So, did you know Prussia started out as a nurse?
Seriously, guys. He's a minor. Have a little shame.
See, back in 1190, some German merchants established a field hospital in the Holy Land during the Siege of Acre, since people were dying of plague left and right and 'starting up a hospital' kind of seemed like the thing to do. They were inspired by the Knights Hospitaller…sort of…who were the guys who normally did that sort of thing, but the Pope had decreed back in the 11th century that German crusaders should be treated only by other Germans, because…Germans have…cooties, I guess?
Anyway, so this new group was called the Teutonic Order, because the Pope doesn't give bonus points for creativity.
The whole "hospital" thing didn't really stick, though--
--Seeing as how only six years later, the Teutonic Knights became a military order, with the holy duty of fucking shit up.
The Teutonic Knights would wave their dicks around in the Holy Land until the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem some two hundred years later, but since they were a knightly order and not, you know, a country, they had things going on in lots of other parts of the world as well! The Teutonic Knights were given holdings in the Holy Roman Empire, Greece, and Palestine, and were also invited into Hungary to deal with a little heathen problem she was having, but that didn't work out so great.
But never fear! In 1226, the Teutonic Knights would receive another invitation--this time from Poland (take note how the countries who chose to invite Prussia over tend to be the same countries who end up hating him). Poland was all,
The Old Prussians were a Baltic people who practiced a form of paganism very similar to that found in Lithuania. Well, of course the Teutonic Knights were ready to serve them a hot dish of Christ to the teeth, but maybe they're tired of sleeping on couches, okay? Maybe they want some respectable fucking accommodations.
The Holy Roman Empire issued the Teutonic Knights a special imperial privilege to conquer and occupy the land of the Old Prussians. And oh my gosh gee whiz, did they ever conquer and occupy. For the next fifty years, it was like
But at last it was finished! And the Teutonic Knights had a home to call their own. It's still not "Prussia"--the proper name for the newly conquered territory was 'the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights'--or more briefly, 'Ordensstaat,' which just means 'Order-State.' But it was a state! A sovereign, internationally-recognized political body, that had to collect taxes and put down uprisings and all that good stuff.
Here, a visual aid.
This new country--which we are going to call Prussia anyway, even though it isn't, because 'Ordensstaat' looks weird--rapidly gained territory, as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword joined the Teutonic Knights and brought with them territory in modern-day Estonia and Latvia.
So things are going well, Prussia's got his feet under him as a nation; time to start working on an infrastructure and establishing regional diplomacy, right?
Ah--of course. The perennial favorite of the overconfident.
You might have already heard of the Battle of the Ice, but just in case you haven't, here's how Prussia's 'crusade' against Novgorod played out:
So Prussia went to war with pagan Lithuania instead, and pretty much stayed at war with Lithuania until Lithuania moved in with Poland.
Oh, let's talk about Prussia and Poland.
All right, for reasons that are a little too complicated to get into, in 1306 the Margraviate of Brandenburg (an important chunk of the Holy Roman Empire) invaded the Duchy of Pomerelia, which the Poles felt was rightfully theirs. (It was an inheritance dispute thing, don't worry about it.) So Poland hired Prussia to evict the Brandenburgers.
Prussia was happy to.
When Prussia presented his bill, however, there may have been a bit of a misunderstanding.
End result: Prussia murdered a bunch of the Poles in the city, kept Pomeralia, bought the rights to it off the Brandenburgers, and gained a border with the HRE. Poland, on the other hand, had lost his Baltic Sea access, and was once again a landlocked country.
He was super pissed.
But, the next century was good for Prussia! I'd go into detail, but there's not much point: he fought stuff, he took things, he won wars, and he maintained Poland and Lithuania as determined enemies. 1407 was the height of the Ordensstaat's power and territory: he dealt as an equal with most of the nations in Europe, all without betraying his ~principles.~
But at this point, Lithuania had converted to Christianity, and Poland and Lithuania had joined forces.
Two nations who have every reason to hate the face off of Prussia. Suddenly a major European power. They go to war with him in 1409, and--
--kicked his ass, damn. The war ended only two years later, and Prussia managed to hold on to almost all of his territory, but his reputation as an invincible warrior was irreparably damaged. The marshals of the Teutonic Order sank into bickering and in-fighting. Border wars started to peel away the edges of the Ordensstaat's domain. In 1431, Prussia went to war with Poland again, this time over who got to keep Lithuania. Again, Prussia got served.
And then Prussia sank into civil war.
You know how you hear people talking a lot these days about 'the battle for hearts and minds?'
Well, it seems that the only battle Prussia couldn't win…was the battle of the ♥heart.♥
Basically, all his nobles and artisans and urban areas and merchants and, you know, people went "You know what? We're sick of the Teutonic Order. They're just a bunch of loudmouthed jackasses with swords. They're running this place into the ground."
What followed was, if not the greatest moment of Poland's life, at least somewhere in the top five.
Like, fucking everybody banded together under the name of the 'Prussian Confederation' and sent an appeal to the King of Poland to accept them as subjects, because medieval Poland was boss as hell and the Teutonic Order was, you know. A bunch of loudmouthed jackasses with swords.
Prussia was displeased.
Cue the Thirteen Years' War. I could probably do a whole Stick Theater just about the Thirteen Years' War, because it was a busy time and there's some ripping good yarns, but that'd take forever, so let me keep it simple:
In the settlement (here's where you get hotlinked to the Second Peace of Thorn), half of the Ordensstaat was ceded to Poland. This territory would thereafter be known as "Royal Prussia." The other half of the Ordensstaat became a fief of Poland, meaning that they owed Poland certain feudal obligations.
The difference can be a little hard to understand at first, so think of it this way:
But at least the Teutonic Knights were still kind of in control in the eastern half of Prussia. That is, until 1525, when the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order converted to Lutheranism and secularized what was left of the Order's holdings in Prussia.
Oh, the Teutonic Knights would continue to exist for more than four centuries, until Hitler disbanded them (they would later be reformed for ceremonial purposes), but their days as state-builders were over--and they were out of Prussia's life. From 1525 onwards, Prussia was, finally, just plain "Prussia."
Well--he was two Prussias. Royal Prussia and the Duchy of Prussia. Because nothing is ever simple with this fucker. But we'll get to that.
Next time: Prussia gets to come out and play with the big kids again with the formation of the Kingdom of Prussia! I might make it all the way to WW2, we'll see.