Jacob van Wassenaar heer van Obdam


Family and background of the Van Wassenaars

Jacob van Wassenaar heer van Obdam was a son of the famous Lieutenant-admiral of the same name and Agnes van Renesse van der Aa. The Van Wassenaar-Obdam family and related branches of the Van Wassenaar's were considered to be the oldest nobility of Holland. Obdam's wealth and the spectacular death of his father in the battle of Lowestoft (1665) combined with this lineage to give him an immense prestige early in life.

Van Wassenaar Obdam's power in the United Provinces

Obdam was by birth a very influential man in Holland. On account of his birth and inheritance he held a lot of very profitable positions, some of which are listed here: These were: his membership of the Ridderschap of Holland (an influential college of the upper nobility); Governor of Willemstad; a position as 'curator' of the University of Leiden; warden of the goods of the Rijnsburg abbey; a position in the 'Waterschap' of Rijnland; Keeper of the seal and stadholder of the domains of the county of Holland. Next to these he held positions as 'lord' over some 'seigneuries' (Dutch: Heerlijkheden) these were: Obdam, Hensbroek, Zuidwijk, Wassenaar and Waalsdorp.

Obdam's military career

Because Obdam was appointed as colonel in 1672 we could assume that he started his active military career in that year. In 1690 we find him mentioned as concluding a treaty with France in Bouillon for the exchange of prisoners of war1. In 1691 he was a General Major when William sent him to Munster in order to expedite the arrival of troops from that bishopric2. That same year he was appointed as Lieutenant General.

Obdam during the Spanish Succession War

When the tensions about the Spanish Inheritance started to raise Obdam was appointed as envoy to Prussia and various other German courts. One of his charges was to try to keep the Dukes of Braunschweig-Wolffenbuttel in the allied camp. His charge as envoy to the King of Prussia meant that during the first half of 1702 he spent most of his time talking in places along the Rhine.

His first serious military assignment during this conflict was the command over a detachment near Eindhoven. It was followed by the assignment to start the closing in on Venlo. The actual siege was led by Nassau Saarbrücken and Coehoorn. After that he participated in the siege of Roermond, which was directed by the same men. So far Obdam did not do anything brilliant, but he also didn't make mistakes.

In 1703 something did go very wrong for Obdam. He had the supreme command over a Dutch army corps that was on the banks of the Schelde near Antwerpen when it was surprised by a French attack. At the start of the subsequent chaotic battle of Ekeren he then fled from some gunfire. At the moment he noticed that he was fleeing towards the French troops he then made the serious mistake of disguising himself instead of turning around. This led him through the French lines and he ended up in Breda (Riding onwards to Breda was his second mistake).

In Breda Obdam wrote a letter to the States General in which he reported his army to be destroyed. This message arrived in The Hague in the evening of 1 July4. The States General reacted by immediately sending a commission to take measures, but on their way to the south this commission encountered the post which contained a message by Hop. This stated that the army had won a very bloody victory under Slangenburgh. The affair of course made Obdam's position untenable. The imminent end of his active career and his public disgrace made a large impact and was a serious blow to all branches of the Wassenaar family.

Obdam's accomplishments in his private life

In 1676 Obdam married Adriana Sophia van Raesfelt, heiress of the Raesfelt family and thereby of the manor Twickel near Delden in Overijssel. The manor Twickel or Huis Twickel would become the new home of the Van Wassenaar Obdam family. The couple made a lot of improvements to the house and the estate, and many of these are still visible today. The move to Gelderland also meant that the archive of the Wassenaar Obdams was moved to Huis Twickel.

However, the most important consequence of this marriage was the birth of Obdam's third son Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaar Obdam, who secretly created the 'Sei Concerti Armonici' and stored the manuscript in the House archive. Unico Wilhelm would later marry Dieudonea Lucia van Goslinga, daughter of the famous Sicco van Goslinga. One could think that listing Unico here is irrelevant, but that's not true. It seems that his education did play a big role in developing his talents and the character of his father will have contributed too. From the letters Obdam wrote we can deduce that he was a man of education.

All this did not mean that Obdam permanently lived in Twickel; he also had a house in The Hague on the crossing of the Kneuterdijk and the Lange Voorhout. His son Johan Hendrik would demolish this house and replace it by the Paleis Kneuterdijk. Another possession of Obdam was the Manor Kernhem in Gelderland.

His Generalship

Obdam certainly did not belong to the great commanders of the era. The question we have to deal with here is whether he was a capable or mediocre general. I will write about this after having a closer look on the Ekeren affair.

The practical reason why Obdam could no longer serve after Ekeren was that many soldiers not only laughed about him, but also spoke with scorn about his behavior5. Apart from this the reason why one could not dare to trust him with another command was that he had panicked. Of course one could not determine whether Obdam had a moment of weakness or whether he would more often react in this way, but this made the risks of letting him command simply too high.




1) Staatse Leger VII page 38
2) Staatse Leger VII page 43
3) Staatse Leger VII page 43
4) This time mentioned by Heindius in a letter to Hop of 2 July. H.A. 1703 nr. 818
5) Hop to Heinsius . H.A. 1703 nr. 818