This summer I visited the city museum of Rhenen. The museum is small-scale with very friendly personnel, residing in the former town hall dating from the fifteenth-century (currently looking very nineteenth-century, though, but still pretty):

Exterior of the building housing the City Museum Rhenen. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The courtroom where people were judged by a court of aldermen (‘schepenen’) has been preserved/restored and now doubles as a coffee room. It features a beautiful restored ceiling painting. The permanent collection consists of paintings and historical (archaeological) objects to illustrate the long history of the city of Rhenen. Among the earliest archaeological finds are a 2800 years old bronze bucket (a ‘situla’) containing grave goods, believed to have been part of a royal burial, which were found in a hole underneath a chestnut tree in 1993:

Bronze bucket (‘sibula’) and grave goods from a royal burial. Photographed by the author.

There is also an eleventh-century Viking sword on display, which was recovered from the river Rhine near Amerongen:

Viking sword dating from the eleventh century. Photographed by the author.

In the medieval period Rhenen was a popular pilgrimage destination: In the eleventh century a church dedicated to Saint Cunera was built, which was greatly enlarged in the fifteenth century.

The Cunera Church, located opposite the museum, is occasionally open to visitors and I was lucky to be able to visit the church during my visit. To my delight there were a number of early modern books on display to feast my eyes on, such as this translation into Dutch by Cornelius á Diemerbroek (1602-1664) of an English exegesis of Psalm 51 by Arthur Hildesheim, a Puritan preacher from Ashby De la Zouch (Leicester):

Dutch translation of an English exegesis of Psalm 51 by Arthur Hildesheim, a Puritan preacher from Ashby De la Zouch (Leicester). Photographed by the author.

You can watch a virtual walkthrough through the interior of the Cunera Church c. 1638 on YouTube to get an impression of what the church used to look like:

Cunera Church interior, 1638.

A kind volunteer told me some interesting historical facts about the church and pointed out a small door in the back of the church with a stairway that led to an underground tunnel that connected the Cunera Church to the summer residence of the King and Queen of Bohemia across the street. The nuns of the former Agnite monastery, which was formerly situated there, had been allowed to reside in a wing of the palace and could access to the church through this underground passage discreetly. You can see a picture of the excavations that revealed the underground passage in 1946 on page 25 of this 1999 issue of the magazine Oud Rhenen.

This brings me to my main reason for wanting to visit the Rhenen museum. During my pre-master and MA I have written papers on Elizabeth Stuart Queen of Bohemia, one paper on the courtly art and curiosities collections (in Dutch)  and one paper on two pendant paintings by Gerard van Honthorst that once hung at the Rhenen palace. Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James VI & I, had married Frederick V Elector Palatine in 1613. In 1618 Frederick was elected and crowned King of Bohemia.[1] After a very short reign of only one year he was forced into exile after suffering a humiliating defeat in the Battle of the White Mountain just outside Prague on 8 November 1619,[2] which marked the start of the 30 Years War. The shortness of Frederick’s reign earned him and his wife the sarcastic nickname ‘Winter King’ and ‘Winter Queen’ from their enemies.[3] Shortly after the fall of Prague, disaster struck once more: the Palatinate was invaded and occupied, rendering the unfortunate couple homeless. After wandering around the German lands for almost two years, pursued by troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, the pair was offered asylum in the Dutch Republic in 1621 by Maurice of Orange, Frederick’s uncle.[4] They took up residence at the Kneuterdijk in The Hague. In 1630 Frederick bought an old Agnite monastery in Rhenen, which he had demolished in order to build a summer residence: a castle in the form of the letter E.[5]

Image of the summer residence of the King and Queen of Bohemia in Rhenen. Photographed by the author.

The building was finished in 1631 but Frederick could only enjoy it for a very short time: he died after a short illness on 29 November 1632 during a military campaign in Germany. His internal organs were interred in the Katharinenkirche in Oppenheim.[6] It was intended to return his body to his widow for burial, but his body had to be hastily buried abandoned while fleeing the pursuing enemy. Frederick’s final resting place is unknown.

The castle has sadly been demolished in 1812. The City Museum Rhenen has a model of the castle, based on descriptions and plans from historical sources:

Model of the summer residence of the King and Queen of Bohemia. Photographed by the author.

Only a few artefacts from the demolished castle have been preserved. There’s a small monument dedicated to the King and Queen of Bohemia that was erected in 1907 at the Frederik van de Paltshof: a remnant of the main gate to the castle has been incorporated into a brick bench (depicted at the bottom of this webpage), which I could not visit due to the bad weather on the day I visited Rhenen. Two artefacts can be found in the museum: a frieze depicting Venus, Mars and Cupid – originally part of another building – dating from 1550, and two stone lions that used to be part of the west gate to the city of Rhenen, adjacent to the palace gardens:

The museum also displays a medal commemorating the marriage between Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick V Elector Palatine in 1613 and an engraving with a portrait of Frederick:

A personal favourite of mine (and many kids visiting the museum) is a large screen with a 3D animation reconstructing what Rhenen looked like between 1650 and 1750, allowing visitors to walk through the streets of Rhenen and take a look inside the summer residence of the King and Queen of Bohemia. The animation can also be accessed and viewed via the project website of Virtueel Rhenen. To whet your appetite, here’s the trailer:

Trailer ‘Virtual Rhenen.’

If you happen to be able to travel to Rhenen in the nearby future there’s another good reason to pay a visit to the City Museum: from 13 November until the end of 2022 the museum shall exhibit the painting ‘View on Rhenen from the southwest’ (1649) by Jan van Goyen from a German private collection.

Check the museum website (in Dutch) to plan your visit.


[1] Andrew L. Thomas, A House Divided: Wittelsbach Confessional Court Cultures in the Holy  Roman Empire, c. 1550-1650 (Brill, 2010) 233.

[2] Mary Anne Everett  Green, Elizabeth Electress Palatine and Queen of Bohemia (Methuen & Co., 1909) 166;  Willem Jan Hoogsteder, De schilderijen van Frederik en Elizabeth, Koning en Koningin van Bohemen. Proefschrift in Drie Delen. Deel 1 (Kunsthistorisch Instituut der Rijks Universiteit te Utrecht, 1984-1986) 19.

[3] Hoogsteder, De schilderijen van Frederik en Elizabeth, 9; Everett Green, Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia, 168-169.

[4] Nadine Akkerman ( ed.), The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart Queen of Bohemia  Volume I: 1603-1631 (Oxford University Press, 2015) 31.

[5] Simon Goenveld, De Winterkoning: Balling aan het Haagse Hof (Haags Historisch Museum, 2003) 44; Brennan C. Pursell, The Winter King: Frederick V of the Palatinate, and the Coming of the  Thirty Years’ War (Ashgate, 2003) 294;  Akkerman, The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, 37.