1355-60: Leuven bulks up its defence walls
By the middle of the 14th century, Leuven began to lose its political and economic status as the capital of Brabant. Both Brussels and Antwerp began to grow richer and more powerful. Poverty began to spread throughout the city, with less and less income from its weaving trade (see Lakenhalle) and wine production (see Wijnberg). After the Brabant Succession War in 1355, Leuven dug deep into its pockets to build the 7km-long outer (second) city walls, which were completed in 1360. With its eight new modern city gates, Leuven could essentially shut itself off from invaders (starting from the north in clockwise, with modern names in brackets):
Aarschotse poort (Vaartpoort)
Dorpstrate Buiten-Poort (Diestsepoort)
Hoelstrate Buiten-Poort (Tiensepoort)
Heverse Poort (Naamsepoort)
Buiten-Borch poort (Mechelsepoort)
The walls also came with 48 watch towers. The later-built and very imposing Verloren Kosttoren (Tower of Lost Cost) would be incorporated into this outer wall system as its 49th and tallest watch tower.
The new outer city walls now protect and include parishes like Sint-Kwintens and Sint-Jacobs which were previously outside the first city walls against attacks launched by the Count of Flanders, Lodewijk van Male. The new walls would also have increased the city area to nearly seven times. The outer city walls were completely surrounded by a moat measuring 3-4m deep and 10-15m wide, depending on the terrain. Where the moat was not dry, it was filled with water. This occurred twice: in the south where the Dijle and the Voer flowed into the city, and in the north where the Dijle and the Vunt flowed out of the city.
The destruction of Leuven’s city walls
In 1781, Habsburg Emperor Jozef II decreed the dismantling of all city defenses, except Antwerp. Cities were only allowed to keep the embankments and canals to avoid the fines. Somehow, Leuven managed to only demolish the defense structures built in 1672 and 1674. The rest of the city fortifications were preserved. But with the French occupation that followed, the outer city walls were completely dismantled, while the city gates were partially or fully demolished. All this was replaced by parks and promenades (any of the roads along the ring ending with the word ‘-vest’ indicates this development).
Between 1950 and 1980, many of the parks and promenades gave way to roads, and with the expansion of the ring around Leuven in 1970, whatever remained of the outer city walls fully disappeared.
From the Poorte te Hove ter Beke to the Heversche-Poorte
First built in 1358, the Naamsepoort was known as the ‘Poorte te Hove ter Beke‘ which translates into ‘Beckcourt Gate‘. 19th-century Leuven historian Edward van Even said many mistook the court to refer to the Arenberg Castle located in Heverlee. Actually it meant the neighbourhood of ‘Ten Hove‘ where the Groot Begijnhof is located. You can read in the entry about Groot Begijnhof that a stream (or a ‘beck’) separates Ten Hove from Aborg, hence it makes sense that the Naamsepoort’s first name referred to this area.
Nothing was known about this first building, except that it was supervised by Hendrik Sammen and covered with tiles provided by Willem den Ynghelschen over 25 weeks.
The March on Leuven in 1572
Emboldened by his victory at Den Briel in 1572, William of Orange started marching south. Leuven’s city and university drew up a new tax on beer, wine and real estate called “gemeyne middelen” to build up the city’s defense.
But on 3 September 1572, the Prince of Orange and his forces arrived at the Naamsepoort. More than 8,000 calvary troops and 42 companies of foot soldiers piled the Naamsepoort with straw, tar and gunpowder. Within a flash, the city gate started to crumble.
With the Naamsepoort destroyed, the Dutch forces marched into the city.
By now, the people of Leuven realised that it was impossible to defend the city, and they paid the ransom of 16,000 florins to avoid being plundered.
But since the war arrived at the doorstep of Leuven, many students fled the city, so had the friars and nuns. After 1578, there was almost no students left in Leuven and the monasteries were completely emptied.
To fight back the rebels led by Orange, Catholic troops from the rest of the Holy Roman Empire arrived in Leuven – from modern-day Spain, Italy and Germany, including mercenaries from all over.
During the Eighty Years’ War of the Dutch Revolt, the citizens of Leuven suffered from the plundering and bullying of these troops. Merchants were consistently robbed. Inhabitants went as far as Namur to sell their furniture to pay ransom to these Catholic soldiers.
Now called the Spanish Fury, the plundering, robbing and killing by Habsburg troops in the southern Low Countries ended in the greatest massacre in Belgian history with the Sack of Antwerp (1572–1579).
Colleges like the College van Mechelen or the Priorij van Sint-Maartensdal (the ‘Lindisfarne of Leuven’) never recovered from the destruction.
Despite a decree was issued in 1573 by the city magistrate to repair the Naamsepoort, it was not done until 1576, after a complaint was filed by Duke Charles de Croÿ, Lord of Heverlee.
The Joyous Entry of Don Juan of Austria in 1577
Little known nowadays in the history of the Spanish Fury was the brief stay of the Don Juan of Austria in Leuven. Don Juan of Austria was the half brother of Austrian King Philip II and the illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
On 12 February 1577, the Catholic Habsburg Empire signed a treaty called the ‘Eternal Edict‘ in Marche-en-Famenne with the rebellious Protestant States-General in the Low Countries led by William of Orange.
Don Juan of Austria was installed as the Governor-General of the Low Countries on 24 July 1577, to on the one hand ensure peace with the rebels and to construct a solid military attack basis from the remaining loyal Catholic countries on the other hand.
As the first capital of Brabant, Leuven hosted Don Juan’s ‘peace’ mission from 3 March to 1 May 1577, after the signing of the treaty. Another reason why Leuven was first to host the Don Juan, despite Brussels being de-facto the new capital of Brabant, was the latter had more Protestant sympathisers and Leuven with its university was a Catholic stronghold. But he did travel to Brussels directly after Leuven.
In their article, “De vrede verzilverd? Het Eeuwig Edict en de Intrede van Don Juan in Leuven (februari-april 1577)“, Elisa MASSCHELEIN en Violet SOEN explained the significance of the Don Juan’s stay in Leuven.
In a highly staged procession with pomp and ceremony, the Don Juan as representative of the over-ruling Emperor entered into the city through the newly-rebuilt Naamsepoort. This was a ceremony known as the ‘Blijde Inkomst‘, Joyous Entry, which is extremely meaningful in the Low Countries. The first Joyous Entry of 1356 by Duchess Joanna and her husband Duke Wenceslaus (half-brother of Charles IV the Holy Roman Emperor) also took place in Leuven. The document signed on 3 January 1356 is seen as the equivalent of Magna Carta for the Low Countries. Thus the Joyous Entry of Don Juan in 1577 was meant to represent a new agreement between the Holy Roman Emperor and his citizens.
After entering the Naamsepoort, Don Juan was escorted along the Naamsestraat (then called the ‘Proefstraete‘) with stops along the Sint-Kwintenskerk, the Sint-Antoniuskapel, the ‘s Meiersstraat before arriving at his temporary place of sojourn the Pauscollege.
But history has shown, the Joyous Entry of the Don Juan did not result in the joyous recovery of Leuven. And the Eternal Edict certainly did not bring peace, but very much the opposite. The violence in the Low Countries continued until 1647 as the Habsburg rulers persisted in their crushing of the Protestants, through immense cruelty and relentless bloodshed. Not forgetting the joint Dutch-French Siege of Leuven (Beleg van Leuven) from 24 June to 4 July 1635, which saw Leuven civilians up in arms against the invaders. While Leuven was spared as a major battleground, its citizens, students, lecturers and monasteries suffered as much from the Spanish Fury.
How did the Naamsepoort look like?
The new Naamsepoort was more a tall than a wide building. It had nothing remarkable in appearance. But it was notable that it was defended by a large water-filled moat that ran west all the way into the Dijle river and then to the Voer river. To get in and out of the Naamsepoort, one would have to cross a wooden draw bridge, which was replaced by a permanent stone one in the 18th century.
Bear in mind the Naamsepoort had a towering background of the Sint-Kwintenskerk, perching on a hilltop inside the city walls. The Naamsepoort together with the church must have looked like two twin towers. You would not miss this in any old painting or drawing of the Naamsepoort.
The Naamsepoort, like the other outer city gates of Leuven, met its demise in the 19th century. It was broken down in parts, in 1810, then in 1828, and finally in 1870.
After the Naamsepoort was broken down, much had changed on the spot. A 19th century tramline that ran through the Naamsestraat turned west upon reaching the junction here. In the late 20th century, huge housing blocks were erected west of the Naamsesteenweg, these still stand there today.
If you take a close look at the 1649 map, you’ll see a body of water right across the Naamsepoort. It is a stream called Molenbeek (‘Millbeck’ in English), that still exists today, albeit covered over.
The Molenbeek originates in the forests of Lovenjoel, it travels through Korbeek-Lo, before it reaches the Abdij van Park. There, the Molenbeek flows north of the ponds of the abbey but not touching it. Because it was so close to the abbey’s ponds, many mistakenly think the Molenbeek originates from the ponds. The Molenbeek then travels further northwards until the Naamsepoort, where it follows a course close to the former moat before arriving at the Dijle river. Here, the Dijle flows into Leuven through a massive lock called the Grote Spui, that still exists today.
According to Leuven Weleer (see photo), there was a severe flood at the Naamsepoort on 5 March 1947 that put most of the town of Heverlee under water.
Today, the Molenbeek runs underground before it reaches the Naamsepoort under a four-storey building which houses a print shop. It continues under the main road of Naamsesteenweg, the petrol station, and the giant housing blocks, and then reemerges after the block at No 23 Tervuursevest. Here it flows beside the football stadium ‘Den Dreef’ of Oud-Heverlee before entering the Dijle.
Today, the Naamsepoort is nothing but a busy traffic junction. The Sint-Kwintenskerk behind it is still there, albeit hidden by the modern houses crowding around it.
The next time you pass by Naamsepoort, spend a moment to think about the Don Juan of Austria, and try looking for the now-covered-up Molenbeek.
“Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent’, Edward van Even, 1895 (Image)
Many thanks to: Marc Mellaerts, Stadspoorten van Leuven (Pinterest)
https://www.facebook.com/leveninleuven/posts/10152252791411474 (Leuven Weleer, Facebook)
Elisa MASSCHELEIN en Violet SOEN, “De vrede verzilverd? Het Eeuwig Edict en de Intrede van Don Juan in Leuven (februari-april 1577)”