History of The Hague

The Hague is a very special seaside city. An engaging, personal city that draws people from all the corners of the world to work together to take important decisions and to build a better world. The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government and international city of peace and justice.

Neutral territory

The history of The Hague begins in the Middle Ages. Around 1230, Floris IV built a residence in ‘Die Haghe’ which is now known as the Binnenhof. It was a time when tensions among the various Dutch landowners often led to conflict, and Die Haghe was far removed from these threats. It was a good spot for a quiet retreat or a relaxing carriage ride. And so it was also an excellent place to peacefully resolve conflicts.

In 1433, Holland fell into the hands of the Burgundians, and The Hague became the seat of a legislative assembly of  ‘stadhouders’, public officials who represented the Dutch landed gentry. The Hague developed as a centre of government, but when the Eighty Year’s War broke out in 1568, it fell on hard times, experiencing much poverty. In 1575, there was even talk of razing the community. Fortunately, William of Orange intervened, and The Hague regained its position as a meeting place – originally for the ‘States of Holland’ (Staten van Holland) and later on for the ‘States General’ (Staten-General). The result was that The Hague became the official seat of government of the Republic of the Netherlands when it was established in 1588.

Urban village

Around 1600, the Netherlands reached the height of its glory with the dawn of the Golden Age (Gouden Eeuw), and The Hague flourished. Stadhouder Willem Frederik established his court in The Hague, stately mansions and palaces were built, and the city took on an air of culture and refinement. The Hague evolved into a true city, although it would never be granted official status as a city. The Hague remained a ‘city without walls’, in both the literal and the figurative sense: its open, hospitable character ensuring that it was a city where people from all around the world would feel at home.  

The prosperity it enjoyed also led to increased tensions between the provincial authorities and city officials, between religions and political movements, and between rich and poor. During this period of sharp contrasts, great thinkers like Spinoza thrived in The Hague. But the tensions that accompanied these developments also cost great statesmen such as Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Johan de Witt their lives. They were murdered in The Hague in 1619 and 1672 respectively.

For the Dutch Republic, the eighteenth century was a period of stagnation. But the presence of high-ranking government officials and diplomats in The Hague provided economic stability, and for many residents of The Hague, an important source of income as well.

Today, the many diplomats and international organizations based in The Hague continue to provide an important stimulus for the local economy. Indeed, one additional job is created in The Hague for every expatriate living here. Not only does our international hospitality contribute to a better world, but also to our economic prosperity.

Regal centre of government

In January 1795, the French army invaded the Dutch Republic and Stadhouder Prince Willem V fled with his family to England. Eighteen years later, his son, Willem Frederik, Prince of Oranje-Nassau, returned to the Netherlands. He landed on November 30 on The Hague beach in Scheveningen. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was born. Since then, The Hague has been known as ‘the Hofstad’, serving not only as the seat of government, but also as the residence of the Dutch royal family. The unique regal allure of The Hague is a reflection of this special status.

Growth and prosperity

In the nineteenth century, as the number of government officials increased, The Hague grew as well. Neighbourhoods such as Willemspark, the Schilderswijk, the Zeeheldenkwartier and the Archipelbuurt were built. After 1880, the city grew even more quickly, and the cultural life of The Hague flourished as well. Famous painters and writers including Mesdag, Israels, Emants, Kloos and Couperus settled in The Hague. Beginning in 1885, the women of The Hague could shop in ‘De Passage’, and the construction of the Kurhaus, a grand resort hotel, provided an essential grandeur to the city’s seaside.

City of Peace and Justice

When, at the end of the nineteenth century, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia came to understand the impact that war had on his own country and other nations, he decided to organise a peace conference. He was convinced that it was possible to prevent war through dialogue. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was related to the tsar, and furthermore, the Netherlands was readily accessible and had a tradition of political neutrality. The tsar decided to hold the meeting in the Netherlands, and in 1899, the first international peace conference was held in The Hague. It was the beginning of a special role for The Hague as the international city of peace and justice.

Representatives of 26 countries attended the conference. It was a great success and a few years later, in 1907, the second international peace conference took place. The American millionaire Andrew Carnegie provided the funding for the construction of the Peace Palace. All participating countries contributed in one way or another as well, with building materials, decorative elements, or artworks. There was great symbolism in the gift from Chile and Argentina of a work of art that was assembled from weaponry which they had nearly used to fight each other.

The Hague was deeply scarred by World War II, and in 1948, representatives of the governments of 26 European countries, Canada, and the United States gathered for a conference in the Ridderzaal in The Hague. The result was to lay the basis for international cooperation, which ultimately led to the establishment of the present-day European Union.
Today, 160 international organizations are based in The Hague. Many leading multinational corporations have established their head offices in our city as well, and the ambassadors of many nations work out of embassies here in The Hague. Not to mention that the Peace Palace remains the seat of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

For many, ‘The Hague’ has become the international symbol for peace and justice. And as US President Barack Obama said at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit in 2014, the biggest international peace conference ever held in the Netherlands, using a nearly untranslatable Dutch term meaning a unique combination of charm, hospitality, and coziness, ‘It’s truly gezellig here too!’