Bourtange, Battle AD 1640

Battle for Bourtange, Anno 1640
Slag om Bourtange, Anno 1640
Dates 2019 to be announced (biennial event held in the odd-numbered years. Last held in 2017)
Bourtange Fortress, Vlagtwedde (Westerwolde, Groningen province)


a battle re-enactment from the Age of the Dutch Revolt against Spain… 400 hundred reenactors, commanders, cannoneers, musketeers, pikemen, colour-bearers, drummer, camp followers and guardians come to the fortified city for one of the largest Dutch battle re-enactment events in an amazing bastioned fortress…

Geographical, cultural and historical context

Bourtange lies on a sand ridge in the beautiful Westerwolde region, in the Dutch province of Groningen, about 32 km from Emmen, right on the border with Germany. The place has got a great strategic importance since the ancient times for being the only passage between the nearby town of Groningen and Germany through the Bourtange Marsh (Bourtanger Moor), once a vast bog along the Dutch-German border, and now a nature reserve, the Internationaler Naturpark Bourtanger Moor-Bargerveen. The swamp arose around 5000 BC, but the area was already inhabited some earlier by Mesolithic nomadic people as confirmed by several archaeological finds. The swamp played a key strategic role in several wars as a natural protective barrier consisting mainly of impassable marshes. From the 16th to the 19th century the area got further reinforced in places with important passages with the building of strongholds, such as Bourtange, Oudeschans, Nieuweschans, Valtherschans and Emmerschans.

The village arose as a star shaped bastioned fortress with a network of canals and lakes used as moats on the Bourtange passage to control the only road leading to Germany through marshes. The building was commissioned in 1580 by William I Prince of Orange (1533-1584 AD), a wealthy nobleman and the main leader of the Dutch War of Independence (the Eighty Years' War, 1568-1648 AD), a revolt against the political and religious hegemony of Philip II (1527-1598 AD), King of Spain and hereditary ruler of the Habsburg Netherlands. Over centuries Bourtange was a key element of the defensive line on the Dutch-German border, being repeatedly under fire due to its strategic location, but withstood all attacks, thus it is also referred to as the fortress that was never conquered.

Bourtange, dismantled as military fortress in 1851, flourished then as an agricultural village until the 1950s and 1960s when it started being fully restored to its mid-18th-centruy glory and ambience. Today, thanks to its stunning architecture and beautifully renovated state, Bourtange is one of the best surviving examples of a star fort in Europe, one of the Netherland’s most fascinating and unique historical areas, as well as an amazing open-air museum providing guided tours, spectacular initiatives and reenactments all year long. Since 1995 the annual historical reenactment focuses in the odd years on the Eighty Years' War (Battle for Bourtange Anno 1640), while in the even years on the Napoleonic Age in the Netherlands (Battle for Bourtange Anno 1814).

Event description and programme

In the odd-numbered years Bourtange relives one of the most glorious period of the Dutch history: the Eighty Years' War, 1568-1648 AD) or the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Habsburg rule over Netherlands. The so-called Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and the French region of Hauts-de-France, rose against the political and religious hegemony of Philip II (1527-1598 AD), King of Spain.

The war reached also the territory of Bourtange. The Spaniards had control over Groningen and its surroundings and received their supplies from their allies in Germany. Therefore, William of Orange considered the building of a fort necessary to break off communications between Groningen and Germany. The fortress was completed in 1593 in a star shaped design with the bastions protected by a net of canals and lakes used as moats, and hosting five garrisons. The Spanish forces from Groningen besieged it, though the attack ended in a failure. The fort was hardly finished when the city of Groningen was finally taken from the Spaniards, thus Bourtange was adapted to now suit a new purpose as part of the border defence lines of the Northern Netherlands.

Hundreds of local volunteers and historical reenactors from all over the Netherlands and Europe make to relive the atmosphere and the armies of the 17th century through faithfully reconstructed artillery, infantry and cavalry units in the encampments and fortifications. The visitors have a unique chance to travel back in time for a deep insight into the military and civil daily life by experiencing clothing, weapons, camp life, kitchenware and eating habits of the period, while meeting several historical characters of the period, including commanders, cannoneers, musketeers, pikemen, flag-bearers, drummers, as well as sutlers and other civilian camp followers.

The banging of the muskets, the booming of cannons, pikemen with long pikes and campfires at the camps will certainly stir the imagination. The residents stay in encampments and their clothing, weapons, kitchenware, tents, camp life and eating habits are exact copies of those days. The rich programme includes as well military maneuvers and drills, guided tours, music and dance shows, the historical market and a variety of activities held in the fortress and the bivouacs. The event culminates in the great battle reenactment between the Dutch and Spanish armies.

Please contact the Organizers for confirmation and further details.


Info & Contact

Fortress Bourtange / Vesting Bourtange
Address: W. Lodewijkstraat 33, 9545 PA Bourtange, Westerwolde, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 (0)599 354600 - 599 354554

Napoleonic Association of the Netherlands (NAN)
Napoleontische Associatie der Nederlanden (NAN)

Westerwolde Town Council / Gemeente Westerwolde
Address: Dorpsstraat 1, 9550 AA Sellingen, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 (0)599 320 220

Visit Groningen Tourist information centre
Address: Grote Markt 29, Groningen, The Netherlands
Tel.: +31 50 3139741

Visit Holland

Image: images by Fortress Bourtange, collage by Historia Vivens Web
Text sources: Fortress Bourtange, Wikipedia, Visit Groningen, Wikivoyage


Bourtange and its fortress on Google Maps:



Promos and video reportages of the event:





Visiting Bourtange and the fortress:






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