Albert of Prussia

Albert (May 16, 1490 - March 20, 1568), (Albertus in Latin, Albrecht in German) Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and first duke of Ducal Prussia, was the third son of Frederick of Hohenzollern, prince of Ansbach and Bayreuth, and Sophia, daughter of Casimir IV Jagiello Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland and his wife Elisabeth of Habsburg.

Born at Ansbach on May 16, 1490, he was intended for the church, and spent some time at the court of Hermann, elector of Cologne, who appointed him canon in his cathedral.

Duke Albrecht's Titles (on his proclamation of 1561, Koenigsberg): Albrecht the Elder, Margrave of Brandenburg, in Prussia, Stettin in Pomerania Duke of the Cassuben (Kashubs) and Wends, Burggrave of Nuremberg and Count of Ruegen etc.

Turning to a more active life, Albrecht accompanied the emperor Maximilian I to Italy in 1508, and after his return spent some time in Hungary.

In December, Frederick, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, died, and Albert was chosen as his successor early in 1511 in the hope that his relationship to his maternal uncle Sigismund I the Old Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, would facilitate a settlement of the disputes over east Prussia, which had been held by the Order under Polish suzerainty since the Second Treaty of Thorn in 1466, but this was not acknowledged by pope or emperor and had been circumvented by the Grand Masters.

The new Grand Master, aware of his duties to the empire and to the papacy, refused to submit to the crown of Poland and as war to retain independence appeared inevitable, he made strenuous efforts to secure allies, and carried on protracted negotiations with Emperor Maximilian I.

The ill-feeling, influenced by the ravages of members of the Order in Poland, culminated in a struggle which began in December 1519. During the ensuing year Prussia was devastated, and Albert was granted a four-year truce early in 1521.

The dispute was referred to the Emperor Charles V and other princes, but as no settlement was reached he continued his efforts to obtain help in view of a renewal of the war. For this purpose he visited the Diet of Nuremberg in 1522, where he made the acquaintance of the reformer, Andreas Osiander, by whose influence he was won over to the new faith.

He then journeyed to Wittenberg, where he was advised by Martin Luther to abandon the senseless rules of his Order, to marry, and to convert Prussia into a hereditary duchy for himself. This proposal, which commended itself to Albert, had already been discussed by some of his relatives, but it was necessary to proceed cautiously, and he assured Pope Adrian VI that he was anxious to reform the Order and punish the knights who had adopted Lutheran doctrines. Luther for his part did not stop at the suggestion, but in order to facilitate the change made special efforts to spread his teaching among the Prussians, while Albert's brother, Georg, Prince of Ansbach, laid the scheme before their uncle Sigismund of Poland. After some delay the king assented to it, with the proviso that Prussia should be treated as a Polish fiefdom, and after this arrangement had been confirmed by a treaty concluded at Cracow, Albert pledged a personal oath to Sigismund I and was invested with the duchy for himself and his heirs on February 10, 1525.

Missing image
"The Prussian Tribute", oil on canvas by Jan Matejko, 1882, 388 x 875 cm, National Museum in Kraków. Albrecht Hohenzollern and his brothers receive the Duchy of Prussia as a fiefdom from the Polish King, Sigismundus I the Elder in 1525.

The Estates of the land then met at Königsberg and took the oath of allegiance to the new duke, who used his full powers to promote the doctrines of Luther. This transition did not, however, take place without protest. Summoned before the imperial court of justice, Albert refused to appear and was proscribed, while the Order, having deposed the Grand Master, made a feeble effort to recover Prussia. But as the German princes were experiencing the tumult of the Reformation, the peasants' revolt, and the wars against the conquering Turks, they did not attack the duke, and agitation against him soon died away.

In imperial politics Albert was fairly active. Joining the League of Torgau in 1526, he acted in unison with the Protestants, and was among the princes who banded together to overthrow Charles V after the issue of the Augsburg Interim in May 1548. For various reasons, however, poverty and personal inclination among others, he did not take a prominent part in the military operations of this period.

The early years of Albert's rule in Prussia were fairly prosperous. Although he had some trouble with the peasantry, the lands and treasures of the church enabled him to propitiate the nobles and for a time to provide for the expenses of the court.

He did something for the furtherance of learning by establishing schools in every town and by freeing serfs who adopted a scholastic life. In 1544, in spite of some opposition, he founded the university at Königsberg, where he appointed his friend Osiander to a professorship in 1549. Albert also paid for the printing of the Astronomical Tables ("Prutenische Tafeln") compiled by Erasmus Reinhold.

This step was the beginning of the troubles which clouded the closing years of Albert's reign. Osiander's divergence from Luther's doctrine of justification by faith involved him in a violent quarrel with Melanchthon, who had adherents in Königsberg, and these theological disputes soon created an uproar in the town. The duke strenuously supported Osiander, and the area of the quarrel soon broadened. There were no longer church lands available with which to conciliate the nobles, the burden of taxation was heavy, and Albert's rule became unpopular.

After Osiander's death in 1552 he favoured a preacher named Johann Funck, who, with an adventurer named Paul Scalich, exercised great influence over him and obtained considerable wealth at public expense. The state of turmoil caused by these religious and political disputes was increased by the possibility of Albert's early death and the need, should that happen, to appoint a regent, as his only son, Albert Frederick was still a mere youth. The duke was consequently obliged to consent to a condemnation of the teaching of Osiander, and the climax came in 1566 when the Estates appealed to Sigismund II, Albert's cousin, son of Sigismund I and Elisabeth Habsburg, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, who sent a commission to Königsberg. Scalich saved his life by flight, but Funck was executed. The question of the regency was settled, and a form of Lutheranism was adopted, and declared binding on all teachers and preachers.

Virtually deprived of power, the Duke lived for two more years, and died at Tapiau ( on March 20, 1568. He had married Dorothea, daughter of Frederick, King of Denmark in 1526, and following her death in 1547, married Anna Maria, daughter of Eric I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.

Albert was a voluminous letterwriter, and corresponded with many of the leading personages of the time.

For switching to Protestantism Albrecht had been excommunicated by the Pope. The Habsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire continued to claim the office of Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights as administrators of Prussia.

In 1891 a statue was erected to his memory at Königsberg.

External links

  • William Urban on the situation in Prussia [1] (

Preceded by:
Friedrich of Saxony
Grand Master of the Teutonic Order
Succeeded by:
Walter von Cronberg

Template:End boxde:Albrecht von Brandenburg-Preußen no:Albrecht av Preussen pl:Albrecht Hohenzollern ru:Альбрехт Гогенцоллерн sv:Albrekt av Preussen es:Alberto de Prusia


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