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The Teutonic Knights  
Author Henryk Sienkiewicz
Original title Krzyżacy
Country Poland
Language Polish
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher Tygodnik Illustrowany (serial)
Wł. Anczyc & Co. Press (first novel)
Publication date 1900
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
OCLC Number 751659

The Knights of the Cross (Polish: 'Krzyżacy') is a 1900 historical novel written by Polish writer and Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz.

The novel was written during the partitions of Poland, with most Poles living in the Russian Empire province Privislinsky Krai, formerly Congress Poland. One of Sienkiewicz's goals in writing The Knights of the Cross was to encourage and strengthen Polish national confidence against the occupying power. To circumvent Russian censorship, Sienciewicz placed the plot in the middle age Prussia (region) and the State of the Teutonic Order. He used recent offences perpetrated by the Russian occupiers to fill in the details. His readers knew them well from the newspapers.

The history of the actual German Order of the Teutonic Knights, which from the 13th to the 16th century controlled large parts of the Baltic Sea coast, and its defeat in the Battle of Tannenberg (1410)/ Battle of Grunwald by Poles and Lithuanians serves as the backdrop for the story. The novel also focuses extensively on medieval life and customs in both the cities and the country in medieval Poland.

The Tygodnik Illustrowany serialized the book from 1897-1899 before a first complete printed edition appeared in 1900. The book was originally translated into English by Jeremiah Curtin in 1900, a contemporary of Henryk Sienkiewicz.[1] It has since been translated into 25 languages, and was also the first book to be printed in Poland after the Second World War ended in 1945. By that time, the origin of the Imperial Russian cruelties against Poles depicted in the book were downplayed, and the book was useful to fan anti-German sentiments and the expulsion of Germans.

In 1960 the novel was made into a Polish film of the same name, by director Aleksander Ford.


Plot summary

Krzyżacy tells the story of the young poor nobleman Zbyszko of Bogdaniec, who with his uncle Maćko of Bogdaniec is returning from a war against the order of the Teutonic Knights ("Knights of the Cross") in Lithuania. In a tavern inn he falls in love with the lovely Danusia, who is traveling with the court of the Duchess Anna. He swears to her his knight's oath and promises to bring her "three trophies" from the Teutonic Knights.

However, on his way to the royal city of Cracow, Zbyszko attacks Kuno von Liechtenstein, who is an official diplomatic delegate of the Teutonic Knights. The penalty is death. Yet on the gallows Danusia saves him when she jumps onto the platform in full view of the crowd and promises to marry him, covering his head with a handkerchief (an old Polish tradition that carries with it a stay of execution if the couple wed). Then Zbyszko and Maćko return home to their estate, where they rebuild their mansion. After some time Zbyszek returns to Danuśka and marries her.

But she is soon treacherously kidnapped by four Teutonic Knights, for they want to their revenge - her father Jurand is a killer of Germans. Jurand himself is eventually imprisoned in their keep, and cruelly tortured.

Zbyszko's quest to find and save the kidnapped Danusia continues until he at long last rescues her. But it is too late. Danuta has been driven insane because of her treatment at the hands of her captors, and eventually dies.

The long awaited war begins. The combined forces of Poland and Lithuania under the command of Polish King Ladislaus Jagiello destroys the Teutonic Order in the monumental 1410 Battle of Grunwald. This battle signals the true terminal decline of the Teutonic Order.


Teutonic Knights and their Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen before the battle - screenshot from the Polish film Krzyżacy.
  • Zbyszko of Bogdaniec - a young poor nobleman, protagonist
  • Maćko of Bogdaniec - Zbyszko's uncle
  • Jurand of Spychów - anti-Teutonic rebel noble and Danuśka's father
  • Fulko de Lorche -a rich knight from Lotharingia who becomes close friends with Zbyszko.
  • King Władysław Jagiełło - a historic person, king of the Kingdom of Poland between 1381 and 1434.
  • Siegfried de Löwe - the komtur of Szczytno and mastermind of the evil plan to kidnap Danuśka.
  • Duchess Anna - the Duchess of Mazovia.
  • Janusz I - the Duke of Mazovia.
  • Danusia - Jurand's daughter and courtier to the Duchess of Mazovia.
  • Kuno von Liechtenstein - the Order's delegate to the King of Poland, attacked by Zbyszko.
  • Jagienka of Zgorzelice - a young girl that falls in love with Zbyszko.


External links



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