Heinrich Reuß von Plauen (~1400-1470) was a knight-brother of the Teutonic Order who also served as its 32nd Grand Master from 1467 until 1470. Heinrich Reuß was born in Plauen to the Reuß family and was a distant relative of the famous 27th Grand Master Heinrich von Plauen. Perhaps due to his homeland’s strong connection to the Order, Heinrich Reuß joined it at a young age. He began in the priestly wing of the organization, and first served as a brother in one of the Order’s German monasteries.
Reuß von Plauen first arrived in Prussia during the 1420s and was the Commander (Komtur) of several holdings: Dirschau, Balga (1433), Natangia (1440). Reuß von Plauen’s prominence within the Order continued to increase and in 1441 he was given the prestigious title of Grand Hospitaller (Großspittler). Simultaneously, he was made the Komtur of Elbing, the seat of the Großspittler and one of the Order’s oldest and most important holdings. It was in Elbing, after all, that the annual meeting of the entire Prussian chapter was held.
Reuß von Plauen’s status was further enhanced by the election of his uncle, Ludwig von Erlichshausen to become the Order’s 31st Grand Master in 1449. However, war was relatively soon to approach. In the early 1450s, pre-existing tensions between the Order and non-affiliated Prussian nobles organized in the hostile Prussian League intensified. The primary issue was that the increased reliance upon mercenaries for the Order’s manpower after Tannenberg and in accordance with contemporary military practices during the fifteenth century, wrought higher taxation upon the cities and nobility of Prussia. The Order’s own weakening economic assets during this time only furthered the reliance upon tax revenue. Furthermore, the increasingly robust towns of Prussia had seen no expansion in their political rights, generating even more animosity against the Order.
The Prussian League eventually turned to the Polish crown. Johannes von Baysen, the League’s leader, formally approached King Casimir IV in 1454 to accept Prussia as a Polish fief. The Order, faced with a powerful local insurrection and the Kingdom of Poland against it, was drawn into war, the Thirteen Years’ War. Reuß von Plauen distinguished himself in this brutal conflict, which raged until 1466. His particular claim to fame, which ended up having an important impact on the war, was the Battle of Konitz in 1454.
During that year, the League’s troops, joined by a large host of Polish knights which included King Casimir IV himself, laid siege to Königsberg while the Poles blockaded the fortress of Konitz. Reuß von Plauen, currently serving as the castellan of Konitz, could merely watch. However, the Master of the Order’s German holdings sent a relief force consisting partly of Bohemian mercenaries, having a reputation as some of the finest in Europe. This arrived and engaged the Polish force outside of Konitz’s walls. Reuß von Plauen took full advantage of the situation, leading his troops out of the fortress to strike the rear of the Polish host. The battle was devastating for King Casimir, with the Polish knighthood being cut to pieces while he barely escaped with his head.
The battle did not, however, prove decisive and marked the war’s beginning rather than its end, due in part to the fact that Casimir was not made a captive. That is not to say that the Order’s triumph at Konitz was without effect. The losses inflicted there upon the Polish knighthood forces caused the kingdom’s nobility to refuse participation in any more large scale operations. With the king also being denied funding by the diet for the raising of new troops, direct Polish military assistance in the war was made relatively scant by Konitz. Nonetheless, Polish help was given to the League in its successful naval operations against the ships hired by the Order. The League was unable, however, to achieve major battlefield success during the war until 1462 with a battle between the two sides’ ragtag mercenary forces at Danzig. Even then, the fighting dragged on and frustrated King Casimir’s desire to uproot the Order entirely.
With the war’s end in 1466, finalized by the Second Peace of Thorn, Reuß von Plauen was made the Order’s Marshal (Ordensmarschall) and wielded much of the power during the rest of his uncle’s reign as Grand Master. The end of the war had cut Prussia almost in half, with Royal Prussia now under the jurisdiction of the Polish crown. Königsberg, the official residence of the Marshal, became the Order’s capital instead of Marienburg and an impressive court was established there.
Reuß von Plauen assumed the full de facto powers of Grand Master with the death of Erich von Erlichshausen in 1467. He was eventually officially elected to the position on 17 October 1469, becoming the Order’s 32nd Grand Master. During his reign, the new Grand Master worked to reorganize the Order’s administration to match the changed character of its holdings. He died in 1470 and was buried in Königsberg Cathedral. That the Order still held a sizable and prosperous domain owed much to Heinrich Reuß von Plauen.