Binnenhof, The Hague (Wiki)
Frits Pieter van Oostrom

The Hague

“The Hague” is the English term for the Dutch Den Haag, which is the shortened form of `s- Gravenhage, literally meaning “the count’s hedge”. As such, the original name speaks for the location, which in turn speaks for the lifestyle of its founders. As a court, it was of course primarily a seat of power and authority, but the location mirrored the strong desire for pleasure held by a leisured class. It was not a strategic area chosen for military purposes, or for reasons economical: no rivers or towns were nearby.  But the count’s hedges led into the dunes and to the nearby sea, thus making this court a splendid starting point for the favorite pastime of the  medieval aristocracy: hunting. During the first half of the fourteenth century, however, the courtly premises at The Hague were left somewhat empty and neglected. Holland was ruled at this time by the counts of Hainaut, who preferred to reside in their home palace at Valenciennes, only visiting The Hague occasionally. The fortunes of this neglected site were to change radically when, in 1358, rule of Holland passed over to duke Albert of Bavaria (1336-1404). He chose The Hague to be his permanent residence, a decision that had a profound impact on the court life at the Binnenhof.

Heralds belong to knighthood as bedels to universities. They are the masters of courtly ceremony in tournaments and knightings. Not restricted simply to supervising proceedings, they consider themselves guardians of the true soul of chivalry. One herald whose career took him right to the top-- from simple persevant, through herald and king of arms, to King of Arms of the Ruwieren—was born Claes Heynenzoon (“Nicolas, son of Henry”), probably in the region of Gouda. He started as a simple messenger to count John of Blois before becoming a herald at the court of Gueldres in the period 1380-1401. Eventually becoming the foremost herald at this court, he was allowed to carry the official title “herald Gueldres”.  At the court of Gueldres, he created in collaboration with court painters a splendid book of arms, still kept in the Royal Library of Brussels; this was declared by Maurice Keen to be “with little doubt the finest of all the armorial books of the middle ages”. But what is, in some ways, even more unique is that as a herald he not only made a book of arms, but also composed laudatory poetry. Only one other herald is known to have done this on a comparable scale and in a strikingly similar manner: his slightly older contemporary Peter Suchenwirt (1320-1395), herald at the ducal court of Austria. For the poems that these two heralds wrote, literary history has formulated a unique denomination: Ehrenreden, short poems versifying the biography of an acclaimed knight. Later in his career, Bavaria Herald went on to compose not only a famous armorial, but also a diptych of chronicles (1404-9). 

Although of modest birth, Dirk Potter was also in some ways a courtier pur sang. He was born c. 1365 at the Binnenhof, where his father and two brothers were employed as clerks at the expanding late-fourteenth century seigniorial bureaucracy. Dirk Potter would follow the same profession, rising in forty years of service from humble treasury clerk to the most prominent public position at court.  At least one fierce drama complicated his career, for in 1400 Dirk Potter was adjudged to be one of the main instigators of a huge fight between two rival gangs that had killed three people. Possibly traumatized by this ordeal, Potter seems to have dedicated himself to negotiation and peaceful settlement and outright aversion to violence for the remainder of his career. Occupying the position of judge, diplomat, and mediator, he was sent to sensitive locations, including Westminster, Paris, and Rome. This last journey took about 40 days, and he stayed for more than a year (1411-1412). It was to have a transformative effect on his writing, inspiring three major compositions: a version of the Melibee story (translated, like Chaucer’s, from the French); an ars amandi in verse; and Blome der doechden (“Flowers of virtue”), a layman’s treatise on virtues and vices. Potter seems to herald a new era that stresses governmental above military functions at court, and that constructs lay masculinity through civil servantship rather than through knightly prowess. He thus suggests parallels with (to cite only English examples) Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, and (above all) Chaucer.