Walther von Cronberg became the head of the Teutonic Order after his predecessor embraced Protestantism and left the Catholic Church.
The German knight Walther von Cronberg, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, died on this date in 1543. His order was founded during the Crusades in the Holy Land, but later became the most powerful force in Prussia and the Baltic. Indeed, the Teutonic Knights became a first-rate military power that ruled over a large part of what are now Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and northern Poland.
Walther von Cronberg lived in a key time for the Order. Namely, his predecessor – Albert Hohenzollern – had joined Martin Luther’s Protestant movement, left the Catholic Church, and converted a large part of the Order’s lands into his personal property. Most of them lay in Prussia, a duchy which remained the core land of the Hohenzollern dynasty, which later became the ruling dynasty of a united Germany. It was a time of secularization comparable to the one that took place in England during the reign of Henry VIII.
Since Walther von Cronberg was the head of the German part of the order (he had the title Deutschmeister, which in German means “Master of Germany”) at the time when Hohenzollern turned his back on the pope, he also took the title Hochmeister, which is German for Grand Master. From then on, all Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order were also Deutschmeisters, so their composite title in German was Hoch- und Deutschmeister.
Grand Master von Cronberg remained at his post from 1527 until his death in 1543. He died in Mergentheim, where the seat of the Teutonic Order had been transferred after the loss of Prussia due to Albert Hohenzollern’s conversion to Protestantism (their previous seat had been in Konigsberg, Prussia – today Kaliningrad, Russia). Mergentheim remained the seat of the Hoch- und Deutschmeisters for almost three centuries. Today the town is called Bad Mergentheim, and it is located in northern Baden-Württemberg, a German state.