4 - The fortresses of Kuinre: medieval stronghold

The lords of Kuinre likely descend from a bishop-ministerial family (the bishop granted them lower jurisdiction over an extraction area). In the most northern part of the Oversticht (now the Overijssel province), this ministerial family controlled a stronghold for the Utrecht bishop.


When the higher-lying parts of the Noordoostpolder were drained, excavations of a ditch at Kuinre included such devices like a barrel well. Upon closer investigation, archaeologists uncovered the remnants of two fortresses or castles from various time periods, surrounded by a complex system of walls and canals. These were situated on both sides of the old Kuinder or Tjonger river. Research showed that this was a stronghold that belonged to the lords of Kuinre.
Later research revealed that the fortress was originally surrounded by three rounded canals and three oval canals around them. The settlement of Kuinre also expanded in a manner referred to as ribbon development, following along a dug-out water course which cuts off a bend in the river. The castle was at a high-profile location relative to the ribbon development. The settlement is believed to have existed in the period in or before 1170 AD. This matches historical sources that refer to the episcopal ownership on this location in 1118 and the presence of a chapel in 1132. This regional administrative centre functioned inside a defensive ring of castles of the bishop that were strategically placed around his territory.


Map named Sevel from c. 1660. The roads are drawn in grey. The Tjonger/Kuinder river is indicated with a thin, dark line.

Who were the residents?

The oldest reference of the fortress of Kuinre, from 1196, names the resident of the castle at that time: Heinricus Grus. He was employed by the bishop. To compensate for his services to the bishop, the latter awarded him goods and privileges. Heinricus also had feudal privileges from other lords. His personal interests regularly clashed with those of his lord and so he developed himself to be independent. The first person listed as a knight was Henric the Second (grandson of Heinricus Grus). Lord Henric the Third had so many feudal possessions and stewardships over the surrounding land that he began to mint coins. 

Silver sterling of Henric III of Kuinre. After his death, Henric was succeeded as lord of Urk and Emmeloord by his cousin Johan.

Aside from regular minting, the early 14th century also saw what is known as 'hagemunterij', a type of unwelcome forgeries. This also entailed that some independent lords made use of old privileges or they simply granted themselves that right. This happened in Kuinre, too.

Duke Willem the Third granted Lord Johan the First of Kuinre such privileges as Emelwaard (now Emmeloord), Munnikeburen (seven farms) and high jurisdiction over Urk. Emelwaard was situated on Schokland, which back then, like Urk, was a larger island than in the centuries to follow. This Duke, who believed he was entitled to Friesland, did not hesitate in times of war with the Frisians to issue privateering letters - including to the lord of Kuinre. These letters gave the right to privateer ships. The 'lords' would sometimes seize the cargo or ship of traders. In exchange for a ransom, the latter could get back their possessions.

In the meantime, Reinoud of Gelre also became interested in Friesland. He took his army and moved up north. A battle ensued north of Blokzijl near Baarlo where the lord of Kuinre perished. His son succeeded him. The bishop's influence in these regions continued to dwindle. One cause was an increasing lack of funds. This allowed the influence of others to expand.

Using the IJssel cities (and from a personal interest) bishop Jan van Arkel attempted to restore episcopal power around 1350. In 1361, the bishop took action against the citizens of Steenwijkerwold.

They were again subjected to episcopal rule and again a lord of Kuinre found his demise. The successor of Johan, Lord Herman the First, took a kind of loyalty vow to the bishop.


The Zuiderzee was a busy sea route for merchants, fishers, inland vessels and the Hanseatic fleet. Merchants in Northern Europe were actively trading salt, grains, wax, fish, wood, bricks, wine, beer, pelts and sheets. Transport largely occurred over sea and rivers, with cogs ranging from 15 to 30 metres long.

The Kamper cog is a reconstruction of a 14th century cog. This ship was built in response to the discovery of a shipwreck in the Flevo polders.

In the second half of the 14th century, the Hansa cities took the lead from their merchants. Up until 1450, Schokland and its periphery were still connected to the mainland. The cogs of Deventer, Kampen and Zwolle therefore had to sail towards the Zuiderzee between Kuinre and Emmeloord. Because of the minting at Emmeloord - a kind of outer harbour of Kuinre - the lords of Kuinre profited from the international trade. The piracy that was condoned by the lord of Kuinre and in which he occasionally partook reached such levels that there was a continuous battle with the Hansa cities from the Baltic Sea region. In 1376, Herman the First was murdered at Stavoren to retaliate for the piracy.

A new fortress

The transition from fortress I to fortress II was likely caused by the well-known flood disaster of 1375. A historical source from 1378 reports on renewed construction activities. The old castle was literally engulfed by the sea. 

Fortress of Kuinre

Herman the Second negotiated a peace that proved fruitless in practice. He persisted with his piracy on the Zuiderzee. In response to that, the Duke of Holland (who had his interests vested in free passage on the Zuiderzee) occupied Emelwaard and Urk. This drove Herman towards his old enemies: the Frisians.

Another privateering war erupted in 1396. It took a large-scale operation to bring peace back to these regions. By landing troops near Kuinre, the Duke of Holland sent out a clear signal to the bishop of Utrecht that he was in charge.

The lord of Kuinre took sides with the Duke of Holland. But for some time now, the residents of Kuinre were in bad standing with their lord and they therefore requested if the Duke of Holland, Albrecht of Bavaria, had any interest in becoming their lord.

Albrecht of Bavaria as seen in the palace of his family in Munich, 14th century.

A second attack on the Frisians took place in 1398, and this time near Tacozijl. The residents of towns including Kuinre approved the Duke of Holland as their Lord. This situation lasted until 1401. In this year, the Frisians again revolted. Ultimately, the bishop attempted to restore his power through talks. A document from 1407 shows that Herman the Second and his sons sold the manor to the bishop of Utrecht. With this, the bishop regained his stronghold and thus the gateway into Friesland. The family of the lords of Kuinre then disappears from history - after first being forfeited the manor Urk and Emmeloord.

The Kuinder river used to be where now lies the Kuinderweg road; to the left of that the fortress from 1204 and to the right the later fortress of 1378.

In 1528, Charles V took over the principality of the bishop. In 1531, he demolished the fortress and used the freed up building materials to fortify the blockhouse of Genemuiden. 

With the disappearance of the lords of Kuinre and the demolishment of the fortress, little tangible remains of this remarkable history. Inside the Kuinderbos forest, attempts were made to make the first fortress somewhat presentable. The fortress also lives on in the coat of arms of the Noordoostpolder municipality. This way, at least something remains from this remarkable time. 

Coat of arms of the Noordoostpolder municipality