The Siege of Vredenburg Castle in 1577 — This scene, painted in 1646, shows an important event in the history of the city of Utrecht. Almost no element in this painting can be recognized in today's Vredenburg square. The main object of the painting is of course the colossal Vredenburg Castle, which stood where the square with the same name can now be found. In the background, to the right, you can see the Jacobi Church. The painter stood where the Lange Elisabethstraat now begins. The Vredenburg Castle stood on this spot for almost half a century.
In 1528 this coercive castle was built according to plans by the Flemish architect Rombout Keldermans II, commissioned by Emperor Charles V, who in that same year had taken over secular power from the bishop of Utrecht in the Sticht and Oversticht. For the city of Utrecht, this annexation meant the end of all kinds of rights and freedoms, while unpopular measures such as the persecution of Protestants were imposed. To keep the discontented population in check, a coercive castle was built within the city walls, close to the Catharijne Gate.
Things remained relatively calm under Charles' reign, but under that of Philip II, who succeeded his father as king of Spain and lord of the Netherlands in 1555, discontent grew rapidly. Riots that escalated into the Iconoclasm in 1566 resulted in a punitive expedition led by the Duke of Alva. Vredenburg Castle was an important Spanish stronghold under the command of garrison commander D'Avila. When the tide finally turned in 1576 and one of the provisions of the Pacification of Ghent decreed the departure of Spanish troops from the Netherlands, D'Avila refused to acquiesce. With his occupation of 200 men in a well-defended and supplied castle, he thought he would be able to stand his ground. But an attack from the castle to intimidate the citizens did not have the desired effect. As a result, the militia led by the States of Utrecht began to besiege the castle to force the garrison to leave.
This situation is depicted in the painting. It can also be seen that the shelling from the castle caused the necessary damage. In the background, wooden houses in the Handvoetboog district (today's Wijk C) are on fire. This would also cause heavy damage to the Jacobi Church. After a month and a half D'Avila saw the hopelessness of his situation and after negotiations the Spaniards left with an honorable retreat.
Although Vredenburg Castle was now in Utrecht's hands, it still posed a threat to the city. After all, the Spaniards could return. In the summer of 1577, demolition of the hated coercive castle began. According to tradition, the Trijn van Leemput, a female inhabitant of Utrecht, took the initiative. She is depicted in the foreground with a pickaxe in one hand and a brick in the other. So, the painting depicts two events, which didn't take place simultaneously, and combined them in one representation. The story of the brave hopeful woman was so popular in the seventeenth century that she could not be left out from a depiction of the siege of 1577.