The State Prison

The Dutch Revolt (Eighty Years' War)

In the 16th century, the Provinces of the Low Countries were embroiled in a bitter struggle with the Spanish king. However, it wasn’t until 1568 that it turned into war – the Dutch Revolt, also known as the Eighty Years’ War.

Loevestein Castle was also involved in this battle for independence. The Spanish realized the importance of Loevestein’s strategic location and stationed their troops there. However, on 07 December 1570, a small group of Dutch buccaneers, known as the Watergeuzen (‘Sea Beggars’), cunningly managed to infiltrate the castle.

Herman de Ruyter

One cold winter’s day in December, a small group of monks arrived at Loevestein Castle’s gates asking for shelter. Arnt de Jeude, Lord of Hardinxvelt, was Loevestein’s steward in the service of the King of Spain. He welcomed the monks and offered them his hospitality.

During the meal, the monks suddenly drew the weapons they’d been concealing under their habits. Not monks, but buccaneers!

Their leader, Herman de Ruyter, took control of the castle in the name of the Prince of Orange. He showed the outwitted steward the mandate he had received from William of Orange. However, De Jeude refused to surrender, costing him and his men their lives.

Additional reinforcements then arrived boosting the Watergeuzen’s numbers to twenty-one. In the meantime, magistrates in Woudrichem and Gorinchem suspected that something was wrong at Loevestein and raised the alarm.

Alva, the Spanish troops’ commanding officer, ordered fifty soldiers to the castle under the command of Captain Perea. The Spanish took up positions around the castle and attacked. Although they quickly managed to take the outer bailey, De Ruyter and his men succeeded in defending the castle itself. Alva sent more troops and the attack intensified.

Cannons breached the walls, the Spanish stormed the castle and a hand-to-hand battle ensued. The Spanish retook the castle the very same day and Herman de Ruyter fell in battle. His head was put on a stake for all to see in the main market square in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. His body was strung up outside Loevestein Castle for several weeks as a message to other would-be rebels. The few Watergeuzen who had survived the battle were hung from the gallows or broken on the wheel.

Loevestein – The Stronghold

The Watergeuzen’s story didn’t end here however. In 1572, the Watergeuzen succeeded in taking Loevestein for good, whereby the castle passed into state hands. William of Orange had Loevestein Castle fortified, placing ramparts around the castle and in turn a moat around the ramparts.

Soldiers lived inside the ramparts – initially in wooden barracks and later in stone houses. The castle stood bare and empty in the centre of the fort. It seemed perfect for use as a prison. Virtually every room was used as a cell and the large hall on the second floor was divided into yet more cells using wooden partitions. This hall is still called Staatsgevangenis (State Prison) to this day.

Its prisoners weren’t criminals, but state prisoners of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. These included political and religious dissidents, as well as prisoners of war. Its most famous prisoner was Hugo Grotius (Dutch: Hugo de Groot) who put Loevestein on the map with his spectacular escape in a book chest.