The Teutonic Knights were a German military religious order founded (1190-91) during the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade. Originally only Germans of noble birth were admissible to the order. Previously known as the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem, it was one of nobles, and monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were taken.
The order gained prominece under Hermann von Salza (pictured left) after its move to Eastern Europe. After various crusades including a successful 50 year campaign against Prussia, the Knights founded numerous towns and fortresses. The Prussians, who had repeatedly risen in revolt, were reduced to serfdom (13th cent.), and German emigrants arrived to settle the land. The order was strongly centralized, and its administration and colonization laid the foundation of the Prussian state. The knights administered their lands from Marienburg, but they granted considerable freedom to the cities. Additioanlly the knights were given power over the grain trade via Papal support.
After continued warfare with Poland, the knights were forced to cede West Prussia and Pomerelia to Poland, retaining only East Prussia as a Polish fief. Their capital was transferred to Königsberg in East Prussia. The fatal blow to the order was delivered in 1525 by its own grand master, Albert of Brandenburg, who accepted the Reformation, declared Prussia a secular duchy, and was invested as duke by Sigismund I of Poland. Stripped of all importance, the Teutonic Order continued in Catholic Germany until its remaining possessions were secularized in 1809. It was later revived in Austria, but as an honorary body. The habit of the order was a white robe with a black cross.