Netherlands: The stories behind the castles

Netherlands: The stories behind the castles

I think it’s really important for us to remember our history. Not just the great, world-changing events like the World Wars or the Bubonic Plague but it’s important to remember local history. I guarantee you, wherever you are in the world, be it a sprawling city, a sleepy town or a towering castle, you can find fascinating and oftentimes surprising stories that have been fallen into obscurity.

Castle stories

Castles have been a point of interest for centuries. They have captured people’s imagination through their grandeur, scale, beauty but most of all, their stories. Whether it be Count Dracula or Game of Thrones, castles have provided the setting for numerous stories, both historical and fictional.

So today, with this in mind, we are going to delve into the history of two different castles in the Netherlands, Muiden Castle and Waardenburg Castle. These castles are not just impressive, but they have some of the most intriguing, dramatic and disturbing stories of all the castles in the Netherlands.

Muiden Castle

Located at the mouth of the Vecht river, some 15 kilometres south-east of Amsterdam, Muiden Castle (Muiderslot) was built by Count Floris V in 1280. Floris was the Count of Holland and Zeeland from 1256 until his death in 1296. He ruled peacefully (for the most part) and is credited with modernizing administration, effective policies, promoting trade, reclaiming land from the sea and generally acting in the interests of the common man, at the expense of the local elite.

When King Edward I of England moved his wool trade from Dordrecht in Holland to Mechelen in Brabant in order to gain Flanders’s support against France, Floris decided to switch sides and ally with the French. This incensed the English King into ordering nobles, who had previously suffered at the hands of Floris, to capture the Count.

So, in 1296, Gerard van Velsen and the lords of Amstel and Woerden, along with several other nobles attacked and kidnapped the Count while he was out hunting. He was taken back to Muiden Castle and kept there until the conspirators caught wind of a rescue attempt organised by the people. They attempted to leave the castle but were stopped by an angry mob.

Upon coming face to face with the mob, van Velsen rode back to the horse where Floris was bound and gagged and drew his sword, causing Floris’ horse to rear in shock. The Count fell to the ground and van Velsen stabbed him 22 times, apparently, he was unwilling for the Count to escape alive, as he rumour had it the Count had once raped van Velsen’s wife.

Gerard van Velsen was then arrested, tortured and executed, either by being quartered or rolled down the street in a barrel lined with nails.

P.C. Hooft ownership

The castle was demolished by the year 1300. However, despite this, the castle’s story continued. It was rebuilt between 1370 and 1386 and eventually fell into the hands of the legendary Dutch author, poet and historian, Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, who had taken on sheriff and bailiff duties in the area.

From 1609 till 1647, Hooft spent his summers in the castle and invited great academics and artists such as Joost van der Vondel, Sir Constantijn Huygens and Gerbrand Bredero to his home. Here the castle saw the founding of the Muiderkring, a literary society for these esteemed academics and artists.

Castle Waardenburg

Kasteel Waardenburg is another castle that hides secret and mysteries within its walls, some that are really quite sinister. The castle was built after Count Otto II of Guelders pledged the manor of Waardenburg in 1265 to a knight named Rudolph de Cock. The knight built a wooden tower, which was followed by the stone tower. His son and grandson oversaw the site, turning it from a keep into a full castle.

According to local folklore, the infamous Doctor Faust came to own the castle. Faust had recently met the Devil himself at a crossroads and, dissatisfied with his life, he made a pact with the Prince of Darkness. In exchange for worldly pleasures and an unlimited capacity for knowledge, Faust would give his soul to the Devil after seven years.

After seven years of debauchery, black magic and dark experiments the Devil finally returned to claim what was his. He sneaked up on Faust and grabbed him by his hair and hauled him from the castle’s tower. Legend has it you can still see the bloodstains on the floor outside the tower to this day, where Faust was dragged to hell.

The Eighty Years’ War

Castle Waardenburg also has a lot of historical significance. During the Eighty Years’ War, where the old United Provinces (today’s Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) under the leadership of William the Silent, rebelled against Philip II of Spain. The owner of the castle at the time sided with the Spanish, which raised William’s ire.

He laid siege to the castle and destroyed the south side and bailey were completely destroyed and never rebuilt, which explains why the castle is shaped like a horseshoe today.

Keeping history alive

I hope you enjoyed these stories about Muiden Castle and Castle Waardenburg. I think it’s important to share these stories, as they reflect important parts of our history and in some cases, influence the world as we know it today. While some of these stories might not be entirely genuine (specifically the Doctor Faust story), they are a reflection of people and their capacity to entertain through the medium of storytelling.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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