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Wolter (or Walter) von Plettenberg (c. 1450 – February 28, 1535) was the Master (Landmeister) of the Livonian Order from 1494 to 1535 and one of the greatest leaders of the Teutonic knights. He was an important early Baltic German.

Wapen Wolter van Plettenberg 1450-1535.svg


Gold coin depicting Wolter von Plettenberg

Plettenberg was born in Welver (in Meyerich Castle), Westphalia. He went to the fort of Narva at the age of ten. He joined the Order when he was about fifteen. In 1489 he was elected to marshal of the Order (Landmarschall), in 1491 he fought successfully against the city of Riga and was elected master in 1494. That same year Moscow closed down the Hanseatic office in Novgorod and imprisoned Hanseatic merchants (most of them were Livonians) there. Livonia was drifting into war with Muscovite Russia. After negotiations in 1498 failed, Plettenberg chose to prepare for pre-emptive attack against Pskov, which was then still formally independent state, but under heavy influence of Moscow. In 1500 Plettenberg made an alliance with Grand Duke of Lithuania, Alexander Jagiellon (the Treaty of Wenden), who was in war with Russia since 1499. He also tried to convince Pope Alexander VI to issue a crusading bull against the Russians and get some indulgence money, but his efforts were in vain. In the war with Russia (1501-1503), Plettenberg showed himself as a talented and skilled commander. His strength lay in his skillful use of heavy cavalry and artillery fire. With such tactics von Plettenberg won the Battle of the Siritsa River (August 1501), where an army of Livonian Confederation of 8,000 foot and 4,000 horse defeated about two times stronger army of Russians.[1] But without the promised help of Lithuanians Plettenberg couldn't conquer Pskov and only burned the stronghold of Ostrov. During the winter of 1501–1502, the Russians harshly ravaged Eastern Livonia and many Livonian dignitaries wanted to make peace with Muscovy. But Plettenberg decided to continue war and tried to conquer Pskov one more time. But due to Moscow's strong support for Pskov, he was forced to retreat southwest from the city. On 13 September 1502 he won the Battle of Smolin (at Lake Smolin close to the village Palkino in Pskov Oblast) with his 5,000 men against about 12,000 Russians.[2] The next day, 14 September, became the Victory Day in Livonia. In 1503 peace between Ivan III and Livonia on the terms of status quo ante bellum was concluded. During the Protestant Reformation, Plettenberg supported the Lutherans, hoping thus to subjugate the Catholic Archbishopric of Riga to him. The province was in disarray and the master had serious difficulties in ruling the territory which remained divided between the Order, the bishoprics, and rich cities Riga, Tallinn and Tartu. In 1525 Plettenberg refused to convert himself to Lutheranism and to become a secular ruler of Livonia as the Grand Master Albert in Prussia had done. Instead he became vassal or Imperial Prince (Reichsfürst) of the Emperor Charles V, thus hoping to get direct support from the Holy Roman Empire. In the beginning of the year 1535 he died quite suddenly at the age of about 85 years.

See also

  • House of Plettenberg


  1. Wilhelm Lenz believes this number most probable, numbers as high as 40,000 are quite unlikely to be true (In: Die Auswärtige Politik des livländischen Ordensmeisters Walter von Plettenberg bis 1510. Riga, 1929, p. 33).
  2. this number comes from one Order's document, numbers as high as 40,000 to 90,000 are again highly improbable (Lenz, p. 43–44)
Preceded by
Johann Freytag von Loringhoven
Master of the Teutonic Order in Livonia
Succeeded by
Hermann von Brüggenei

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