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Knights of Malta

The Order of Malta in Poland

History: First references


The historical information in regards of the activities of the Order or individual Knights of Saint John in Poland prior to seventeenth century is generally difficult to obtain. The main difficulty being the overwhelming presence of the Teutonic Order (known as the Knights of the Cross) in the country’s history. For many centuries the activities of any religious order of knighthood in Poland were attributed to the Teutonic Order, often by mistake. The lack of historical sources reflects also the relative lack of contemporary knowledge about the activities of the Order amongst the local population. Despite these limitations, the presence of the Knights of Saint John in Poland can be traced to the beginning of the twelfth century.

King Wladyslaw IVKing Wladyslaw IV

It is generally accepted that the·first of the Polish Monarchs to establish permanent contact with the Grand Magistry was King Wladyslaw IV [1632-48] who wished to create a Polish Priory of the Order. The relationship was strengthened under one of Wladyslaw’s successors, King Jan III [1674-96]. Jan III had participated in the Crusades against the Turks in Central and Eastern Europe. He received a confirmation from the Grand Magistry that any Polish Knight who served in the fight against the Infidel for at least six months was exempt from the requirement of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Further, a Knight who served for two years or more was to be granted the same privileges with respect to the Order as those of the Captains of the fleet of Saint John and could be short listed for the award of a Commandery.

These special privileges ensured the popularity of the Order amongst the noble families of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it was from amongst these men that many of the Polish Knights of Malta were recruited. Despite these early roots, it was not until the eighteenth century that the relationship between Poland and the Grand Magistry were fully legitimised through the creation of the Priory of Poland. None the less, its existence proved to be short-lived.


by Darius von Guettner-Sporzynski