Oudewater: the medieval town

Oudewater is situated in the province of Utrecht. It was granted its town charter by the bishop of Utrecht in 1265. Around 1280 Oudewater was mortgaged to Floris V, count of Holland, along with a number of nearby towns. After Floris V's murder in 1296, the loan was declared forfeit and Oudewater officially became part of the county of Holland. The town remained part of the province of Zuid-Holland until 1970.

As Oudewater was strategically placed between the bishopric ('Sticht') of Utrecht and the county of Holland, the counts of Holland fortified the town against attacks. The tall brick tower of the parish church of St Michael was part of the town's defense works. Over time Oudewater suffered various acts of aggression, such as the plunder in 1349 by the troops of Bishop Jan van Arkel and another assault in 1374.

The conflict between Jacqueline of Hainault and Philip the Good, and the Episcopal 'Utrecht Schism' (1423-1448), also had consequences for Oudewater, which sided with Jacqueline. In March 1428 the nuns of the Ursula convent fled the town, after which Boudewijn van Swieten founded the MariŽnpoel convent for them outside Leiden.

Trade and local industry made Oudewater a prosperous provincial town in the late medieval period. The town was also famous for its weighing house for witches (Heksenwaag), which enjoyed a reputation for fairness from the late fifteenth century on. Oudewater was the birthplace of the painter Gerard David (c.1455-1523) and of the Protestant theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609).

In 1572 one of William the Silent's supporters, Adriaen van Swieten (1532-1584), compelled the authorities in Oudewater to join other towns in Holland in the Dutch Revolt against Philip II of Spain. Van Swieten became governor of Oudewater and Gouda. However, the citizens of Oudewater paid a heavy price for their rebellion when the town was conquered by Spanish troops on 7 August 1575 after a siege of nearly three weeks. Nearly half of the population is said to have been brutally killed, while the town was sacked and a large part burnt to the ground in what came to be known as the 'Oudewater Massacre' (Oudewaterse Moord). The town was recaptured by Van Swieten's troops in late 1576.


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Last updated on: 28 June 2014.