The origin of this Order was a humble but a pious one. During the Crusades a wealthy gentleman of Germany, who resided at Jerusalem, commiserating the condition of his countrymen who came there as pilgrims, made his house their receptacle, and afterward built a hospital, to which, by the permission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he added an oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Other Germans coming from Lubeck and Bremen contributed to the extension of this charity, and erected at Acre, during the third Crusade, a sumptuous hospital, and assumed the title of Teutonic Knights, or Brethren of the Hospital of our Lady of the Germans of Jerusalem. They elected Henry Walpott their first Master, and adopted for their government a Rule closely approximating to that both of the Templars and the Hospitalers, with an additional one that none but Germans should be admitted into the Order. Their dress consisted of a white mantle, with a black cross embroidered in gold. Clark says (History of Knighthood ii, page 60) that the original badge, which was assigned to them by the Emperor Henry VI, was a black cross potent; and that form of cross has ever Since been known as a Teutonic Cross. John, King of Jerusalem, added the cross double potent gold, that is, a cross potent of gold on the black cross. The word potent means a staff, the crossed or crutched ends of the cross arms suggesting the head of a walking stick. The Emperor Frederick II gave them the black double- headed eagle, to be borne in an inescutcheon, a small shield borne on another, in the center of the cross; and Saint Louis, of France, added to it, as an augmentation, a blue chief strewn with fleur-de-lis.
During the siege of Acre they did good service to the Christian cause; but on the fall of that city, the main body returned to Europe with Frederick II. For many years they were busily occupied in Crusades against the pagan inhabitants of Prussia and Poland. Ashmole says that in 1340 they built the city of Maryburg, and there established the residence of their Grand Master. They were for a long time engaged in contests with the Kings of Poland on account of the invasion of their territory. They were also excommunicated by Pope John XXII, but relying on their great strength, and the remoteness of their province, they bid defiance to ecclesiastical censures and the contest resulted in their receiving Prussia proper as a trust from the Kings of Poland.
In 1511, Albert, Margrave of Brandenburg, was elected their Grand Master. In 1525 he abandoned the vows of his Order; became a Protestant, and exchanged his title of Grand Master for that of Duke of Eastern Prussia; and thus the dominion of the Knights was brought to an end, and the foundation laid of the future Kingdom of Prussia.
The Order, however, still continued its existence, the seat of the Grand Master being at Mergentheim, in Swabia. By the peace of Presburg, in 1805, the Emperor Francis II obtained the Grand Mastership, with all its rights and privileges. In 1809 Napoleon abolished the Order, but it continued a titular existence in Austria. Attempts have been made to incorporate the Teutonic Knights into Freemasonry, and their cross has been adopted in some of the advanced Degrees. But we fail to find in history the slightest traces of any actual connection between the two Orders.
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