Battle of Grunwald: One of history’s ‘greatest battles’ remembered on 609th anniversary
To 15th century Poland, the growth of the Teutonic Knights was seen as one of the country’s greatest threats.
Invited by the Mazovian Duke Konrad in 1226 to help defend the Kingdom from pagan Prussians, little could he have imagined that the warriors would soon turn.
The Teutonic Knights carved out enough land from Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to establish their own state, acting against both their Christian and pagan neighbours.
Their expansion led to the Polish-Lithuanian alliance with the Grand Duke Jogaila marrying Queen Jadwiga in 1386, adopting Christianity and the name Władysław along the way.
Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity should have been enough to put a stop to Teutonic activities in the region, but the knights contested the act before the Pope and continued their military advance to the south and east. With political mediations failing, both sides were ripe for war.
On July 15th, 1410, on the fields between Grunwald, Stębark and Łodwigowo in northern Poland over 50,000 knights, infantrymen and gunners met in one of the biggest battles of medieval Europe.
In recognition of the Polish-Lithuanian victory, ever since 1998 thousands of people have gathered on the anniversary to re-enact the battle in the fields of Grunwald, creating a grand spectacle of swords, armour-clad knights and cavalry, which is one of the world’s largest historical re-enactments.
This year’s edition, held on July 9th-15th, gathered over 1,000 historic reconstructors from Poland, across Europe and even South Africa, as well as 80,000 spectators. The celebration had its culminating moment on Saturday, with the grand battle taking place at 15:00.
Polish-Lithuanian forces led by king Władysław II Jagiełło (played by Jacek Szymański) faced the Teutonic knights under the leadership of the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen (Jarosław Struczyński).
Months of preparation are necessary to take part in the re-enactment. Participants are required not just to be proficient in combat, but also to wear historically accurate outfits. The knights are then divided into traditional banners with knights appointed the roles of historic commanders to best present the tactics of medieval armies.
David Gordon from the United States, one of the spectators who witnessed the battle this year wrote on Facebook on July 13th: “The battle starts with the farmers stacking hay until the Teutonic Knights attack them, and burn their village.”
The battle scenario is based on historic chronicles of the actual event. After the attack on the villagers, armed forces mobilized across the country, leading to the creation of an enormous fighting force: Polish and Lithuanian knights, Tatar light cavalry and Ruthenian warriors faced the Teutonic knights supported by allies from Germanic states and experienced crusaders from Western Europe.
Once the battle began, the scale of victory was tilted to the Teutonic side. It was not until the end of the battle that the Polish-Lithuanian forces began to turn the tide in their favour. Teutonic rolling wagons, artillery and archers where shown alongside the cavalry and infantry, to present the military technics and tactics from the time.
As always, the Polish-Lithuanian forces defeated the Teuatonian knights, to the surprise of no one.
Summing up the day, American Gordon wrote: “Cavalry. Archers. A cannon and mortars. Swords. The Teutonic Knights are defeated. Poland is free....until the next time.”