Renswoude Castle: protection through privilege

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The approach to Renswoude Castle is always very theatrical, the towers, turrets, and chimney caps all add to a a sense of carefully arranged symmetry intended to impress, even though the house is in fact quite modest. Renswoude shares several features with Heemstede Castle which we also visited as part of the Palatium Summer School. Just like Heemstede this is a one of the original 36 ‘Ridderhofsteden’ in Utrecht, the ownership of which came with quite a few privileges. It also has in common the fact that it was rebuilt in the middle of the seventeenth century with some architectural features that deliberately refer to an older style of architecture with something resembling a Donjon or Keep as a central feature.

Renswoude Castle was constructed in 1654 on the site of the ruins of an older castle for Johan van Reede who had acquired the site in 1623 but initially spent more attention on constructing a church on the estate (see below). Despite the visual impact of the house it could not be described as very large, it is only two rooms deep. Unusually also there is no great salon on the central axis of the house, that space is reserved for the staircase. Frederik Adriaan van Reede inherited the castle in 1682 he and his wife, Maria Duyst van Voorhout, created what must once have been quite impressive Baroque gardens, though only some of the features survived the landscaping in the nineteenth century. A notable survival is the Grand Canal that Maria had excavated as a gift for her husband, it is one of only a few Grand Canals in the Netherlands largely in the original state without being ‘naturalised’ in the craze for gardens in the English fashion.

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Owning a Ridderhofstad would prove to be of great importance for Frederik Adriaan van Reede in 1730 when he was implicated in the Utrecht Sodomy trials, as he was himself invested with judicial powers and therefore above the law in his own domain. Although he could never again return to The Hague he would escape the fate of the massacres that was to befall those that were implicated that had less power and prestige. It weren’t the defensive features of a castle but the privileges attached to it that managed to protect his life.

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Renswoude Castle passed into the Taets van Amerongen family, and they have since set up a private foundation to look after the castle with an interesting construction whereby members of the family are able to rent an apartment within the castle which thereby provides the necessary funds for maintenance. This division is particularly well suited to Renswoude as the castle was originally conceived as a series of four similar apartments on the two main floors.

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The blue salon has some interesting features of the neoclassical period such as the ornate stucco coving and the intricately carved fireplace. As with all the interiors the aim is clearly comfortable elegance rather than pomp and display.

 

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The dining room was one of the rooms that was badly damaged by a fire in 1985. The corinthian pillasters are remnants of the original seventeenth century fireplace that was clearly built to impress.

Below: The Church of Renswoude was the first architectural project on the site for Johan van Reede and only after its completion did work begin on constructing the new castle. This compact church whose plan is based on a Greek cross was designed by Jacob van Campen who also worked on Hofwijck, the Mauritshuis and Huis ten Bosch in the same period. The splayed butresses on the exterior of the building were based on the reconstruction of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem as illustrated by Villalpando.

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