The exact period of origin of the town of Oudewater is not clear and no written information has been found about the first settlements. Even the origin of the name Oudewater is not clear. One explanation is that the name is a corruption of old water-meadow. Oudewater became an important frontier city between the medieval states of Holland and Utrecht. Oudewater (lit. “Old water”) was of strategic importance, controlling roads and waterways for a wide area. That is why Oudewater was granted city rights in 1265 by Hendrik van Vianden, the bishop of Utrecht. Oudewater attended the First Free States Council in Dordrecht on July 19, 1572, and was one of the twelve cities taking part in the first free convention of the States-General. This meeting is generally considered as the founding of the State of the Netherlands (as we know it now) under the leadership of the House of Orange. The late descendants of the Prince of Orange guide the monarchy as kings and queens since 1815.
This “independence congress” took place in the beginning of the 80-year war (1568 – 1648) when The Netherlands were still part of the Spanish Empire. After a siege of several weeks, Oudewater was conquered by the Spanish on August 7, 1575, and most of its citizens were killed, including the family of famous Oudewater native and Protestant theologian, Jacobus Arminius (1560 – 1609).
In the 16th and 17th century, Oudewater was an important producer of rope. In the surrounding area, hemp was cultivated for its fibre, as a base material for rope. The present rope manufacturing company in Oudewater was established in 1545 and it is the oldest family-owned enterprise in The Netherlands. No wonder Oudewater has a small rope museum.