Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

English | Nederlands

CLAES, Haesje (born Amsterdam, 8 December 1475 – died Amsterdam, before 1544), allegedly the founder of the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage. Daughter of Claes Jacobsz (died before 1481) and Haze (?). Haesje Claes married Claes Jacobsz in het Paradijs (died 1539/40). It is not known whether the couple had any children.

Haesje Claes must have belonged to the rich upper crust of Amsterdam. When her widowed mother married Jan Rijcken in 1481, Haesje received a sizeable share of her father’s estate. This emerges from an entry dated 5 March 1481 in the register of the Orphans’ Chamber, a source which also records Haesje Claes’s exact date of birth (Bijtelaar, 135). She was supposedly the sister of Gerbrich Claes, the wife of the banker Pompeius Occo, who was famous for the parties he organized in 1521 in honour of the Danish king Christiaan II, which he held at his house ‘Het Paradijs’ in Kalverstraat. Haesje Claes married a widower with the same name as her father: Claes Jacobsz. The year they married is no longer known. Claes Jacobsz also came from an upper-class family. From 1522 to 1526 he was ‘huiszittenmeester’ (overseer of the poor) on Oude Zijde, in 1515 ‘schepen’ (sheriff) and from 1529 to 1539 a regent of the Municipal Orphanage. The couple’s house – also called ‘In het Paradijs’ – in Warmoesstraat (nowadays number 148) was one of the most beautiful houses in the city.

Founder of the orphanage

Haesje Claes has been famous for centuries as the woman who founded the Burgerweeshuis (Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage) in around 1520. Pontanus was the first historian to mention her in this context. In his Rerum et urbis Amstelodamensium historica of 1611, he writes: ‘With respect to the first foundation of this orphanage, as indicated in the charter of 1523, it is attributed to one Haes Claesdochter in ’t Paradijs, a rich woman of Amsterdam, and very merciful towards the poor, because this woman had had several of her little dwellings in Kalverstraat, near the chapel called De Heilige Stede (the Holy City), converted for this purpose, housing in them seven or eight orphans who had neither father nor mother, under the supervision of one Theeus Sweertz’ (Pontanus, quoted from the Dutch edition of 1614, 109). Haesje Claes ensured that the orphans were brought up in an honest and kind way by Sweertz, according to Pontanus, who goes on to explain that it was for this reason that her husband soon appeared on the list of regents of the orphanage.

Later historians of Amsterdam adopted Pontanus’s story, and in the Amsterdam orphanage the name Haesje Claes was, of course, uttered only with the greatest respect. In 1802, when Pieter van Winter, a former regent of the orphanage, presented the institution with a sixteenth-century painting said to portray Haesje Claes, the portrait was given pride of place in the regents’ room, where it remained until well into the twentieth century. Today this portrait can be found in the Social-Agogic Centre ‘Het Burgerweeshuis’ in Amsterdam. When the orphanage celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1820, two odes to the founder were inscribed above the boys’ and girls’ entrance gates. In 1831 Haasje Klaasdochter. Stichteresse van het Burgerweeshuis (Haesje Claes. Founder of the Municipal Orphanage) was published, an ‘original play in two acts’ by A.P. Muller-Westerman. The association founded in 1904 of former residents of the orphanage called itself the Haesje Claes Society.

Haesje Claes is also known as the founder of Amsterdam’s Old Men’s Home (Oudemannenhuis). Her will stipulated that a house, intended to house twelve poor women, be built next to the chapel of De Heilige Stede. The house was extended in 1548 to include a section for old men, as appears from a document in which the priest Jan Berensz bequeathed an annual amount to finance the extension of the institution (Meischke, 121). This laid the foundation for the institution later known as the Oudemannenhuis.

Haesje Claes was buried in a vault in the church of the Minderbroedersklooster (Franciscan convent). When the church was demolished in 1581, the coffin with her remains was moved to Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk (Bijtelaar, 137).

A controversial reputation

Today it is no longer certain whether Haesje Claes founded the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage, owing to research undertaken by the Amsterdam city historian Johan ter Gouw. In part 5 of his Geschiedenis van Amsterdam (History of Amsterdam)(1886), he questions the traditional view, having found nothing in the archives to confirm that Haesje Claes actually founded the institution. In his opinion ‘the legend of the “Founder of the Municipal Orphanage” belongs to the realm of fantasy’ (Ter Gouw, 210). In an appendix he explains in detail why Pontanus, the source of the story, could not have known what he was talking about, since this historian lived in Harderwijk, and almost a century had passed ‘before the legend of the founder took shape’ (Ter Gouw, 511). He conceded to Haesje Claes only the honour of founding the Old Men and Women’s Home.

Since the publication of Ter Gouw’s findings, Haesje Claes’s part in the history of the Amsterdam orphanage seems nearly played out. Most historians, particularly those who have studied the history of this charitable institution, have accepted Ter Gouw’s opinion. Nevertheless, over the years a few cautious attempts have been made to reinstate her in her role as founder. In 1926 G.A. Haringman pointed out that the 1523 charter mentions the care of orphans in the city, which had been taken in hand several years earlier. This might refer to an otherwise undocumented initiative taken by Haesje Claes, which led to the official founding in 1523. In his 450 jaren burger-weeshuys (450 years Municipal Orphanage) of 2002, the amateur historian Ben Endlich says that he ‘does not dismiss the so-called Haesje Claesdochter theory’, because why would the municipal authorities found an orphanage for the children of citizens? It must have been a private initiative, according to Endlich, who goes on to conclude, without supplying any arguments, that the truth probably lies somewhere in between (Endlich, 28).

The Amsterdam assistant archivist Isabella van Eeghen is much more definite in her opinion. In her search for information on the artist Cornelis Anthonisz, she has repeatedly come across Haesje Claes in documents related to the auctions held at the orphanage in the 1630s. At these sales, Haes Paradijs – as Van Eeghen prefers to call her – was given a discount, as was the matron. Van Eeghen therefore concluded in 1987 that Haesje Claes must have been involved in the founding of the orphanage. Because Van Eeghen’s findings have appeared in publications not directly concerned with the orphanage, her observations seem not to have reached the ears of those involved with this research. This explains the historian Engels’s 1989 dismissal of Haesje Claes as founder of the orphanage as ‘a fascinating story, but unfortunately not based on historical documents’ (Engels, 14). Nowadays the name Haesje Claes is mainly associated with a restaurant much frequented by tourists in the centre of Amsterdam.

Reference work(s)

Van der Aa; Kok (under Amsterdam); Verwoert.


  • Johannes Isacius Pontanus, Rerum et urbis Amstelodamensium historica (Amsterdam 1611) [Dutch translation: Historische beschrijvinghe der seer wijt beroemde coop-stadt Amsterdam (Amsterdam 1614)].
  • A.P. Muller-Westerman, Haasje Klaasdochter. Stichteresse van het Burgerweeshuis. Oorspronkelijk tooneelspel in 2 bedrijven (Amsterdam 1831).
  • J. Ter Gouw, Geschiedenis van Amsterdam 5 (Amsterdam 1886).
  • G.A. Haringman, ‘Het Burger-weeshuis te Amsterdam’, Maandblad Amstelodamum 13 (1926) 66-68.
  • B. Bijtelaar, ‘Enige bijzonderheden over Haesje Claes’, Maandblad Amstelodamum 46 (1959) 135-138.
  • R. Meischke, Amsterdam Burgerweeshuis (The Hague 1975) [see p. 90 for information about the picture painted after Pourbus and donated to the orphanage in 1802].
  • Isabella van Eeghen, ‘Het paradijs en de uitdraagsters’, Jaarboek voor Vrouwengeschiedenis 8 (1987) 125-133.
  • I.H. van Eeghen, ‘Cornelis Anthonisz. en zijn omgeving’, Jaarboek Amstelodamum 79 (1987) 12-34.
  • J.Th. Engels, Kinderen van Amsterdam. Burgerweeshuis, Aalmoezeniersweeshuis, Diakonieweeshuis, Sociaal-agogisch Centrum (s.l. 1989).
  • Ben Endlich, 450 jaren Burger-Weeshuys (Soesterberg 2002).


Print by Jacobus Houbraken: ‘Haasje Klaas, dogter in ’t paradys, stigteresse van ’t Burger Weeshuys, naar een schilderij berustende by de heer Jacobus Verstegen te Amsterdam’. From: Jan Wagenaar, Amsterdam… vol. 2 (1767).

Author: Els Kloek

last updated: 13/01/2014