Middeleeuwse dwangburchten van West-Friesland en Alkmaar
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The medieval castles of West-Frisia and Alkmaar
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Medemblik Castle
(Radboud Castle)

(Update 2016-05-05)

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The name of the town of Medemblik is derived from Medemolaca (9th c.) and Medemalacha (10th c.). These are the names of an ancient stream, to be translated as: Midden-Leek, which means 'the Leek that streams in the middle'. The word 'middle' is probably derived from the fact that it was situated between two other streams. Along the banks of the Midden-Leek, the first settlement appeared from which Medemblik takes its origin.

A 'denier' of Florens V, struck by the Mint of Medemblik.
A 'denier' with the image of Florens V, struck by the Mint of Medemblik in the 13th century.
(Drawing: Jantine Leeflang).
These days Medemblik Castle is better known as Radboud Castle. The name suggests that it was founded by the ancient Frisian King Radboud (8th c.), whose name was related to the castle in a legend, which was published in a chronicle in 1517. Indeed, there are historical facts showing us possibilities of the presence of an older ancient fortress before the castle was built. But historical evidence of any connection to King Radboud is not known.
From the 10th century, Medemolaca was an economically important place. It is known there was a toll-levy and a mint: two important activities which should justify a fortified house or another kind of fortification. Maybe even on the terrain of the present castle. Unfortunately no archeologic investigation had been done during the two periods of restorations at the end of 19th century and during 1964-1965, so there is no hard evidence for that theory.

The foundation at the end of the 13th century

In the 13th century, Florens V, Count of Holland gave high priority to the strategial importance of Medemblik during his struggle against the revolting West Frisians. After his final conquest he founded five castles to consolidate his victory and to control West Frisia. Originally he built Wijdenes Castle, followed by Medemblik Castle. In the north-west region of West Frisia near the river Rekere (between the present tiny villages of Krabbendam and Eenigenburg) Florens built Nuwendoorn Castle. But also, the Middelburg Castle and Nieuwburg Castle, both founded outside the city boundaries of Alkmaar near the village of Oudorp. All these castles were built between 1282 and 1289. During the struggle of the Counts of Holland against the West Frisians in earlier years, Florens' father, William II of Holland, founded Torenburg Castle near Alkmaar in approx. 1250.

Author's reconstruction of Medemblik Castle for the 13th century.
This artist's impression reveals a reconstruction-drawing of Medemblik Castle at the end of the 13th century.
(Drawing: Ben Dijkhuis)
It is not known when Medemblik Castle was built exactly, but we know that the order would be given in 1282, whereafter it was finished in 1287. The model of Florens' castles was based on a square ground scheme. In that way, the Medemblik Castle was a strong stony fortress, which was surrounded by water ('waterburcht'). In its day, a very modern and advanced military object.

To support the strategic and economic importance of Medemblik, Florens V decided in 1289, to give this town 'Stadsrechten' ('rights of the town', which means that the town got a great deal of privileges, because of the right to have its own court of justice.)

After the assassination of Florens V in 1296, a part of the population in his territory rebelled, incited by the bishop of Utrecht, William of Mechelen. West Frisians besieged Muiden Castle from where they retreated while plundering. They conquered Wijdenes Castle, which was completely destroyed. The same happened with Nuwendoorn Castle which was attacked from the West. Also Medemblik Castle was stormed but the attack was staved off by the Count's garrison under the command of Jan van Avesnes (of Hennegau). After this failure the West Frisians tried to besiege the castle for a second time. This time they tried to conquer it by famishing the castle's occupants. The defenders however, who were under the command of the new castellan (lord of the castle) Florens Wouterz. of Egmond, maintained their positions bravely, after which they were relieved by the Count's army in 1297.

After these actions of the Count's troups, it was not long before the West Frisians were defeated and finally submitted to the Countship of Holland.

The continuation

In the 14th and 15th centuries, raids on Medemblik Castle still proved the necessity for defence, while it was managed by a 'castellan' (lord of the castle). Castellan-ship was often combined with another high leading profession, such as servant of law, i.e. 'schout', 'baljuw' or 'drost' (compare these with 'sheriff' or 'bailiff').

In the Middle Ages (and later!) there was a common threat, a dangerous enemy of all the inhabitants of Holland and Zealand: the sea! The land was often heavily distressed by storm-floods. The flood in the year 1335 was really the worst. The sea threatened to flood the town of Medemblik and the castle as well. West Frisians (from Drechterland and Houtwouderambacht) ever promised Count William III (of Hennegau) to replace the town and the castle as well when ever such a threat occurred.

After all, it did not turn out so dramatically!

The prison of Radboud Castle.
The prison of Radboud Castle. (Photo: Ben Dijkhuis)
Several times Medemblik Castle was used as a prison and place to lock up lunatics as well. Some cases were described:
  • A big quarrel between the castellan of Medemblik, Banjaert Saij Jansz. and the president of the Court of Holland (Hof van Holland) Gozewijn de Wilde. Gozewijn accused Banjaert of immoral behaviour. Both men were taken prisoner in 'Gevangenpoort' in The Hague. Later they were transported to another place. After one year and a half, a judgement was given: Banjaert lost his positions and was convicted to exile. Gozewijn was beheaded at Loevestein Castle (Poederoyen, Gelderland). Because of a tinkling money-bag Banjaert was lucky. At last he was reappointed to his former profession of bailiff and castellan.
  • Albert, Lord of Schagen, refused his brothers' share of a legacy. So he was forced by Court to give his brothers their legitimate part. Albert refused to obey this judgement and acted dumb. When his own castle, Schagen Castle was besieged by an army of the Stadtholder of Holland, Philips of Wassenaar, Albert surrendered at last and was taken prisoner in the Hague and later in Medemblik Castle, where he died in the year 1480.

Period of adversity

The 16th century was a period of adversity for Medemblik. Grote Pier (transl: 'Tall Peer') was a farmer from Kimswerd in Frisia. He allotted himself all kinds of titles, like: King of Frisia, Duke of Sneek, Count of Sloten, Free-Lord of Hindeloopen and Admiral of the Zuiderzee.
Grote Pier (Tall Peer), Frisian leader of a troup of 4000 soldiers from Gelre and Frisia.
Grote Pier (Tall Peer), Frisian leader of a troup of 4000 soldiers from Gelre and Frisia.
His hate against Holland was enormous. He had a special hate of Medemblik and its inhabitants. In earlier years, soldiers from Medemblik collaborated with the army of Holland, under the command of Charles V of Habsburg (of Austria). They created havoc and destroyed Pier's native village.

On June 24, 1517, Grote Pier and his gang, the 'Zwarte Hoop', a savage group of 4000 soldiers from Frisia and Gelre sailed to West Frisia, passing Enkhuizen, landing near Wervershoof and advancing north to Medemblik. In no time Medemblik was captured. Many inhabitants were killed and taken prisoner, while some were released against a high ransom. A part of the town's inhabitants fled to the castle where they found a safe place to stay.

The castellan, Joost van Buren succeeded in keeping the aggressors outside the castle-gate. At last the attackers realized that it was not possible to capture the castle. So they plundered the town and set it on fire. Because most houses were made of wood, the town was burned down completely, the church, monastery and town-hall included.

The gang left Medemblik in the direction of Alkmaar. Nieuwburg Castle and Middelburg Castle were captured and damaged heavily.

Medemblik Castle during the besiege by Maurits in 1588.
Radboud Castle during the besiege by Maurits, prince of Orange, in 1588.
During the 80 years' war (1568-1648), the town of Medemblik and her castle were stormed twice. For the first time in 1572 when Geuzen and pro-Orange troups tried to conquer the castle. They succeeded after using women and children as a living shield when they marched in front of the regular troups. The second time in 1588 'Orange'-troups of stadtholder Maurits advanced to Medemblik where Diederik of Sonoy refused to release his loyality to the Earl of Leicester (the latter was installed in 1579 by the Unie of Utrecht as regent-stadholder). Maurits had succeeded.

Finally, Radboud Castle had ceased to exist as a defending fortress. The States of Holland (Staten van Holland) decided to transfer the castle to be a property of the Medemblik local government in 1608, who immediately found an appropriate application; the residence for the local guardians ('Schutterij'), a milition for controlling the town's safety.
Kasteel van Medemblik, 1640 (graph by A. Rademaker) 'Casteel te Medemleck', 1649 from the Stedenatlas of Blaeu
Abraham Rademaker: 'Het KASTEEL van MEDENBLIK 1640'. 'Kabinet van Nederlandsche Outheden en Gezichten', 1725.
(Facsimile 1966, European Library, Zaltbommel, NL)
Het CASTEEL te MEDEMLECK. Stedenatlas of Blaeu, 1649. (Colored reproduction)

Radboud Castle in use as Reformed Church, (C. Pronk, 1740)
Radboud Castle in use as Reformed Church.
(From a drawing of Cornelis Pronk, 1740).
After some restorations in 1654 and raising the westerly square tower, which was supplied with a bell, that was transported from the eastern town gate, the castle's main hall was put into use as a (Reformed) church, named: 'Oosterkerk' (Eastern church). The first divine-service was held on September 25, 1661, when parson Curtius had his first sermon.

Decay and restoration

The castle fell in decay at last. The divine services were stopped in 1734 and at the end of the 19th century Radboud Castle was a ruin. While most towers were removed, only two square towers were left. The plan of the local government to pull down the castle was refused by King William II of Netherlands.
Finally the poor remains were transferred to the Dutch Government. In 1890, the State's architect J. van Lokhorst started with a restoration of the castle; he was advised by the famous Dutch architect R.J.H. Cuypers. During the restoration, some neo-gothic elements, according to the conceptions which were current in the 19th century, were added, while the historical and cultural significance were of minor importance. Even the south-west tower was rebuilt on its original foundations. When the restoration was finished in 1897 the castle was put into use as a district-court of Justice till 1934.

Before restauration (1890): a ruin!After restauration (1898): thoroughly renewed!
Before restauration (1890): a ruin!From the same view as the left image. After restauration (1898): the castle is renewed thoroughly.

Restaurated for the second time!
Radboud Castle at present days, after the restauration in 1964-1965.
(Photo: Ben Dijkhuis).
In 1931 a disfiguring preserving-cannery which was situated very close to the castle, was completely burnt down. The foundations of the north-westerly tower were partly raised on the foundations in 1934, after which in 1936 the terrain was cleaned up, while a castle-moat was dug again, as a result of which the castle got back its original square ground-scheme.

The last restoration took place in 1964-1965. This time the task was more based on historical, architectural and modern scientific insights. Some neo-gothic elements from the last restoration were removed, while the entry-stairs were replaced by stairs that were situated along the front of the building. More expression was given to some elements of the 13th century. For example, it has been made visible that the original walls and living quarters of the castle were much lower than today. At the south-east front you can see the outlines of the old battlements.

Nowadays Radboud Castle has a cultural and educational function and is used as a museum-castle with expositions. Since the 1990's the main hall ('Knight's Hall') has had a function as a wedding-hall. In the cellar, where the entrance is situated, you will find a tavern, where visitors may have a refreshment.

Literature cited:

(Lit.1, P.S. Teeling, H. Langereis)
(Lit. 3, D. Kransberg, H. Mils)
(Lit. 5, J.W. Groesbeek)
(Lit. 6, H. M. van den Berg)
(Lit. 10b: W. van Leeuwen)
(Lit. 11: P. E. van Rijen)
(Lit. 13, F. Diederik)
(Lit.14, H. Lambooij)
(Lit. 19, P. Noordeloos)
(Lit. 20, S.B.J. Zilverberg)
(Lit. 21, W.F.G. Wiese)
(Lit.32, J. Struik)
(Lit. 33a, W.F.M. Brieffies)
(Lit. 33b, H. Schoorl).

For visiting Radboud Castle in Medemblik, see the website: kasteelradboud.nl