The Westeinde is one of the higher parts of The Hague, and the story of the British Embassy - the house on the Westeinde - begins over 500 years ago when the Hall of Knights in the centre of The Hague was a hunting lodge

Authors Avatar by flowerbomb (student)

        vergadering        Commissie Beeldende Kunsten

        datum        11 oktober 2000

        locatie        Van Assendelftkapel

        auteur        Michiel de Ligt

        bladnummer        /


The Westeinde is one of the higher parts of The Hague, and the story of the British Embassy - the house on the Westeinde - begins over 500 years ago when the Hall of Knights in the centre of The Hague was a hunting lodge of the Counts of Holland for their hunting parties in the Hague Woods (which were then very much more extensive than they are to-day). In those days there were three or four great sand dunes running roughly south-west to north-east, with marshy areas between them. One is now the Sportlaan, the next the Laan van Meerdervoort and then comes the Westeinde. Possibly a farm house once stood where the Embassy now stands, just as there was once a farm house on the site of the Noordeinde Palace. We can only guess about that. The earliest record of the property is to be found in the first surviving Court Book of The Hague dated 1458 which, on page 71, records one Gerrit van Assendelft as being in possession of "the houses which stand between the Lorrestege and the Jan Heynriczsstraet, the gardens included". For these houses and gardens this Gerrit van Assendelft was bound to pay a small annual rent to the Count of Holland of eight denarii.

Three years later it is recorded that on the 8th February 1461 Gerrit van Assendelft conferred his house on Pieter van Dam, Abbot of Middelburg, and by letters patent of the 20th February received it back as a fief, or feudal tenure, for which he was required to pay a yearly sum of 8 denarii to the Abbot - the same amount that he was paying by way of rent to the Count of Holland.

Now this Gerrit van Assendelft is not the first known person of that name. There was a Gerrit who in 1313 was appointed to be "schout" (or sheriff) of Assendelft - a small town about fifteen miles to the north-west of Amsterdam. I have not yet been able to research into the early family history but it appears that this Gerrit had an eldest son named Berthout, who bought a castle known as Assumburg Castle and became thereby an "Ambachtsheer" or Lord of the Manor. When he died, the ownership of the castle passed to his younger brother, another Gerrit van Assendelft, who married a natural daughter of Duke Albrecht, of Bavaria: "Count of Holland and Zeeland and Lord of Friesland". On young Gerrit's wedding day Duke Albrecht gave him the title of "Lord of tile Assumburg". Assumburg Castle was later burned down and in it, according to the gossip of the time, the van Assendelfts claimed to have lost all the documentation that proved their noble origins.

Be that as it may, the Gerrit van Assendelft whom we find in The Hague in the middle of the 15th century was a man of substance and his house on the Westeinde had come to be known as the House of Assendelft. He was a Counsellor of Charles the Bold and of Kaiser Maximiliaan; and he married a wealthy heiress named Beatrix van Dalem. And in the Council Chamber of the Grote Kerk, just a hundred yards away from the House of Assendelft, there is a fine marble tomb that contains the mortal remains of Gerrit himself, who died in 1486, and of his wife Beatrix, who died six years later.

We do not know much about what the house looked like in those early days. Only the cellars remain, to form the foundation of the present building, but they are proof enough that it was a substantial structure. There was said to be an underground passage leading from the cellars to the Grote Kerk but that is almost certainly a legend. Gerrit's son Nicholas, who inherited the house, also made a good marriage, with Alyt van Arckel, Lady of Kyeffhouck and Cralinghen. She survived him by thirty years and shared the inheritance with her son Ridder Gerrit van Assendelft who, as a young man, at the beginning of the 16th century, went off to France to study law in Orleans, where he met and married a girl named Catherine de Chasseur. This was a disastrous match, and led to tragedy. lt seems to have been something of a shotgun wedding - she was the daughter of an innkeeper, - no doubt of the inn where young Gerrit lodged while he was in Orleans. She was apparently an attractive girl, and the lonely young Dutchman was not yet 20. You can imagine the rest. The account I have read runs as follows: "He had married her against his will, or rather under pressure from her father who, when he found them together, forced them to get married in the presence of notary and witnesses." Just how angry and upset his mother, the proud Alyt van Arckel, was about this we can only imagine. When young Gerrit returned to Holland he tried to leave his wife behind in France, but she followed him to The Hague, and when he refused to admit her into his house, the Court - the Hof van Holland - of which he was later to become President, - taking no account of rank, state or fortune, ordered him "to take her to live with him in his house, at his table and in his bed". But it did not work. His mother and his sister Catherine did all they could to turn him against his wife and their child, Nicolaes, or Claes. His mother did not live to see the results of her intrigues. She died in 1530 and two years later the marriage broke up. There was a legal separation and Catherine left the house in the Westeinde under a settlement by which she was provided with a house at the corner of the Voorhout and the Nieuwstraat and an allowance of Fls. 600 a year, plus the cost of bringing up young Nicolaes.

Gerrit for his part, had come to be a man of considerable importance and influence. His full list of titles and dignities was "Gerrit of Assendelft, Heemskerk, Castricum, Cronenburg and Assumburg, Cralingen, Overschie and Schiebroek". He had also become a favourite of the Emperor, Charles V, and he was for thirty years, 1528-1558, President of the Court or Hof van Holland. Even so, Catherine de Chasseur in her house in the Nieuwstraat, is said to have lived "above the rank and state of her husband", and obviously very extravagantly. To make ends meet she -took to counterfeiting money, with the help of her French chaplain, Mathurin Alys, and two other young Frenchmen. On February 11, 1541, she was caught red-handed with her accomplices. There was clearly a great public scandal. The wife of the President of the Court of Holland, although separated from her husband, caught forging money! Catherine was tried and condemned to death. The original sentence was that she should be burned in public at the stake, but by special mercy of the Queen of Hungary, then Regent of the Netherlands, her sentence was commuted to private execution in prison and burial in consecrated land - some slight compensation, perhaps, for being the lawful wife of an important citizen. lt is a recorded fact that Catherine de Chasseur was executed on April 11, 1541 in the Gevangenpoort by the gruesome method of the water death - filled with water until she expired. Her accomplices were beheaded. Law breaker or not, I think we can all feel much pity with this unhappy woman dying in such a way and far from home. lt is some consolation to know she was properly treated in prison. Her judges had ordered that she should be looked after as was seemly for a woman of her position and a provision was made of 6 stuivers a day for the purpose. Her maid, Huguette, who accompanied her, received a further 4 stuivers a day. After Catherine's execution Huguette was banished from Holland.

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Now Gerrit van Assendelft, after his wife's death at the hands of the executioners, determined to cut his son Nicolaes out of his inheritance. He had indeed to give his son his "legitimate portion" but why leave to this child of "a woman of poor and humble origin" all his titles and extensive properties? He hit upon the idea of urging and persuading his son to go into the priesthood, and in this he succeeded, with the help of various friends. He then petitioned the Emperor, Charles V, for an "octrooi" - (an authority) - to leave his titles ...

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