History of the museum

In the year 1280 AD, the gate to the outer courtyard or Buitenhof served as the main entrance to the castle of the Counts of Holland, known as the Binnenhof today. In 1428, this ‘Front Gate to the Court’ also became a prison. It was where defaulters were incarcerated and suspected criminals awaited their trials. A century later, the gate was expanded to include a section that held the gaols (jail cells) and the courthouse.

Suspects were incarcerated in the dark and cold gaols while they waited to be interrogated and sentenced. Sometimes that could take months, but imprisonment was not a punishment in itself until the 17th century. Actual sentences included fines, exile, public humiliation and corporal and capital punishment. Famous patriots such as Cornelis de Witt and Dirk Volckertszoon Coornhert were incarcerated in the Prison Gate. They stayed in their own luxury cell, known as the Ridderkamer or Knights' Chamber.

It was a prison for four hundred years. In 1828, the Prison Gate was vacated. It survived two nominations to be demolished, one in 1853 thanks to Minister Thorbecke and one in 1873 thanks to the patriarch of the natural heritage conservation authorities, Victor de Stuers. The Prison Gate has been a museum since 1882.