The city law courts in Mechelen don’t attract too much attention. But the building they occupy was one of the most important palaces in 16th-century Europe.
The Hof van Savoye, as it was called, was one of the earliest renaissance building in the Low Countries. It was built in 1507 for the Hapsburg regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria.
Margaret married three times, but each of her husbands died, and she remained childless, writing sad poetry to console herself. She went on to surround herself with scholars and artists such as Erasmus, Dürer and Van Orley.
Margaret created a bright, intelligent court that nurtured children from aristocratic families, among them the young Charles V. She also welcomed 12-year-old Anne Boleyn, who was sent by her diplomat father in 1513 to serve as one of Margaret’s maids of honour.
Anne spent a year in Mechelen where she learned the art of dancing, hunting and courtly love. Then she made the fatal decision to marry Henry VIII.
If the gate is open, you can walk into the renaissance courtyard where European history was shaped for a few brief years. The rest of the palace is reserved for judges, lawyers and clients.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.