The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Zuylen Castle

A Family Castle on the River Vecht

Zuylen Castle in Oud-Zuilen, near Utrecht, is a 16th-century castle built on the remains of a 13th-century donjon alongside the Vecht river. Adam van Lockhorst bought it in 1617 for use as his summer residence, and in 1656 he left the castle to his granddaughter, who in 1665, at the age of 12, married the child from her stepmother’s previous marriage, her second cousin Hendrik Jacob van Tuyll van Serooskerken. This way the Van Tuylls managed to keep the estate within their family, and they successfully continued to do so for nearly three centuries, until 1952, when Zuylen Castle became a museum. The Van Tuyll family moved elsewhere, but they left most of the original furnishings behind, including their family portraits in the dining room, marking the castle as theirs forever.

Zuylen Castle
The Gobelin Room at Zuylen Castle

In 1739, Hendrik Jacob’s grandson Diederik Jacob married Helena Jacoba de Vicq, a teenage orphan of good family & fortune, whose inheritance enabled him to upgrade his castle to a country house in 1752, in the French style that was in vogue at the time. Today, the place looks very much like it did in the late 18th century. The castle’s pièce de résistance is the Gobelin Room, which features a 75-m² verdure tapestry from 1670 by weaver Maximiliaan van der Gucht from Delft, but the rest of the house is really nice as well. The audio tour of the house takes 60–75 minutes and is available in Dutch only; information sheets in English, French & German are available for those who do not master the vernacular. The castle garden, which is noted for its 120-m-long serpentine wall from around 1742, is not included in the audio tour, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a pleasant stroll in the park.

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In May 1672, seven years after Hendrik Jacob van Tuyll van Serooskerken (1642–92) had secured Zuylen Castle by marrying his second cousin Anna Elizabeth van Reede tot Nederhorst (1652–82), the French King Louis XIV (1638–1715) declared war on the Dutch Republic, and within two months his army conquered 27 Dutch cities; Utrecht surrendered on 24 June. To finance the war effort, the French exacted large sums of money from the wealthy inhabitants of the occupied territories, under threat of burning their estates, and in 1673 Van Tuyll paid 1,600 écus (some 4,000 guilders) in order to save his property from the flames.


Zuylen Castle is where writer Isabelle de Charrière (1740–1805), aka Belle van Zuylen, Diederik & Helena’s daughter, grew up. In 1771, after having turned down at least ten admirers (‘Je n’ai pas les talents subalternes’), she married her brothers’ former tutor Charles-Emmanuel de Charrière and moved to Colombier, near Neuchâtel, where she lived & worked for the rest of her life. Belle is best known for her epistolary novels, such as Lettres de Mistriss Henley (1784), Lettres neuchâteloises (1784), and Lettres écrites de Lausanne (1785).


In her first novel, Le Noble (1763, repr. 1771), Belle was, as in her later work, critical of aristocratic privilege & moral conventions, for which reason her parents bought up almost every copy in order to restrict the readership & notoriety of their daughter as much as they possibly could. In his review of the German translation, Die Vorzüge des alten Adels (1772), Johann Wolfgang Goethe remarked that ‘Man kann einen alltäglichen Gegenstand der Satyre nicht alltäglicher bearbeiten.’

Benjamin Constant

Toutes les opinions de Madame de Charrière reposaient sur le mépris de toutes les convenances et de tous les usages.


It’s my great pleasure to present Belle van Zuylen’s novel Le Noble here as a free e-book, based on the first edition (1763) from the Heidelberg University Library. (Click on the title above to download the ePub.)


Before Le Noble was published as a book, it ran as an article in the August 1762 edition of the Journal Etranger combiné avec l’Année Littéraire (p. 540–574), which actually appeared in May 1763, a few months before the book edition hit the market.


Zuylen Castle was built around 1525 by Count Willem van Rennenberg, on the foundation of a donjon that was built around 1250 by Steven van Zuylen and destroyed during the Hook & Cod Wars. Interestingly, Willem was the father of Eva van Rennenberg, who in 1546 married Tido Folefsen, the chieftain of Innhausen & Knyphausen and great-grandfather to Karl Hieronymus and Georg Wilhelm von Inn- & Knyphausen, who both married the heiress of Nienoord & Vredewold, Anna van Ewsum. For more information about Anna & her successive husbands, please see my previous comment about the tomb in the Church of Midwolde. Tido & Eva are buried in St Willehad’s Church in Accum; their tombstone is a perfect example of Flemish Renaissance portrait sculpture.

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