“Hugo de Great,” the head of the planning commission for lectures of Gouda’s historical society said, sitting on my couch in her well ironed shirt, “He came to Gouda and hung around the Toll House.” Statements like this make my ears prick up. For starters, I had no idea who Hugo Grotius was and had to look him up after they’d all gone home. I find it irritating that I don’t know these things, but of course, I, poor soprano that I am, cannot be expected to know all about a 17th century jurist responsible for founding some of what consists of current international law, and, instinctively like avoiding counting beats, I do not understand why Hugo visited Gouda.
“Who the heck are those people?” I kept thinking whenever I passed by Gouda’s medieval city hall. I meant the statues on the front. The statues are never very pleasing to me, mainly because they were placed there between 1961 and 1962 when the city hall was still being embellished to modern retro-gothic tastes. The statues are of, drum roll please, Charles the Bold (otherwise known in English as Charles the Rash, the French call him Charles the Timid, and the Dutch call him Naughty Charles), Philip the Good (this was an international consensus), Philip I of Castile (otherwise known as Philip the Handsome, or Philip the Fair, again fairly a pan-European assessment of the man) and Mary of Burgundy. These four figures are in a row in the middle of the façade. Up on the top there are two more figures, those of Floris V, Count of Holland and Jacoba of Bavaria.
What do the six statues have in common? The historical personages are from the medieval ages. Let’s chart them out:
Floris V: bestowed upon Gouda the rights to be a city in 1272
Jacoba of Bavaria, d. 1436 of the House of Wittelsbach.
She died without issue, her lands and titles, including Gouda, passed on to:
Philip the Good d. 1466 born in Dijon, father of:
Charles the Bold d. 1477 born in Dijon father of:
Mary of Burgundy d. 1482 born in Brussels mother of:
Philip I of Castile d. 1506 born in Bruges
Why are they gracing Gouda’s city hall? In medieval times the Valois held some of what is now Holland in their territorial holdings, and both Philip the Good and Charles came from the House of Valois. Of course, Mary, being a woman, married into the Hapsburg House, and subsequently Gouda became the dominion of the Hapsburgs. You can tell they were moving in a northern direction, even though they were Southern folk. Eventually the Hapsburgs were booted out, but they still hang around Gouda, in memoriam.
Sometime in the future I’ll figure out more about Hugo the Great and the Toll House. Sounds like a detective novel a la Hardy boys. Speaking of detectives, I swear the carillon these days (the carillon is programmed for a year) plays the Miss Marple theme music on the quarter of each hour….