The Hague: City of Royal Residences


The numbers on the map above indicate the four royal residences in The Hague that we explored as part of the Palatium Summer School. The Hague has many more residences with royal connections, both past and present, but only a few are in fact open to visitors on a regular basis. Of the four discussed below only the Mauritshuis is open for public as a museum, the other three can be admired from the outside.

1: Binnenhof


The story of The Hague is inextricably linked with this building. The Dutch name for The Hague, s’Gravenhage, literally translates as the Counts Woods and herein lies the clue to the origin of this building. The Binnenhof was a castle for the Counts of Holland, and later it housed the Stadtholders and States General of the Dutch Republic. The complex has a largely rectangular outline stretching along one side of the Hofvijver, with buildings dating from the thirteenth century onwards added, adjusted and restored. The Hofvijver has its origin as a dune lake the castle itself used to have a connecting moat which was only filled in in the early nineteenth century. At two stages in its history the whole complex was under threat of demolition, having survived these threats it is now the oldest house of parliament in the world still in use.


At the centre of the whole complex is the Ridderzaal, or Knights Hall, which is the thirteenth century Great Hall of the original Castle, and undoubtedly the most striking reminder of the history of this complex. This vast hall is used for the state opening of Parliament  each year. The painting above depicts a meeting of the States General in 1651 by Bartholomeus van Bassen which is a nice image of the hall prior to the heavy handed restoration by Pierre Cuypers.

The Trêveszaal which can be explored through Google Maps is one of the most spectacular interiors within the Binnenhof. The room was designed in 1696 by  Daniël Marot, who also worked on Het LooHeemstede Castle and was responsible for extending Huis ten Bosch as well as designing Kneuterdijk Palace (see below). The room gets its name from an earlier interior that was used to negotiate the Twelve Years’ Truce with Spain in 1608. The States General commissioned Marot to design this interior as an appropriate setting to receive foreign emissaries. The opulent room in Marots Louis XIV style is now used for cabinet meetings.


Above: The Dutch version of the Oval Office, the Little Tower is the office of the Prime Minister.

 2: Mauritshuis


Located just outside the Binnenhof precinct is this compact but architecturally significant former princely residence, the Mauritshuis. Now famous as the museum that houses such iconic works as the Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer and the Gold Finch by Fabritius th building itself was an iconic creation in its own right by Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post who were also involved in other projects we examined during the summer school such as the Noordeinde Palace (see below), Hofwijck, Huis ten Bosch and the church near Renswoude Castle.

Van Campen and Post were commisioned to design this residence by Prince Johan Maurits of Naussau-Siegen in 1633, it took a further 11 years to complete. Unusual for a building of this type the two main floors are of equal height, and originally the interior was divided into four identical apartments with a grand reception room on each floor. Architecturally the building therefore expressed the possibility that the owner and any guests might be of equal status.

During the construction Johan Maurits was abroad, notably as the governor of Brazil. Whilst there he collected many natural specimens that were sent back to The Hague to be displayed as a cabinet of curiosities. He was accompanied by several artists in Brazil, one of which was Frans Post, the younger brother of the architect Pieter Post. The paintings of the scenery in Brazil were much admired by the many visitors that flocked to see the exotic curiosities. After Johan Maurits’ death the house was acquired by the state to be used as a Hotel of State for important guests, the architectural equality in the buildings layout must have been useful.

3: Noordeinde Palace


The official ‘work’ palace of the reigning Dutch monarch since its restoration in 1984 has a slightly more humble origin, as a farm house. After its conversion into a spacious residence the States of Holland acquired it as a residence for Louise de Coligny in 1595, the widow of William (“the Silent”) of Orange. Frederik Hendrik was responsible for the enlargement of the Oude Hof, (Old Court) as it was know. He commissioned Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post for the work who also designed the Mauritshuis (see above).

The building resembles a hôtel particulier in the way its wings join the adjacent buildings that make up the street from which it gets its name. To the rear of the palace there are extensive gardens as well as additional buildings such as the Royal Archives. In the past this palace was most commonly used as the official winter residence, with Het Loo serving as the official summer residence. Since the rationalisation of the portfolio of state owned royal residences it is one of the three state owned residences provided to the monarch, along with Huis ten Bosch as the official ‘living’ palace and the Royal Palace in Amsterdam as the official location for state occasions and receptions such as abdications and investitures as well as court presentations of ambassadors.

 4: Kneuterdijk Palace


Although now known as Kneuterdijk Palace, this building was in fact the town house of the old and noble family Van Wassenaer Opdam. The current incarnation was designed by Daniël Marot in 1730 who had to find an ingenious solution to solve the problem of an awkward site, the front of the house is built as a corner, with a round vestibule behind it to transition into the central axis at the rear of the building. A similar solution to resolve the angles of the frond and garden axis being at odds with was used at the Palace of Compiegne, albeit on a much grander scale.

In 1816 King William I acquired the house and presented it to his son after his wedding earlier that year to Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia. The couple preferred to reside in the southern netherlands, but after the Belgian Revolution they were forced to concentrate on their residences in the Netherlands. Anna Pavlovna never quite got used to the informality of the Dutch court, and although this was a fine town house, it paled in comparison to the grandeur she had been accustomed to in her youth.


For her husband, later King William II, this house didn’t quite suit his needs either. Several extension were added, especially reception rooms and galleries. The most prominent addition was the Gothic Hall which is located opposite the Noordeinde Palace. For this construction William II was inspired by the time he spent in England during exile. He studied at Christ Church in Oxford and the design of the series of extensions along the garden reflected the architecture of colleges like these. The Gothic Hall is the only surviving element of this construction and as can be seen in the watercolour below it once housed his famous art collection. The debts left by the king and his widow necessitated the sale of this famous collection, many items being acquired by Anna Pavlovna’s brother Tsar Nicholas I can now be seen in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

The palace is now the seat of the Council of State.


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