The Gates, Towers and Windmills of Delft

The defenses of Delft

In 1246, Count Willem II of Holland (February 1227 – 28 January 1256) granted Delft obtained city rights which, among other rights and advantages, entitled the city to construct its defenses. These defensive measures initially served to protect Delft from surrounding cities rather than foreign countries. Although very small at the time, Delft was soon surrounded by a singel (moat), ramparts, walls, towers and other strongholds. Two elegant gatehouses were built: one of the north end of the city which is met by the Vliet watercourse ( where the current Noordeinde ends), and the second on the south which is met by the Schie (where the current Oude Delft ends).

However, the city was not able to make use of these defenses for long. In a family dispute in the County of Holland between Count Willem V, Duke of Bavaria-Straubing (Frankfurt am Main, 1330–1389), and his mother Margaret II of Avesnes (1311–23 June 1356), Delft became involved in a power struggle between Dutch factions called, called Hoekse en Kabeljauwse twisten, the Hooks and Cods Dispute. The dispute lasted for a hundred years, and Delft, with about 6,500 inhabitants, played a relatively minor role. The commerce-minded citizens of Delft eventually sided with the Cods, as did citizens of other cities. The Hooks, instead, favored more power for the rural landholders, who often had noble titles. In 1359, Delft was besieged for a month by Hook forces. After 10 weeks of siege Delft surrendered. The Duke Albrecht of Bavaria (1336-1404), who had lead the siege, decreed that the city's defenses to be demolished, using the city's walls for material to build his headquarters in The Hague. Legend has it that as punishment, a thousand men and five hundred women, citizens of Delft, had to kneel in front of Albrecht and ask his forgiveness.

In 1394, however, Willem V, gave Delft civil rights again, which permitted the city to build bulwarks of earth around the area that the city had the rights to administer. The bulwarks were made from sand, clay, and silt accumulated when the waterways were dug. These bulwarks were then topped by stone and brick walls.

Plans had been made to create eight fortified gatehouses, from which soldiers could open fire against the enemy during an eventual siege. Around 1445, it was also necessary to build wall towers in order to have a good view of the area of the surrounding area.  Members of the various trade guilds of the city were appointed to guard the towers. However, work on the gates was slow due to the high costs.

The eight gates were equipped with a draw bridge which effectively ruling out the possibility of enemies entering the city in mass. The gates closed at around 5 p.m. in the winter and around 9 p.m. in the summer, when days were longer. Each gate was manned by a guard, who lived inside the gate itself. To enter the city after closure a toll was demanded. Militia guards, or schutterij, armed with bows, crossbows or guns, were in charge of opening and closing the gates of the city. After 10 pm one could enter the cityonly with special permission. Late commers could make separate arrangements with the guard. In times of danger armed militia members were stationed in and around the gates keeping watch with the porter.

A Walking Musketeer Seen from Behind, Anthonie Palamdesz
A Walking Musketeer Seen
from Behind

Anthonie Palamdesz
1640s
Black chalk, brush and brown ink
205 x 152 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the  early modern Netherlands Delft was defended from attack, revolt or fire by schutterij, a voluntary city guard or citizen militia. After 1616 Delft had been was divided into four districts For defensive purposes,. On August 1 of that year, riots broke out in the city in protest of a new excise tax on corn (shows that most of the rioters were women). The civic guard was called out but had trouble organizing because the streets were so crowded. As a consequence Delft's schutterij, who at the time were grouped by their weapon, were reorganized according to geography. The city was divided into four districts with bands stretching across the city. In this way, each district was a cross section of regents and wealthier citizens on the west side along the Oude and Nieuwe Delft grachten mixed with poorer citizens on the east side. Each guard district was named after the dominant color in its banner (vendel). The first district, the Green Banner (Groene vendel), followed by the Orange Banner (Orange vendel), the White Banner (Witte vendel) and the Blue Banner (Blauw vendel)Their training grounds were often on open spaces within the city, near the city walls, but, when the weather did not allow, inside a church. Together, its members are called a Schuttersgilde, which could be roughly translated as a "shooter's guild." The existence of a Schuttersgilde in Delft is first evident from an ordinance by the Delft magistrate from the year 1397, regulating the organization's, duties and the rights. This ordinance is the oldest known from any Dutch city.

The a Schuttersgilde captain was usually a wealthy inhabitant of the district, and the group's ensign was a wealthy young bachelor (often recognizable in group portraits of Schutterijen by his particularly fine clothes and the flag he is carrying). Joining as an officer for a couple of years was often a stepping-stone to other important posts within the city council. The members were expected to buy their own equipment: this entailed the purchase of a weapon and uniform. Each night two men guarded their district in two shifts, from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., and from 2:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m., closing and opening the gates of the city. At a set time each month, the schutters would parade under the command of an officer.

Roll cursor over the points of interest. The large circles indicate gates, the smaller circles indicate towers and the triangles indicate windmills.



Delfi Batavorum vernacule Delft(1649), Published in Amsterdam by Joan Blaeu

Click here to access a high-resolution digital image of Blaeu's map.