The Battle of Grunwald – My Polish Heritage

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The Battle of Grunwald - One of the most important battles in the history of Poland

On 15 July 1410 the Battle of Grunwald took place. It was one of the largest battles of Middle Ages and the most important and well-remembered battle of Poland and Lithuania, in which they stopped the Teutonic Knights to stop Polish-Lithuanian union to keep raiding and conquering both Lithuania and Poland.

           Jan Matejko - The Battle of Grunwald


The Teutonic Knights, one of the crusading orders, first came to Poland in 1226 on invitation by Polish duke Konrad I of Masovia. He invited them and gave them Chełmno Land in hope that they will fight against pagan Prussians, what they did for next 50 years. In the meantime they absorbed some smaller crusader orders. After their victory, their relationship with Poland started to get worse. For their help with defending Eastern Pomerania against Bradenburgs in 1308 they demanded pay higher than the value of Pomerania. When the ruler of Poland demanded more just price, they just took Pomerania for themselves. Even when Pope gave them order to give them back in 1321, they didn’t.

For next 90 years, the Teutonic Knights kept slowly taking Polish lands and rarely they gave them back on demands of Pope. In the meantime, they kept raiding and conquering the pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania. When Grand Duke Jagiello married Polish Queen Jadwiga in 1385 and became the King of Poland, he converted both himself and Lithuania to Christianity. The Teutonic Knights, to keep they mandate to freely raid Lithuania, contested Jagiello conversion in a papal court. When uprising in Teuronic-conquered Lithuania started in 1409 and Poland backed it, Grand Master of Teutonic Order declared war on the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Neither side was ready for a war, so they agreed for a truce, lasting till 24 June 1410. Teutonic Knights recruited army form other crusading orders and mercenaries, and at the same time Lithuania and Poland built their strategy and learned to work together. Polish King brought some help from Russia and mercenaries too.

Commonly accepted number of troops was 39 000 Polish and Lithuanian men and 29 000 Teutonic knights. While less numerous, Teutonic army had only highly trained and disciplined soldiers in it with a lot of incredible dangerous heavy cavalry and with artillery support. Meanwhile, Polish forces were much less experienced and hadn’t had as many elite units. So despite different numbers, strength of both sides was quite similar.

Władysław Jagiełło praying before battle by Jan Matejko


In the end battle ended with decisive victory of Polish-Lithuanian forces and death of most of Teutonic high command. Polish tactics were superior. Polish King Władysław Jagiełło stalled starting battle as long as he could, taking part in long masses. The day of battle was very hot and heavy armed Teutonic Knights, which stayed in the open to have better field for their charge got tired quickly. Polish and Lithuanian forces meanwhile hide for most time. When Teutonic Knights tried to charge, they quickly saw why. Numberless holes dug into ground stopped them. When Lithuanian troops retreated and Teutonic Knights thought that they had only Polish forces to easily destroy, they made their final mistake. Lithuanians came back from their planned retreat and destroyed surprised knights. Even their canons didn’t help. It was raining day before battle and wet Teutonic gunpowder stopped them from using artillery. This defeat forever broke Teutonic Knights. They never came back from it. Poland and Lithuania started to reclaim their lands and finally, in 1525, Grand Master Albert resigned his position as Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and received the title "Duke of Prussia" from Polish King, becoming Polish vassal.

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