Johann Wilhelm von Fürstenberg

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Johann Wilhelm von Fürstenberg (* 1500 in Neheim , † 1568 near Yaroslavl , Russia ) was the penultimate Landmeister of the Teutonic Order in Livonia .

Origin and family

Wilhelm von Fürstenberg was born the son of Neheim Drosten of the same name and his wife Sophia von Witten. While his brother Georg succeeded his father as Drost von Neheim, Wilhelm von Fürstenberg entered the Teutonic Order when he was around fourteen to sixteen. This was of considerable importance as a supply facility for later-born noble sons from Westphalia . It was therefore no coincidence that leading members of the order came from this region in the 16th century. Wilhelm von Fürstenberg also followed the example of numerous members from the various branches of the von Fürstenberg family . Like these, he was sent to Livonia, where he achieved important positions over time.

Coadjutor in Livonia

In 1523 he became a donor and later commander of Dünaburg and Fellin . From 1556 he officiated as coadjutor for the landmaster Heinrich von Galen . In fact, he was already entrusted with the management of the order in Livonia. His policy was aimed at preserving the independence of the religious order. He refused any rapprochement with Prussia , Russia or Poland . On the contrary, he was apparently pursuing the goal of regaining Prussia, which was converted into a secular principality by the former Grand Master Albrecht von Hohenzollern in 1525 . He tried to achieve his goals through diplomatic contacts with Denmark and Sweden , among others . When it seemed that the Archdiocese of Riga could be converted into a secular principality by the coadjutor Christoph von Mecklenburg, Fürstenberg marched into the diocese in 1556 with an army of the order and captured the bishop Wilhelm von Brandenburg-Ansbach . However, under pressure from Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania associated with it in personal union , he had to withdraw again. In addition, the conflict became the subject of the Reichstag in Regensburg in 1557. The German King and later Emperor Ferdinand I ordered the withdrawal from Riga.

Time as landmaster and resignation

On May 20, 1557, Fürstenberg succeeded the late von Galen as landmaster. However, he had to recognize that the order alone was too weak to assert itself against the Russia of Ivan IV ("the terrible"). Fürstenberg therefore concluded an alliance with King Sigismund II August of Poland on September 14, 1557 . Ivan IV saw it as a violation of an older peace treaty with Russia and attacked the religious state, which started the Livonian War . Fürstenberg's army hardly consisted of fighting members of the order, but mainly of mercenaries, and was generally weak. For help, Fürstenberg turned to Sweden, Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire and finally to Poland in vain . The Russian troops were therefore able to conquer Narva and Dorpat without major losses .

There were also tensions inside the religious state. Fürstenberg was assigned as coadjutor Gotthard Kettler, who was also from Westphalia . While Fürstenberg continued to work with Sweden and Denmark, Kettler advocated closer ties to Poland. Fürstenberg's efforts had largely failed, instead Kettler was able to temporarily stabilize the military situation. The coadjutor now largely determined the policy of the order state. On August 31, 1559 an alliance with Poland came about through the cession of an area on the central Daugava . Thereupon Fürstenberg resigned the office of Landmeister in favor of Kettler. However, he kept important offices in the order, administered extensive areas and was in April 1560 commander in chief of the important and strong fortress Fellin.

War against Russia and captivity

However, hopes for active support of the order state by Poland were not fulfilled, and the Russian troops gradually occupied an ever larger part of Livonia. On August 2, 1560, the last field battle of the war took place near Ermes. Most of the knights and mercenaries were killed or later executed. The Russian troops then besieged the Fellin fortress, among other places. Fürstenberg managed to defend himself for two weeks before mutiny and betrayal by the mercenaries forced the surrender. Fürstenberg was taken prisoner by Russian soldiers and was only able to watch the collapse of the order state without doing anything. Some islands fell to Denmark, Estonia became Swedish. Only Kurland under Gotthard Kettler was able to assert itself as a secular fiefdom under Polish suzerainty. On March 5, 1562, Kettler took off the landmaster's insignia and swore the Polish king the feudal oath .

Fürstenberg remained in Russian captivity. This should not have been too strict, however, he is said to have been seen in Moscow in 1564 , far from his actual place of detention near Yaroslavl. Diplomatic efforts by the Teutonic Order to obtain his release were, however, in vain. Instead, Ivan IV made him the offer to conquer the former religious land from the Poles for Russia and to transfer it to Fürstenberg as a secular duchy. Fürstenberg declined this offer. The last message from him was his thanks to the Order on January 2nd, 1568 for efforts to secure his release. He probably died a short time later.


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predecessor Office successor
Heinrich von Galen Landmaster in Livonia of the Teutonic Order
Gotthard Kettler