Tannenberg and after. Lithuania, Poland, and the Teutonic Order in Search of Immortality

Article excerpt

Tannenberg and After. Lithuania, Poland, and the Teutonic Order in Search of Immortality. By William Urban. (Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center. 1999. Pp. xxxii, 500. $38.50 paperback.)

For more than three decades, Urban has devoted himself to the study of Baltic history, publishing, among other volumes, studies of the medieval crusade in the Baltic, in Prussia, in Livonia, and in Samogitia. This book is conceived as a sequel to these and focuses upon the major states and personalities in the region during the decades from the late fourteenth through the early sixteenth century. While the peoples and leaders of Poland and Lithuania are important in his story, it is the Knights of the Teutonic Order who figure most prominently (and are the focus of a more recent book by him). Readers familiar with Urban's previous scholarship will recognize his approach, which stands firmly in the camp of traditional narrative political history. As such, it represents a welcome treatment, rich with detail and vivid images, of a region and period not well studied in anglophone scholarship.

Following a brief introduction to set the late fourteenth-century context, Urban treats the rivalry between the cousins Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania and King Wladyslaw Jagietlo of Poland, the Teutonic Order's crusade against piracy in the Baltic, and the revolt in Samogitia that eventually brought Poland, Lithuania, and the Teutonic Knights to the eve of war. That conflict, including the battle of Tannenberg, and the subsequent inconclusive campaign are the subjects of the next two chapters. Urban then shifts his focus to the Council of Constance, where the conflict between the three Baltic parties was played out, then returns to relations between Vytautas and Jagieito. A chapter on the Hussite problem and how it affected Polish relations with the Order and vice versa leads into a relatively brief treatment of the Thirteen Years' War from 1454 to 1466 and the effective solution to relations between the Teutonic Order and Poland-Lithuania. The penultimate chapter examines the decades thereafter, during which the Order sought unsuccessfully to reform itself and to avoid at almost any cost formalizing its subjection to Poland. …