Middeleeuwse dwangburchten van West-Friesland en Alkmaar
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Nuwendoorn Castle

(Update: 2016-05-05)

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Nuwendoorn. Nowadays also: Nieuwendoorn.
Nuwe, niwe and nie, are Medieval Dutch (" Middle-Dutch" ) words for the modern Dutch word " nieuw" , which means " new" .

The second part of the name is more difficult to explain. All explanations so far, are speculative.

  • Noordeloos' (lit. 19) opinion was that the word " doorn" stands for " thorn" or " spine" . His thoughts were based on the fact that Count Florens' strategical position was reinforced by Nuwendoorn Castle: a " thorn" in the " flesh" of the Westfrisians. In Middle-Dutch we see the word " doorn" as well (lit. 34).
  • Groesbeek (lit. 5) suggests a connection with the Celtic word " dore" . A word that we encounter for instance in the name Dorestad as well. (Dorestad: name of the ancient place which was situated near the present Dutch town " Wijk bij Duurstede" ). However, normally we do not not encounter this word or derivative in names in the northern regions of Holland. The etymologic dictionary of J. de Vries (lit. 34), shows us the old-Irish word: " dorus" , wich is related to the Dutch word: " deur" , which means " door" .
  • The latter leads to some other explanation. In Middle-Dutch we encounter some multiple meanings. The Middle-Dutch word: " dore" , means " door" (Dutch: " deur" ) and " through" (Dutch: " door" ) as well. But we also encounter: " dure, doere" , Middle-Dutch for " door" (Dutch: " deur" ). Even: " duere" , Middle-Dutch for " through" (Dutch: " door" ).

    The Count's history writer of the 13th century, Melis Stoke gave the castle the name of the neighbouring area: " Nuwendoren" or " Niwendueren" . So " Nuwendoren" was not the castle's name but the name of the piece of land or region where it was built:

    " ..Hi hadde begonnen ten Nuwendoren.."
    Transl.: " ..He had began at Nuwendoren.."
    "..Ende braken thuys ten Niwendueren
    Dat al niet en was volmaect......"

    Transl.: "..And broke the house at Niwendueren. Which was not finished yet.."

    To a recent opinion, the name Nuwendoorn points out the meaning as the 'the new doors' in the meaning of "the new passage" to the sea by new lock gates, with regard to the dam or dike that Florens V built in the river Rekere. This newly raised passage acted as an important strategic access route to West-Frisia, which was necessarily protected by a strong castle.

    Over the years the name Nuwendoorn changed into " Nieuwe Deuren" as a local dialect. The locals still use the name of " Nieuwe Deuren" to the area, where the castle was originally positioned, even many centuries after the castle had disappeared and even before it was discovered in 1948.

The foundations

Before he had his offensive against the Westfrisians, Florens V, Count of Holland, had plans for a grand strategy by preparing important precautions. One of his activities was to build a dam (dike) over the swampy terrain which was situated between the sand-ridge of the town of Alkmaar and the high sandy-clayish ('geest') area of Oudorp and Vronen (Sint Pancras, in present days). The dam should function as an exit-route to West-Frisia for providing purposes and troups' movements as well.

Before AD 1270 a dam was built in the mouth of the Rekere, a water/river streaming from the Schermeer (Schermer) along the town of Alkmaar to the north, where it ended in the waters of the Zijpe (part of the sea near the present Hondsbossche Zeewering). Gradually the stream had become shallow by the continuous supply of silt, which made it easy to construct a dam in it and cut it off from the sea. The dam became strategically important with a view to the accessibility of Westfrisia for providing purposes and troup's movement as well.

Author's reconstruction of Nuwendoorn Castle.
Author's reconstruction of Nuwendoorn Castle.
(Drawing: Ben Dijkhuis).
After his final victory over the Westfrisian rebellion, Florens V ordered five castles to be built to consolidate his final victory. During the period 1282-1287 he built the castles in Medemblik and Wijdenes, and Nuwendoorn Castle.

To guard the dam between Alkmaar and Oudorp, Florens founded Middelburg Castle. Nieuwburg Castle was founded next to Vronermeer ('Lake of Vronen'), resulting in a complete control of the important exit- and providing route. Together with Torenburg, an older castle, they formed a very strong trio.

After the murder of Florens V in the year 1296, many inhabitants of his territory rebelled, incited by the bishop of Utrecht, William of Mechelen. West Frisians besieged the Muiden Castle from which they retreated by plundering. They conquered Wijdenes Castle, which was completely destroyed. Storming Medemblik Castle failed.

It is not sure if Middelburg Castle and Nieuwburg Castle were involved in this rebellion. But there are indications that Nieuwburg Castle was. When the Westfrisian were finally defeated, the treaty of peace was concluded in Torenburg Castle and not in Nieuwburg Castle, because the latter should have been heavily damaged during the rebellion.

Nuwendoorn Castle was not finished yet and this was the reason that it was not defensible. It was attacked from the West and very seriously damaged in the end.

The continuation and destruction

The successors of Florens V ordered the rebuilding of Nuwendoorn Castle. In the year 1321, when William III (of Hennegau) was Count of Holland, he trusted the castle with John of Pollanen. But John had to promise to return the castellanship to the Count again after his death. Pollanen was compensated for the costs of practising his function, including the expenses of the war-effort, while the Count himself would deliver assistance and necessary arms.

John of Pollanen, a nobleman and businessman, was also the owner of the manor Breda and the castle 'Oud Haerlem' near the town of Heemskerk. His successors in the castellanship of Nuwendoorn Castle were Boudijn John Barthoudz. (1343) and John of Egmond (1344).

Most facts concerning the castle are known from notes in accounts of the Count, but these notes stopped mentioning Nuwendoorn Castle in 1366/1367. As early as 1392 the fortress had disappeared from history! It is not clear why. There is a theory which says that damage was caused by a flood. Indeed, archeological investigations reveal the traces of a flood during the period 1350-1370. Salination of the land stopped receiving cash from yields of agriculture. Probably there was no finance left to rebuild the castle, leading to decay and disappearance from the land.

Not only the castle disappeared, even all knowledge about its site was lost as well. For historians there were fewer clues, which led to even more speculations.

An artist's fantasy of Nuwendoorn Castle, mentioned as 't Slodt Eenigenburg'
By Andries Schoemaker (1660-1735)
(The Hague, Royal Library, KB78H43, 81).

Discovery and excavation

The excavated foundations of Nuwendoorn Castle.Nuwendoorn Castle's ground-scheme.
The excavated foundations of Nuwendoorn Castle.Nuwendoorn Castle's ground-scheme. Some remarkable features are an enigmatic half-round additon, a small privy-tower (toilet), an entry-tower with a draw-bridge and the remains of a well.

Ploughing his fields in 1948, farmer Biersteker's labour was obstructed by debris and large bricks (kloostermoppen). His fields were situated between the villages of Eenigenburg and Krabbendam and was a part of a bigger piece of land, which was known by the local people as "Nieuwe Deuren". A name of which the origin was an enigma, till two amateur archeologics, Lutjeharms and Westra concluded that the bricks Biersteker found seemed to be the remnants of a wall. They got permission to dig further on and finally excavated an enormous piece of a foundation. The fortress of Florens V, which had been missing for five centuries was finally discovered!

The discovery explained the origin of the name "Nieuw Deuren" which seemed to be a degeneration of the name of 'Nuwendoren' or 'Niwedueren'!

Just 12 years later in 1960 the Dutch State's Service of Archeological Investigations (Rijksdienst voor Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek) started an extensive study, which was led by the castle-archeologist prof. J.G.N. Renaud. The complete foundations of the castle were excavated, revealing a square ground-scheme, surrounded by a castle-moat.

The castle's setup existed of two parts: a secondary front-castle and a main-castle with a residential part with 1.2 meter thick walls. The main-castle's dimensions measured about 32x32 meters, while it had a heavy main-tower (donjon). This tower covered an area of approx. 11x11 meters with walls of 2.5 meters thick. At the back of the former inner castle-square, debris of the remnants of a residential part were found, in which some apartments could be recognized. Other remarkable features which became visible after the excavation: an enigmatic half-round additon, a small privy-tower (toilet), an entry-tower with a draw-bridge and the remains of a well.

The Nuwendoorn Castle's entrance. At the background, the castle's well at the former castle-yard.
(Photo: Ben Dijkhuis).

The front-castle with tiny towers in the corner had an entry of its own. At this location several remnants of a wooden bridge were found. But the former castle-moat revealed more important objects like red and blue-grey pottery, a light green drinking glass, a cooking-pot, several wooden objects, a fish-trap, which was made with willow-twigs and even a piece of the castle itself: a chimney-top!

In 1961 a committee was founded to investigate the final function of the castle's terrain. Finally it was decided to preserve the foundations. This consolidation was finished in 1967. Many participants co-operated to realize these plans. More work was applied to consolidate the foundations of the front-castle, redigging the castle-moat and building up the castle's well. At last, in 1980 all the plans had been realized.

The context of the terrain and ruins were dramatically changed after a renewal or restauration of the castle in 2009-2011. The vegetation was removed thoroughly. Some walls of the ruin were slightly elevated. The worse of all in this is a steel sight-seeing tower, being a replacement of the original donjon or main tower, which dominates the area now.

The contempory state of the Nuwendoorn Castle, during restauration. The steel sight-seeing tower dominates the area dramatically.
(Photo: Jantine Leeflang).

Liteture cited:

(Lit. 3, D. Kransberg, H. Mils)
(Lit. 5, J.W. Groesbeek)
(Lit. 7a, E.H.P. Cordfunke)
(Lit. 7c, H. Janse)
(Lit. 8, J. Belonje)
(Lit. 11, P.E. van Rijen)
(Lit. 12, R.P. de Graaf)
(Lit. 13, F. Diederik)
(Lit. 16a, R.P. de Graaf)
(Lit. 17, D.P. van Wigheren)
(Lit. 18, D. Breebaart)
(Lit. 19, P. Noordeloos)
(Lit. 29, M. Minnema)
(Lit. 30, author not known)
(Lit. 31, R. den Boer)
(Lit. 34, J. de Vries)

Visit the foundations of Nuwendoorn Castle near the village of Eenigenburg (Also for nice pictures! In Dutch only!)