A Short History of Asten Castle
From 1399 to the present
In many ways, the village of Asten enters history as a frontier settlement. From
the thirteenth century onwards, it served as an expanding reclamation area along
the western fringes of the Peel, an extensive region of desolate and
inhospitable moors. It was also the natural border between the duchies of
Brabant and Gelre; its legacy still lingers on in the present boundary between
the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg. Enterprising and pioneering
missionaries like St Willibrord, monks of the Premonstratensian order, and
secular landlords like the Lords of Cuijck, opened up this wild marchland for
permanent cultivation and settlement.
In 1399 the Huys tot Asten appears in our sources for the
first time. Starting as a small mansio or manor-house, it soon developed
into a true castle, that is consisting of a fortified residence and a
farmstead. At the end of a long sixteenth century of devastating crop
failures and armies marauding the area, the castle was refurbished as a
Renaissance-style country-house. The farm also received its present U-shape
with characteristic gate-tower. This is also the time that one of the most
colourful and notorious lords of the castle, Bernard van Merode, managed to
expand the estate at the expense of various supposed witches and wizards.
Bernard, eagerly assisted by his wife Catherina van Brederode, personally
tortured them to confession, sentenced them to death and, of course,
appropriated their possessions.
Although the castle was renovated and embellished in 1680
under Everard van Doerne, it soon fell into disrepair, primarily because
absentee landlords took much less interest in it. As a result, the elegant
country-house of the seventeenth century gradually decayed into the
dilapidated summer residence and hunting lodge of the eighteenth century.
Its new lords were mainly Dutch regents who preferred to stay in the far-off
cities of Holland, leaving the occupation of the castle to the occasional
tenant or overseer. Simultaneous with the decline of manorial rights, the
situation of the castle deteriorated further during the nineteenth century
when the local population began to use the ramshackle building as a local
The process of ongoing decline was halted by the self-willed
initiative of the Baron Clemens van Hövell tot Westerflier, who, together
with his brother Alexander, inherited the estate in 1917. Unfortunately, his
imaginative reconstruction of the northern wing was destroyed by a German
firebomb in 1944, after only a few years of habitation. In 1984, three years
after the death of Baron Clemens jr, the dowager Brigitte born d'Espinay St.
Luc sold most of the estate to the present Foundation which aims at the
conservation of the estate and whose members live in the southern wing of
the castle's farmstead.