Master of the Teutonic Order from 1282 to 1290.
Of all the Teutonic masters of the 13th century, Burchard von Schwanden was perhaps the most mysterious character. Not because of the lack of data on him, but because of the often-contradictory information.
Burchard von Schwanden came from a rich and middle-class family in Bern, Switzerland. His name probably came from the castle of Schwanden which was in the region of Aarberg(1).
His father, Rudolf von Schwanden, would have offered the Teutonic Order properties in this region, but the circumstances of this gift are not clear. Perhaps he did so at the time of his son's joining the Order.
It is not known exactly when Burchard became a Teutonic Knight, but it was probably before May 1270, because on that date he was mentioned as brother in the preceptory of Hitzkirch. At that time, another Burchard von Schwanden and his brother Ulrik, probably uncles of the future grand master, also joined the Order.
The career of Burchard among the Teutonic Order is neither brilliant nor rapid. In 1275 he became preceptor of Chojnice (Köniz) and two years later, preceptor of the region of Thuringia and Saxony. He remained there until 1281 and it is undoubtedly thanks to him that the region received numerous donations. He was certainly elected Grand Master at Acre at the end of the year 1282, although it is also said that this election may have taken place at the beginning of 1283.
The period of mastery of Burchard von Schwanden in the Order was not very peaceful. After the suppression of the people's revolt in Livonia and Prussia, the situation was calm, but in Palestine, the Crusaders lost their territories and at any moment the Muslims were expected to take the last Christian bastion: Saint- John of Acre.
It was probably because of this situation that the Grand Master spent more time in Palestine than in Europe, travelling only from time to time in Germany where he reorganized some provinces of the Order.
To this end he convened the General Chapter at Frankfurt-Am-Main in 1287.
He did not have the opportunity to complete the planned changes. In March 1287, the Semigallians(2) helped by the Lithuanians give a serious blow to the Order. The Master of Livonia(3) died during the Battle of Garoza and the Teutonic properties were threatened again. To defend the lands of the Order, Burchard von Schwanden united a large group of Teutonic knights of Swabia and Franconia and, at its head, rushed to Prussia where he arrived at the beginning of December 1287 and began to pacify the region.
At the beginning of 1288, he summoned a chapter at Elbląg, during which he made many changes in the administrative posts of the Order, naming, for example, Meinhard von Querfurt(4) as new Master of Prussia.
At the end of 1288, Burchard von Schwanden left Prussia for an inspection tour of the most important preceptories of the Order located in the German Empire. On this occasion, he met Rudolf I of Habsburg, king of Germany, who sent him at the beginning of 1289 on a diplomatic mission to Pope Nicholas IV, to settle the affair concerning his coronation. Burchard von Schwanden also took advantage of his meeting with the Pope to confirm decisions concerning the organization of the Order, between his branch of Prussia and that of Livonia.
In autumn 1289, he came back to the Empire where he enacted the law concerning the "secular brothers" of the Order. This category of brothers included all the benefactors of the Order as well as those who took the oath only for a specified period of service in its ranks. By this way, the Polish princes Konrad of Mazovia(5) and Sambor of Tczew(6) became posthumously "secular brothers". As such, masses were to be regularly said in the chapels of the Order for the souls of these deceased secular brothers, but only so long as their lands remained in the possession of the Order.
At the beginning of 1290, disturbing information arrived in the Empire on the danger that threatened Acre. A large Muslim army arrived near its walls and the Crusaders sent desperate calls for help to Europe. Armed troops left for Palestine, including a contingent of the Order, consisting of 40 knight brothers and 400 men-at-arms under the command of Burchard von Schwanden. They arrived in Acre a few weeks later.
Three days after the arrival of the contingent at Acre, Burchard von Schwanden resigned abruptly and left the Teutonic Order in circumstances still unclear to this day.
If one believed some historians, the affair was linked with plans to reunify the three Orders, Hospitallers, Templars and Teutonic, gathered in one great powerful order.
The continuation of the life of Burchard von Schwanden was even less clear. It seemed that, shortly after leaving the Teutonic Order, he entered the Hospitallers.
Later, he tried to return to the Teutonic Order, but his request was rejected. He remained until the end of his life with the Hospitallers, as preceptor of Buchsee (Münchenbuchsee), Freiburg im Üechtland (Friborg), Hohenrain, Klingnau, Leuggern, Thunstetten and Reiden. According to various sources, Burchard von Schwanden died in July 1304, 1309 or 1310.
(1)Aarberg is a city in Switzerland located around twenty kilometers from Bern.