History of Oudewater

Oudewater as a dwelling site probably originated in the 8th century on a peninsula between the river ‘Hollandse Ijssel’ and the old course of the rivulet Lange Linschoten. In 1265, Hendrik van Vianden, Bishop of Utrecht, granted Oudewater city rights. The new city was part of  ‘Het Sticht’ (worldly possessions of the Utrecht diocese), but in 1280 it was rendered by cession to the county of Holland. In its stirring history there have been several disasters, in one of which all archives have been lost. The one key document that has been preserved is the ‘Kroniek van Heda’ (=Heda’s Chronicle) that explicitly dates the city rights attribution on July 5, 1265. We’ll stick to that version.

History – the Murder

At the beginning of what later appeared to become the 80 years war (1568 – 1648), Oudewater was the first city in the Utrecht – Holland region to join the reformation movement and in 1572 it recognized William of Orange as their stadtholder (= governor). In the next few weeks, the cities of Gouda, Leiden, Haarlem, Alkmaar and others followed suit. On the 19th of July the founding assembly of the States of Holland. At that meeting William of Orange got his title of honour: Father of the fatherland.

Some three years later, William of Orange discovered that the Spanish army planned to submit Oudewater by arms. He orders Oudewater to inundate Oudewater, and evacuate women and children to Gouda. Both orders are taken no notice of, with a horrendous outcome.

The siege starts on July 19th, and on the 6th of August the heavy artillery is in position. The Spaniard’s ultimatum was misunderstood, and with the city council still in assembly, the first round (of 1700) was  fired.

The next day, 7 August 1575, the Spaniards marched into Oudewater and killed all men, women and children they saw. Several women were hanged in their doorway and cut open by sword. A half to three quarters of the Oudewater population has been massacred on this very day. Nearly all building in the city was burned down: only the church of St. Michael and the convent of St. Ursula were carefully spared.

Oudewaterse Moord 

“De Oudewaterse Moord” (1656) van Dirck Stoop.

The murder is commemorated every year on the 7th of August. Residents and guests are welcome on that day to scrutinize the huge painting by Dirck Stoop (1618 – 1686) in the old city hall, depicting the massacre in all morbid detail.

History – the reconstruction

Taking up life, the reconstruction of the city began remarkably short after the massacre. In 1588 the new town hall was ready, and the public weighing house followed in 1595.

Oudewater and the rope industry

Thanks to the rope industry Oudewater has become over the years a centre of commerce and prosperity. In the Golden Age (17th century) all ship rigging for the ships sailing to the East Indies came from Oudewater.

Beggar’s cemetery

Along the road between Oudewater and Montfoort lies an old beggar’s cemetery (opposite nr 117). This small site, hedged with hawthorn, is a remainder of a bigger site that the municipalities of Willeskop and Hoenkoop bought in 1875 to be used as a cemetery.
the Oudewater city council recently asked the ‘Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht’ (= Utrecht scenic heritage) foundation to research the site’s history, and subsequently asked the regional committee ‘Utrechtse Waarden’  (= Utrecht forelands) for a subsidy for the restoration of the cemetery. With the Utrecht  funding, the hedge has been restored, trees have been brought back to size and the admission gate has been renewed. Landschap Erfgoed Utrecht has donated a notice board with the cemetery’s history.

Oudewater celebrates its 750 years city rights

Bishop Hendrik van Vianden granted Oudewater city rights in 1265. And that’s commemorated, and how!

The many festivities have started on October 2014, and roll out over a full year, till the big final party in September 2015. Want to know more? All information is on the site of the ‘Oudewater 750 jaar Stad’ foundation.