Literature: The Knights of the Cross

Jan Matejko — The Battle of Grunwald

The Knights of the Cross (Polish: Krzyżacy) is a 1900 historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Polish writer and Nobel laureate.

The novel was written during the partitions of Poland, with most Poles living in the Russian Empire province Privislinsky Krai, formerly Congress Poland. One of Sienkiewicz's goals in writing The Knights of the Cross was to encourage and strengthen Polish national confidence against the occupying powers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia. To circumvent Russian censorship, Sienkiewicz placed the plot in medieval Prussia (region) and the State of the Teutonic Order. He used offences occupiers (well known to his readers from the newspapers) perpetrated in his own time by the Russians to fill in the details.

The history of the actual religious military order of The Teutonic Knights, which from the 13th to the 16th centuries controlled large parts of the Baltic Sea coast, and its defeat in the Battle of Tannenberg (1410)/ Battle of Grunwald by Poles and Lithuanians, serves as the backdrop for the story. The novel also focuses extensively on medieval life and customs in both the cities and the country in medieval Poland.

The novel inspired a 1960 film adaptation which was one of the most popular Polish films up to that point.

Note: This page is under construction. If you can name any tropes associated with the work (or improve on the description copied and pasted from The Other Wiki), feel free to do so.

The book and its adaptations contain examples of:

  • Action Girl: Jagienka, as far as the setting permits. She doesn't take part in any actual fighting, but hunting on her own definitely counts.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Teutonic Knights are the very obvious villains of the story.
  • All Germans Are Prussian Militarists
  • Ass in Ambassador: Lichtenstein, the Teutonic envoy, apparently enjoys aggravating and humiliating the Polish nobles.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Sadly (and historically) averted for queen Hedwig - everyone's thrilled to hear she's expecting, but her Death by Childbirth shatters spirits of both her husband and the nation.
  • Badass Boast: "Swords are aplenty in our camp, but we shall accept these." Yes, this is a Badass Boast, since it's delivered very calmly in answer to The Teutonic Knights taunts. And followed by kicking their collective ass in battle.
  • Battle Trophy: After Grunwald, the Polish warriors capture quite a lot of enemy banners, which are then displayed as a proof of victory.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Zbyszko prays for some Teutonic heads to smash. Sure enough, he gets one soon...
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Grunwald in the finale.
  • Break the Cutie: Danusia. Ends up as Kill the Cutie.
  • Costume Porn: It's The Late Middle Ages, so everyone who can afford it dresses very colourfully and opulently.
  • Courtly Love: Zbyszko seems prone to it, at least at the beginning (he used to be in love with princess Ryngałła, now he falls for Danusia).
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the villains responsible for Danusia's death and the blinding of Jurand is captured by the heroes and subsequently kills himself when Jurand orders him set free.
    • Also, while the army is marching towards Grunwald, the Lithuanian prince Witold learns that two of his soldiers have plundered a church on the way. He becomes so furious he orders them to build gallows and hang themselves: which they do in all haste, fearing he might get more creative if they keep him waiting.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Jurand.
  • The Good King: Władysław Jagiełło.
  • Guile Hero: While he is just as capable as Zbyszko in a fight, Maćko also seems to do the thinking for both of them. This is most evident when he tricks Jagienka's two hot-headed suitors into guarding her from each other while Zbyszko is away.
  • The High Queen: The historically saintly (canonized in XX century) Hedwig. Who, legally speaking, was the king, but fit this trope a lot better.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Lots! Most notably the king Władysław Jagiełło, who might have got a slight Historical Hero Upgrade. Kuno von Lichtenstein was also real.
  • Hope Spot: When Zbyszko is being tried for attacking Kuno Liechtenstein, the injured party says he forgives Zbyszko for attacking him... then, having fooled us all into thinking things might work out, he adds that attacking an envoy is an offense to God and must not be left unpunished.
  • Improbable Age: Zbyszko. While Sienkiewicz did plenty of research for the book, he did less research for character ages. Eighteen is impossibly old for a squire, though in Zbyszko's defence his home was burned in a random civil war, and he and his uncle served in various armies.
  • The Ingenue: Danusia.
  • The Jester: Ciaruszek, Jagiełło's jester, is very good at making people laugh and turning their attention to things that need to be attended.
  • Lady-in-Waiting: Danusia is one to princess Anna, like her mother before her (since she was best friends with the princess, Anna took her daughter to foster when she died).
  • The Late Middle Ages: Their negative aspects are downplayed for the Poles (for whom this was something of a Golden Age), but played straight for The Teutonic Knights.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Zbyszko attacks the first Teutonic Knight he sees, not bothering to stop and think that a Knight this far into Polish territory might be, for instance, an envoy...
    • Averted (again, true to history) by Jagiełło at Grunwald - he listened not to one, not to two, but to three Masses, just to keep the opponent sweating (literally - it was July) on the field a bit longer. This was a tactical thing.
  • Plunder: That's how knights make a living. The best clothes Zbyszko and Maćko have are plundered.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Saint Bridget's prophecy of how The Teutonic Knights are going to fall. (If you're thinking of starting a historical discussion here, please refrain - we'd be here forever).
  • Right Makes Might: And The Teutonic Knights are not nearly as right as they think.
  • Second Love: For Zbyszko, Jagienka.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Sanderus, a comedy relief friar who sells indulgences, along with some ridiculously fake religious relics (he can sell you some sweat of St. George, from his fight with the dragon! Really!)
  • Suddenly Significant Rule: A little known law says a young man can't be executed if a pure maiden claims him for marriage. Princess Anna and Danusia make use of it to save Zbyszko after the unfortunate incident with Lichtenstein.
  • Trial by Combat: The most famous example in Polish literature.
  • Twenty Bear Asses: In order to impress Danusia, Zbyszko vows to get three peacock plumes from the helmets of The Teutonic Knights he defeats. This almost gets him executed for (unwittingly) attacking an envoy.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: When asked to choose the weapons for the duel, Zbyszko chooses axes. The narrator states that it is a good choice since his opponent is much more experienced and would be at a serious advantage in a sword fight.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Jurand, when the captors of his daughter push him too far. Zbyszko during the duel.
  • Warrior Prince: Both Jagiełło and Witold.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Maćko gets shot by a crossbow bolt, part of which breaks off and causes a realistic unhealing wound.
  • Ye Olde Polishe: A mild, tasteful example, but it's there.