Knights of the Sword

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Known also as the Brothers of the Sword and as the Livonian Knights, one of the 12 religious military orders of knighthood that came into being between 1100 and 1300, and one of the three of German origin. It was founded in 1201, either by Abbot Theoderic of Riga or by Bp. albert i of Riga. The order was confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1204. The brother knights were to be called Milites Christi de Lyvonia, but they were commonly referred to as Brothers of the Sword. Their rule was that of the templars; their habit was the white mantle with a red cross and a red sword behind it pointing up. The purpose of the new order was to convert the heathen Esths and Livs of Livonia, both obstinately pagan. The Knights of the Sword merged with the Teutonic Knights on May 12, 1237, thereby extending considerably the sphere of interest of the latter. This merger merely added to the already great political confusion and complex political hierarchy of Livonia: the master of the Brothers of the Sword, the representative of the teutonic knights, the archbishop of Riga, and the estates of Livonia all exercised simultaneous and conflicting jurisdiction over that territory. The Brothers of the Sword, unrestricted by their merger with the Teutonic Knights, continued their skirmishes with Poland, Lithuania, and the Russian states. Untamed, they never took on the semireligious characteristics of the Teutonic Knights, but, true to their name, continued to live by the sword until Nov. 8, 1561, when, pursuant to an agreement between the Land Master Gotthard Kettler and the archbishop of Riga, William of Brandenburg, Livonia became a part of Lithuania. The Knights of the Sword were dissolved then.

Bibliography: f. g. von bunge, Der Orden der Schwertbrüder (Leipzig 1875). m. tumler, Der Deutsche Orden im Werden, Wachsen und Wirken bis 1400 (Vienna 1955; 2d ed. 1965). f. benninghoven, Der Orden der Schwertbrüder (Cologne 1964). a. forey, The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries (Toronto 1992).

[g. grosschmid]