Albert (Albrecht; Albertus; 16 May 1490 – 20 March 1568) was the 37th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and, after converting to Lutheranism, the first duke of the Duchy of Prussia, which was the first state to adopt the Lutheran faith.
Because Albert was a member of the Brandenburg-Ansbach branch of the House of Hohenzollern, it had been hoped that his election as Grand Master would reverse the decline of the Teutonic Knights since 1410; Duke Frederick of Saxony of the House of Wettin had been elected for the same reason. Instead, Albert's secularization of the Prussian territories of the Order eventually led to the inheritance of the Duchy of Prussia by the Margraviate of Brandenburg.
Albert's titles (on his proclamation of 1561 in Königsberg) were: Albert the Elder, Margrave of Brandenburg in Prussia, Stettin in Pomerania, Duke of the Kashubians, and Wends, Burgrave of Nuremberg, and Count of Rügen etc.
The new Grand Master, aware of his duties to the empire and to the papacy, refused to submit to the crown of Poland. As war over the Order's existence appeared inevitable, Albert made strenuous efforts to secure allies and carried on protracted negotiations with Emperor Maximilian I. The ill-feeling, influenced by the ravages of members of the Order in Poland, culminated in a war which began in December 1519 and devastated Prussia. Albert was granted a four-year truce early in 1521.
The dispute was referred to Emperor Charles V and other princes, but as no settlement was reached Albert continued his efforts to obtain help in view of a renewal of the war. For this purpose he visited the Diet of Nuremberg in 1522, where he made the acquaintance of the reformer Andreas Osiander, by whose influence Albert was won over to Protestantism.
The Grand Master then journeyed to Wittenberg, where he was advised by Martin Luther to abandon the rules of his Order, to marry, and to convert Prussia into a hereditary duchy for himself. This proposal, which was understandably appealing to Albert, had already been discussed by some of his relatives; but it was necessary to proceed cautiously, and he assured Pope Adrian VI that he was anxious to reform the Order and punish the knights who had adopted Lutheran doctrines. Luther for his part did not stop at the suggestion, but in order to facilitate the change made special efforts to spread his teaching among the Prussians, while Albert's brother, Margrave George of Brandenburg-Ansbach, laid the scheme before their uncle, Sigismund I the Old of Poland.
The Estates of the land then met at Königsberg and took the oath of allegiance to the new duke, who used his full powers to promote the doctrines of Luther. This transition did not, however, take place without protest. Summoned before the imperial court of justice, Albert refused to appear and was proscribed, while the Order elected a new Grand Master, Walter von Cronberg, who received Prussia as a fief at the imperial Diet of Augsburg. As the German princes were experiencing the tumult of the Reformation, the Peasants' War, and the wars against the Ottoman Turks, they did not enforce the ban on the duke, and agitation against him soon died away.
In imperial politics Albert was fairly active. Joining the League of Torgau in 1526, he acted in unison with the Protestants, and was among the princes who banded together to overthrow Charles V after the issue of the Augsburg Interim in May 1548. For various reasons, however, poverty and personal inclination among others, he did not take a prominent part in the military operations of this period.
The early years of Albert's rule in Prussia were fairly prosperous. Although he had some trouble with the peasantry, the lands and treasures of the church enabled him to propitiate the nobles and for a time to provide for the expenses of the court. He did something for the furtherance of learning by establishing schools in every town and by freeing serfs who adopted a scholastic life. In 1544, in spite of some opposition, he founded Königsberg University, where he appointed his friend Andreas Osiander to a professorship in 1549. Albert also paid for the printing of the Astronomical "Prutenic Tables" compiled by Erasmus Reinhold and the first maps of Prussia by Caspar Hennenberger.
This step was the beginning of the troubles which clouded the closing years of Albert's reign. Osiander's divergence from Luther's doctrine of justification by faith involved him in a violent quarrel with Philip Melanchthon, who had adherents in Königsberg, and these theological disputes soon created an uproar in the town. The duke strenuously supported Osiander, and the area of the quarrel soon broadened. There were no longer church lands available with which to conciliate the nobles, the burden of taxation was heavy, and Albert's rule became unpopular.
After Osiander's death in 1552, Albert favoured a preacher named Johann Funck, who, with an adventurer named Paul Skalić, exercised great influence over him and obtained considerable wealth at public expense. The state of turmoil caused by these religious and political disputes was increased by the possibility of Albert's early death and the need, should that happen, to appoint a regent, as his only son, Albert Frederick was still a mere youth. The duke was forced to consent to a condemnation of the teaching of Osiander, and the climax came in 1566 when the Estates appealed to King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, Albert's cousin, who sent a commission to Königsberg. Scalich saved his life by flight, but Funck was executed. The question of the regency was settled, and a form of Lutheranism was adopted and declared binding on all teachers and preachers.
Virtually deprived of power, the duke lived for two more years, and died at Tapiau on 20 March 1568. He had married Dorothea, daughter of King Frederick I of Denmark, in 1526 and, following her death in 1547, he married Anna Maria, daughter of Eric I, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
Albert was a voluminous letter writer, and corresponded with many of the leading personages of the time.
In 1891, a statue was erected to his memory at Königsberg.