Henry Bolingbroke’s Reise –
the adventures of a young nobleman
in Eastern Prussia
My dad came from the area of Eastern Prussia which is now part of Russia. He grew up in Insterburg (now Chernyakhovsk)[i], meaning the fortress on the river Inster. The town is situated approx. 90 km to the east of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). My dad had to leave in his teens, when the Soviets came, and never had a chance to visit again, as the area was a military zone, which until the end of the Soviet Union was closed to non-Russians.
When trying to find out more about my father’s background, I was quite intrigued when I read that more than 600 years ago this town had been visited by a future English king: Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, who was to take the throne as Henry IV nine years later. In the later division between the Houses of York and Lancaster, Henry IV would be counted as the first Lancastrian king. However, not to be biased, a football club in Insterburg, founded in 1921, was called the “Sportverein Yorck”.
In the spring of 1390, after taking took part in an international feat of arms at St Inglevert near Calais, the 23-year-old Henry Bolingbroke was wondering what to do next. So he came up with the idea of going on crusade. Originally he planned to travel to “Africa” (i.e. Tunesia), but was also considering Prussia. Due to the medieval equivalent of visa problems, the Tunesian plan did not work out. So he set off to join the Teutonic Knights on a Reise. The German word just means ‘journey’, but in this context it refers to a crusading campaign against the Lithuanians. Henry might also have been influenced by memories of his grandfather’s trip to Prussia in 1351-52. Continue reading