A brief history of The Hague: from medieval to modern

As in most of the Netherlands, people have lived in the region that is now The Hague for thousands of years – long before the city ever had a name. Archaeologists have found the remains of settlements dating as far back as 3800 BC; some of these treasured artefacts can now be found in the Museon, one of the many museums in The Hague where you can step back in time and explore the city’s rich history.  

The Hague: history in the medieval times

The birth of The Hague as we know it today can be traced back to the 13th century, when Count Floris IV of Holland purchased the land it now sits on as hunting grounds. After Floris IV’s death, his son William II planned to expand the hunting residence to a royal palace. Though he died before its completion, this series of buildings eventually became what is now the Binnenhof, the heart of the Dutch government. It was around this time that The Hague’s first official name, Die Haghe, was born.

Since the 13th century, the city has served as a hub for politics in the Netherlands. Unlike other major cities, it had no fortified walls and was vulnerable to attack. This meant that during the Eighty Years’ War, in which the Dutch fought to gain independence from Spain, The Hague was pillaged and plunged into poverty. Despite this, it remained a central point of the resistance, and became the official seat of Dutch political power again in 1588. 

The Hague in the Golden Age

Soon after the Netherlands established its independence, the country’s ‘Golden Age’ began. This is when The Hague blossomed, acting as both the residence and the working place of the stadtholders, who helped rule the Netherlands from the 15th to the 18th century. It was also a popular place to live and work for both the wealthy and the working class, and as the population of The Hague skyrocketed, so did the number of mansions, districts and harbours in the city. 

The peaceful period did not last long, and soon the Netherlands was thrust into turmoil: the Napoleonic Wars created the United Netherlands, comprising of both the Netherlands and modern-day Belgium, and the capital shifted from The Hague to Amsterdam and Brussels. Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1830, and The Hague once again reclaimed its spot as the heart of the Dutch government. After The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the city became known worldwide as the capital of international justice.

The Hague: from WWII to modern international leader

During World War II, The Hague was targeted by Nazi Germany in what is now known as the Battle for The Hague, which took place just four days before the devastating bombing of Rotterdam. Nazi Germany failed in its initial plan, but The Hague still suffered extensive damage.

After the war, The Hague’ reputation as a meeting place for international law and order continued to flourish. The International Court of Justice was established in the city in 1945, and another international meeting was also held in The Hague: the Congress of Europe, considered one of the first steps towards a unified Europe. 

These days, The Hague is still the heart of the Dutch government, and the base for the King’s residential and working palaces. Numerous finance, telecom and insurance corporations have chosen The Hague as their place of international operations, and embassies and government buildings fill its boulevards. From its humble beginnings as a place for hunting, The Hague has truly become a centre for prosperity and peace.