Battle of Płowce, fought between Kingdom of Poland and Teutonic Order. Despite the Polish victory on the field, the battle is traditionally regarded as inconclusive given that the Teutonic Order was not destroyed . Nevertheless, it was an important battle for Poland, which was just regaining its stature as a country on the international scene, and held its own against a powerful military force.
The Battle of Płowce took place on 27 September 1331 between the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order.
The period of Polish history is known as the Division in the Provinces, and lasted from 1138 to 1320. This long era of fragmentation was characterized by a decline of part-time militias in favour of professional – or at least, better-trained – household and local troops. It was upon these that the rulers of Poland now relied. It was also during this period, from the mid-12th to early 14th century, that a true Polish knightly class emerged as part of a gradually developing feudal system of government and social organization. Furthermore, in 1154-55 the crusading military orders – the Hospitallers and Templars – gained their first footholds on Polish soil. Later in this notably turbulent period the Teutonic Knights joined the older established military orders, arriving on the scene in 1226, almost simultaneously with the foundation of the specifically Polish Brethren of Dobrzyn (Knights of Christ). Then came the Mongol invasions, with raids deep into Europe that culminated in the battle of Liegnitz/Legnica in 1241.
The 14th century saw the reunification of Poland under the rule of King Wladyslaw I Lokietek, who came to the throne in 1320. He was faced with numerous opponents and experienced the ups and downs typical of all medieval power struggles; but the main challenge to the Polish monarchy remained that posed by the Teutonic Order in Prussia and Livonia. This religio-military order, though defeated at the battle of Plowce in 1331, continued to be a significant military power that the Polish kings could not ignore. Consequently, the main aim of Wladyslaw I Lokietek’s son and successor Casimir III ‘the Great’ was to further consolidate the military and economic strength of the kingdom that Wladyslaw had effectively rebuilt. It is worth noting that, despite Casimir the Great’s brilliant campaigns – including the conquest of Galich Vladimir in 1340-66 – he is primarily remembered in Polish history as one of the country’s greatest administrators and fortifiers, and a remarkable number of castles and other strongpoints were constructed during his reign.
As a consequence of his relatively peaceful reign. King Casimir III went down in Polish history as one of the country’s greatest administrators and castle-builders; about 80 strongholds were constructed during his time.
The Teutonic Order attempted to take Brześć Kujawski after standing all day in the sun. The German army from the Teutonic Order had 7,000 men, and was opposed by a Polish army of 5,000 men. On 27 September 1331, one-third of the Teutonic Order’s force of knights under Dietrich von Altenburg left the blockaded peasant town of Płowce. The Poles, under Władyslaw Łokietek (Władysław I the Elbow-high) and his son Casimir, immediately attacked in a frontal assault. They were immediately joined by Polish detachments hiding in a forest to the left of the town. Reportedly, during the first phase of the battle Prince Casimir was ordered to depart so as not to deprive the Polish Kingdom of the presumptive heir. Despite this, in three hours the Teutonic knights had been defeated and their leader captured. The Polish forces were victorious in this phase of the battle, took prisoner 56 knights, and freed many Polish captives.
However, upon hearing the sounds of battle from Płowce, rear elements of the German formations rushed to aid their fellow knights, and soon another third of the Teutonic Order’s forces arrived. The long and bloody battle resumed and continued until dark, with high casualties on both sides. Poland scored a clear victory, with Reuss von Plauen, commander of the German army, and another 40 knights taken prisoner by the Poles. After fleeing Płowce, the knights withdrew to Toruń (Thorn).
Despite the Polish victory on the field, the battle is traditionally regarded as inconclusive given that the Teutonic Order was not destroyed . Nevertheless, it was an important battle for Poland, which was just regaining its stature as a country on the international scene, and held its own against a powerful military force.
An estimated over 4,000 men (combined) were said to have fallen on the field of the battle. Of these, 73 were Knight Brothers of the Teutonic Order (the highest-ranking members of the Order). Over one half of the dead were Germans, who had to retreat back to Toruń, their death toll climbing to one third of all their knights taking part in the war. The Polish armies, also suffering heavy casualties, did not follow the retreating Germans.
Teutonic Knights’ War with Poland of 1309-43
Gdansk, 1308; Plowce, 1331; Reval, 1343
Poland called on the Order of the Teutonic Knights to assist in resisting the attack of Brandenburg against the Polish territory of Pomerelia (eastern Pomerania). The knights, who had acquired control of Prussia in the five decade-long TEUTONIC KNIGHTS’ CONQUEST OF PRUSSIA, eagerly entered the conflict, driving the Brandenburgers out of Pomerelia; in 1309, the order seized the territory for itself, including the key port city of Danzig (Gdansk, Poland). In taking Danzig, the knights attacked not only Brandenburgers but also Polish troops and Danzig civilians. To consolidate the claim on Danzig and the order’s control over it, the Teutonic grand master established his principal home and headquarters in a castle, Marienburg, adjacent to the city.
Having warded off Brandenburger occupation of Pomerelia, Ladislas I (1260-1333) of Poland lost the region-the only direct Polish access to the sea-to the Order of the Teutonic Knights. He attempted to persuade the pope-Clement V (1264-1314, reigned from 1305) and John XXII (1249-1334, reigned from 1316)-in whose service the knights had pledged themselves, to intervene. In the meantime, Ladislas concluded an alliance with Lithuania, longtime enemy of the knights. However, in 1331, Bohemian forces threatened Poland, and Ladislas focused his attention there. Taking advantage of the situation, the Teutonic Knights marched into Poland in 1331 and again in 1332. The Poles prevailed against the invaders at the Battle of Plowce on September 27, 1331, but this did not block the knights’ advance. The order continued to raid and ravage territory throughout northwestern Poland. In some areas, the knights seized and occupied territory.
In 1333, Casimier III (the Great; 1309-70) succeeded to the Polish throne on the death of Ladislas I and, 10 years later, concluded the Treaty of Kalisz, by which Poland regained the territory it had lost in exchange for giving the Teutonic Knights control of Pomerelia.
Further reading: Helen J. Nicholson, Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights: Images of Military Orders, 1128-1291 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993); Adam Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture (New York: F. Watts, 1988).