Middeleeuwse dwangburchten van West-Friesland en Alkmaar
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The medieval castles of West-Frisia and Alkmaar
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Torenburg Castle

(Update: 2016-05-05)

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Toren: Dutch word for tower. Burcht: Dutch word for a fortified place (castle, fortified house, fortified town, citadel). Also in Medieval Dutch: borch, burch. So, the name "Torenburg" means: "the fortified tower".

It is not known why the castle got its name. But there are some indications that there was an ancient fortress, probably one solid round tower that was situated exactly on the place of the later castle. This former fortress was possibly rebuilt and modernized as a bold castle with a square ground-scheme, by Count William II of Holland in approx. 1250. However, this information is rather doubtful because it was extracted from an unidentified source of the year 1617.

The foundation in approx. 1250

An image of a castle on the oldest town-seal of Alkmaar (1299). Probably an image of Torenburg Castle
An image of a castle on the oldest town-seal of Alkmaar (1299). Probably an image of Torenburg Castle?
(Lit. 9, E.H.P. Cordfunke)
The military purposes of Torenburg Castle are clear. Count William II intended to beat the West Frisians before he would be crowned in Rome to be emperor of the German empire. The town of Alkmaar as well as the Torenburg had a strategical position. Torenburg Castle was situated along the old connecting road between Kennemerland and West Frisia. This was an important reason why the bailiff of Kennemerland made Torenburg Castle his residence.

William II was murdered in 1256, during the offensive against the West Frisians near the village of Hoogwoud. His son Florens V was just a 1½-year-old boy. Finally, in 1272 Florens V attempted to control the West Frisians by his own strategy, in which he succeeded in the period between 1282-1289. To consolidate his victory over the West Frisians, Florens ordered five castles to be built: in Wijdenes, Medemblik, near the present village of Krabbendam Nuwendoorn Castle and near Alkmaar: Middelburg Castle and Nieuwburg Castle. Both castles, Middelburg Castle and Nieuwburg Castle and the older one, Torenburg Castle, formed a defensive trio. It is known that Florens V had his residence in the latter one in 1289. After the murder (1296) of Florens, his successors, John I of Holland and John II (John of Avesnes) transferred the control of Torenburg Castle, Middelburg Castle and Nieuwburg Castle to William van der Laen in 1299. In the same year the final treaty of peace was concluded in Torenburg Castle after the West Frisians had surrendered.

After the ending of the West Frisian wars, Torenburg Castle's role was diminished, especially by the fact that the castle became situated more and more near the Alkmaar city boundaries: an uncomfortable position which caused a reduction of the castle's strategic and defensive properties. Another possible reason why Torenburg Castle lost its relevance, was the presence of a newer strong castle: Nieuwburg.

Account books of the Count do not reveal any finance to maintain the castle, while the newer castles mentioned in those accounts (Nieuwburg and Middelburg) were a regular subject to take care of. Finally, in the first years of the 14th century Torenburg Castle was rejected by the Counts of Holland, while its function was taken over by the Nieuwburg, which had already been the residence of the bailiff of Kennemerland since 1324.

The continuation

In the first half of the 14th century Torenburg Castle became private property of a family called Van Torenburg. The first ancestor of this family and Torenburg Castle's owner was Barthoud Van Torenburg. Barthoud was involved in a (political) homicide of the bailiff of Kennemerland: Reinoud van Brederode. After this crime he fled for fear of prosecution, after which Duke Albert of Bavaria (who was Count of Holland in these days) situated a garrison of soldiers in Torenburg Castle. Barthoud was not arrested but his castle and goods were immediately confiscated.

Barthoud's son Claas bought his father's former property back as feudal estate, after which he received 13 pounds of interest. For the next 100 years after Claas' purchase, the Van Torenburg descendants had their profit by this right.

The Farmstead (Hofstede) of Torenburg

Round 1400 the citizens of Alkmaar started demolishing the 150-year-old castle. And it is a fact that Torenburg Castle did not exist anymore in the year 1410, when the name of Torenburg Castle was mentioned in 'Farmstead of Torenburg' (Hofstede Torenburg). From Dutch historical sources it is well known that the name of 'Hofstede' is usually a piece of land where a castle used to be.

An image of Torenburg Castle, made by A. Rademaker in the 18th century. This drawing is based on the artist's imagination.
An image of Torenburg Castle, made by A. Rademaker (1730). This drawing is based on the artist's imagination. Annotations: "'t Kasteel Toornenburg"... "lag oudstijds in Westfriesland bij Alkmaar" ("Toornenburg Castle".... "laid in early times in West-Frisia near Alkmaar". (Regionaal Archief Alkmaar, PR 1000793 )

The street, named 'Kooltuin' and its canal.
The small street and canal, 'Kooltuin', named after the Torenburg Castle's vegetable garden.
(Foto: Ben Dijkhuis)
Until March 30 in the year 1500, Farmstead of Torenburg remained the property of the Torenburg family. In 1512 both parts of the land, which were named High-Torenburg and Low-Torenburg, became property of Dirk Sijmonzoon. In 1521 it was sold to the government of Alkmaar, who decided to use High-Torenburg (the original castle terrain) for defensive purposes by digging a moat and building the town wall on the terrain. So a piece of High-Torenburg was situated inside the town borders at last, after which building activities took place. Nowadays there are some streetnames in Alkmaar, which are reminiscent of the former castle. These streetnames are: Torenburg and Kooltuin (kool=cabbage, tuin=garden, so 'Kooltuin' means: cabbage garden or vegetable garden, pointing out the castle-garden from which the inhabitants of the castle were provided with fresh greens!).

In 1660, when a moat was dug, a part of the foundations became visible again. Also a historical work of 1739, written by Alkmaar's history-writer Eikelenberg, mentioned foundations of one of the castle towers which were visible in the grazed land, with traces of a moat as well.

Literature cited:

(Lit. 5, J.W. Groesbeek)
(Lit. 9, E.H.P. Cordfunke)
(Lit. 34, J. de Vries)