Knights Templar laid foundation for the state of Portugal and laid constitutional framework for the kingdom of England in Magna Carta, their comrades in arms, the Teutonic Knights, established their own state north of Poland, at the Baltic Sea. Now, the Teutonic Knights could engage in commerce and admit their fellow knights from England and Scotland, who would usually come by sea. They also allowed the Company of Merchant Adventurers, the branch of the Worshipful Company of Mercers, to open outposts in its cities of Gdańsk (Danzig) and Elbing (Elbląg).97 In the following decades, the Teutonic Knights carried a series of crusades into the kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the pagan country that bordered with Poland in the east, in order to expand their territory.98

Meanwhile, the Polish provinces were reunited by Duke Władysław Łokietek (“the Elbowhigh”) of Kuyavia, a great warrior of short stature, who in 1320 was crowned King of Poland in Kraków. When he died in 1333, his son king Casimir III, later known as Casimir the Great, tried to secure the position worked out by his father at the cost of territorial concessions. In 1339, he formally ceded suzerainty over Silesia passing it to Bohemia but at the same time expanded his kingdom to the east, incorporating Galicia with the city of Lwów and the Duchy of Halych (presentday western Ukraine) in 1349. King Casimir had been a great reformer. He codified the entire corpus of existing laws in two separate collections – one for Greater Poland and one for Lesser Poland, and they formed the core around which Polish Law developed over the next four centuries. He reformed the fiscal system, introduced the new coinage and confirmed the privileges granted to the Jews in Kalisz in 1264, extending them to the whole territory of the kingdom of Poland.99 Under his reign, Kraków turned from a wooden town into a city of brick and stone with reviving trade. First University was established in Kraków in 1364 and supported from the income payable quarterly from the royal salt monopoly at Wieliczka.

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92 William Urban, The Teutonic Knights: Military History (Greenhill Books, London, 2003), pp. 11-12 »

93 P. Hope; “Kwestia sprowadzenia templariuszy do Polski. Rozwój uposażenia w Wielkopolsce” [w:] Poznański Rocznik Archiwalno-Historyczny 1993, nr 1, s. 15-40; Ch. Kouschil; “Przyczynek do problemu roli zakonów templariuszy i joannitów w procesie średniowiecznego powiększania terenów uprawnych na obszarze komandorii chwarszczańskiej” [w:] Nadwarciański Rocznik Historyczno-Archiwlany 9, 2002, s. 37-47; Szymon Wrzesiński, Templariusze w Polsce (Egros, 2009) »

94 See M. Goliński; “Templariusze a bitwa pod Legnicą - próba rewizji poglądów”, [w:] Kwartalnik Historyczny, t. 98, 3, 1991, s. 3-15 »

95 According to the chronicler, Jan Dlugosz »

96 Further reading: Andrzej Zieliński, Tajemnice Polskich Templariuszy (Oficyna Wydawnicza RYTM, 2013) »

97 Philippe Dollinger, Die Hanse (Kröner, 1998), p. 104 »

98 In England knowledge about Poland was mainly garnered by English knights who participated in the crusades of the Teutonic Order. See Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, volume I, The Origins to 1795 (Oxford, 1981), p. 92 »

99 Museum of History of Poland, “Casimir the Great confirmed the rights of the Jews in the kingdom of Poland, 1334-10-09”; »