The castle of Lipienek

Contributor : Łukasz Rolbiecki - Zamki Zakonu Krzyzackiego - Historia, Archeologia
Translation : Andrew Zolnai

Château de Lipienek - © Łukasz Rolbiecki
Diaporama at the bottom of the page
Pologne, Województwo kujawsko-pomorskie

Poland, Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodship, about 30 km south of Grudziądz and 30 km north of Toruń, village of Lipienek.

As early as the 10th century, the Baltic tribe of the Yotvingians(1) occupied this region and had erected a gród(2) (2) on top of a small hill on the shores of a lake now called "Lake Kornatowo".

After the Battle of Durbe in 1260, all the Prussian tribes(3), as well as several Baltic tribes, including the Yotvingian tribe led by their chief Skomantas(4), rose up against the Teutonic Order. But for lack of unity, each tribe was defeated one by one and except for a few sporadic revolts later, this Great Prussian Uprising(5) ended around 1275.

The castle of Lipienek
Hypothetical reconstitution of the castle of Lipienek
Source : Zamki Zakonu Krzyzackiego - Historia, Zamki, Archeologia - © Bogusz Wasik

In the years following the end of this uprising, the Order continued to expand and took over several fortified gróds located on the western edge of the Yotvingian tribe's area of influence, including the one at Lipienek. The wooden fortifications of Lipienek did not resist the Teutonic attack for long and the place was conquered around 1277. All the inhabitants and defenders were killed or enslaved.

In the first quarter of the 14th century, the Teutonic Order decided to strengthen this place and began the construction of a stone and brick castle on the site of the old gród.

This castle consisted of two parts, the high castle, occupying the top of the hill and an outer bailey below. The castle was protected to the north by the lake and the other three sides by a moat about 20m wide and 5m deep, connected to the lake. A drawbridge gate in the eastern wall of the outer bailey provided access to the entire castle.

The high castle formed an almost perfect square, characteristic of many castles of the Order, with a side length of about 39 m. The inner courtyard was surrounded by a cloister on two levels, each of which gave access to the different rooms of the castle. In addition, it had a high tower in the north-east corner. The outer bailey was trapezoidal in shape, with the longest base on the eastern side, that one of the fortified gate. This outer bailey comprised several types of buildings including a barn, stables for oxen and horses, a forge, a brewery, etc. The surface area of the outer bailey was approximately double that of the castle, between 2,500 and 3,000 m2.

From the very beginning of its construction, the castle was elevated to the rank of the seat of the Preceptor of the Land of Chelmno, one of the dignitaries of the Order directly dependent on the Grand Master of Malbork.

In 1330, during the conflict between the Teutonic Order and the King of Poland Władysław IV Łokietek, the latter laid siege to the castle but failed to seize it. On 18 October of the same year, the king signed a ceasefire with the Order and withdrew from Lipienek, leaving the entire region ravaged by several months of siege. After the defeat of the Teutonic Order in Grunwald(6) in 1410, the castle fell into the hands of Polish troops, who abandoned it a few months later after having plundered it of all its treasures.
The following year, in 1411, the Order recovered the castle but left it in the hands of the civil power of the small town.

After the Thirteen Years' War(7), it returned once again to the hands of the King of Poland, who established the starosta of the region. During the long war between Poland and Sweden(8) in the 17th century, the castle was ravaged and practically destroyed.

In a state of complete ruin, there are still impressive fragments of the upper castle wall and of the outer bailey, as well as several vaulted cellars.

Notes :

(1)The Yotvingians (Jaćwingowie or Jaćwięgowie in Polish) are a tribe of the Baltic people who occupied the southernmost area of influence of that people, i.e. a region straddling the present-day countries of Poland, Lithuania and, to a lesser extent, Belarus. This area was located approximately between Bialystok (PL) in the south and Kaunas (LT) in the north. Follow this link on Wikipedia to get an overview of these Baltic and Prussian tribes.

(2)A gród is a fortification made of wood and of clay, often a small village or hamlet of some houses surrounded by a boarding, with or without keep or watch tower.

(3)This region, nowadays located on North-east of Poland (also called Borders or Marches in English) was occupied by several Old-Prussian and Baltic Tribes, among them the Pomeranians, Pomesanians, Warmians, Semigalians,... Follow this link on Wikipedia to have a glimpse of this tribes.

(4)Skomantas, or Komantas was a chief of the Baltic tribe of the Yotvingians. He was probably born around 1225 and died around 1285. He was mentioned for the first time by the chronicler of the Teutonic Order, Pierre of Duisbourg, for his participation in the Great Uprising of 1260. In 1263, he commanded the attack of the tribes against the castle of Chełmno. He is also considered to be the ancestor of the Gediminas dynasty, from which the King of Poland Wladyslaw II Jagiełło originated.

(5)This second insurrection began on 20 September 1260, the day after the defeat of the Teutonic Order against a coalition of Lithuanian and Samogitian tribes during the Battle of Durbe. This defeat of the Order provoked an uprising, which spread rapidly throughout the territory of the Old-Prussian tribes. The various castles of the Order were besieged, and the smallest ones began to fall into the hands of the Old-Prussians. Despite the arrival of numerous reinforcements from the German Empire and all of Europe, it was not until 1265 that the Teutonic Order began to defeat its enemies. It would be a few years before the various chiefs of tribes were defeated and hanged, during the winter of 1271-1272. In 1274, the Order attacked Lidzbark Warmiński, captured the last rebel leader and executed him, thus causing the end of the uprising.

(6)On 15 July 1410, the Teutonic Order was practically annihilated by a coalition army led by the King of Poland Jagiełło and his cousin Vytaudas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, on the Grunwald Plain (Tannenberg), about 90 km as the crow flies south-east of Malbork.

(7)It is the Thirteen Years War, a new war between the Teutonic Order and the Kingdom of Poland from 1454 to 1466. It ended with the victory of Poland and the 2nd Treaty of Toruń signed by both belligerents in 1466.

(8)This war is also known as the "Swedish Deluge" (Potop in Polish) or First Nordic War. It began in 1655 with the invasion of the west of the Republic of Poland-Lithuania by Sweden. The death of the King of Sweden Charles X Gustave on February 23, 1660 provoked the end of the war, and the signature of the treaty of peace of Oliwa the 23 of April of the same year.


  1. "Zamki i Obiekty Warowne - Od Malborka do Torunia"
    Agnieszka i Robert Sypek; Almapress 2008
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Translation : Andrew Zolnai
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