Delft, a city that seems almost untouched by time, is a treasure trove of historical sites that offer a glimpse into the Netherlands’ turbulent and colorful past. One such property that has withstood the centuries is Het Prinsenhof, which has served as a convent, a royal residence, a barracks, a warehouse, and now a museum.

From Convent to Royal Residence

Het Prinsenhof, or the Prince’s Court, is a walled medieval complex that was originally the 15th-century St Agatha Convent, home to the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. The various rooms within the building still bear the names from the time when the nuns resided here, such as:

  • The librije or library/reading room
  • The Scriptorium writing room
  • The spinkamer or spinning room, where the women worked at spinning and weaving cloth

In the 16th century, Delft sided with Prince William of Orange in revolt against the rule of Catholic Spain, and the convent fell into the hands of the Calvinist authorities. The prince then set up residence in part of the convent, making it his royal residence.

The Assassination of Prince William of Orange

The most famous event associated with Het Prinsenhof is the assassination of Prince William of Orange, the ‘Father of the Fatherland’ and ancestor of the current King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander. In 1584, the prince was murdered by an assassin’s bullets in the ‘hall of the murder’, which is now a focal point for Dutch visitors to the museum.

The assassin, identified as Balthasar Gerards, a fervent Catholic, reportedly fired three shots at the prince from ground level as the prince stood above him on the stairway. The bullet holes are still visible in the wall at the bottom of the hallway stairs. For his crime, Gerards was interrogated, tortured, and publicly executed.

The Cold Case: Willem van Oranje

Some aspects of the assassination case didn’t quite add up, such as the location of the bullet holes and whether or not the prince lingered long enough before his death to speak his dying words. In 2008, an investigative team reopened the case, dubbed ‘Cold Case: Willem van Oranje’. During your visit to Het Prinsenhof, you’ll have the opportunity to view the evidence revealed by this fascinating ‘crime scene investigation’.

Artifacts and Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age

As you continue your tour through Het Prinsenhof, you’ll encounter artifacts (mainly silver and Delft pottery) and paintings dating back to the Dutch Golden Age. The museum’s collection includes pieces painted by contemporaries of Vermeer, most notably Delft native Michiel van Mierevelt.

Michiel van Mierevelt: Portrait Artist Extraordinaire

At the time of his death in 1641, Michiel van Mierevelt was one of the richest portrait artists of the 17th century. Among his paintings displayed at Het Prinsenhof are numerous portraits featuring members of the royal family of Orange and other significant figures of the day. These portraits offer a captivating glimpse into the lives of the Dutch elite during the Golden Age.

Temporary Exhibitions

Along With its permanent collections, Het Prinsenhof also hosts temporary exhibitions. During our visit, we had the opportunity to see an exhibition of Delft Blue pottery, showcasing the iconic blue and white ceramics that have become synonymous with the city of Delft.

Visiting Het Prinsenhof

Ticket Information

Adult admission to Het Prinsenhof is €8.50. However, the museum is also included in the Prinsenstad combiticket, which can be purchased at the Tourist Information Point (TIP) and offers access to multiple attractions in Delft.

Location and Accessibility

Het Prinsenhof is located at Sint Agathaplein 1, across from the Oude Kerk (the Old Church). The museum can be easy to miss, so keep an eye out for the entrance.

If you don’t wish to purchase an entrance ticket to the museum, you can still enjoy free access to the courtyard and take a walk around the grounds.

Exploring Delft’s Historical Treasures

Delft is a city steeped in history, and Het Prinsenhof is just one of the many historical sites that offer a fascinating glimpse into the Netherlands’ past. As you explore this charming city, take the time to discover its other treasures, such as:

  • The Oude Kerk (Old Church), known for its leaning tower and the grave of Johannes Vermeer
  • The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), the burial site of the Dutch royal family
  • The Vermeer Centrum, a museum dedicated to the life and works of Johannes Vermeer
  • The Royal Delft factory and museum, where you can learn about the history of Delft Blue pottery and see craftspeople at work

By enjoying Delft’s historical sites and museums, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich cultural heritage and the events that have shaped the Netherlands as we know it today.

A Journey Through Time

Visiting Het Prinsenhof is more than just a museum tour; it’s a journey through time. As you walk through the halls and rooms of this former convent and royal residence, you’ll be transported back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, experiencing the lives of the nuns, royals, and artists who once called this place home.

From the tragic assassination of Prince William of Orange to the opulent portraits of the Dutch elite, Het Prinsenhof offers a compelling narrative that will leave you with a greater understanding of Delft’s place in Dutch history.

So, as you plan your itinerary for your visit to Delft, be sure to include Het Prinsenhof on your list of must-see attractions. This historical gem is a testament to the city’s resilience, adaptability, and enduring spirit, and it is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who visit.

As you explore Het Prinsenhof and the other historical sites that Delft has to offer, take a moment to reflect on the lives of those who came before us and the events that have shaped the world we live in today. By connecting with the past, we gain a greater appreciation for the present and a clearer vision for the future.

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