Henry Hope (1735–1811) was an Amsterdam merchant banker born in Boston, in Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America. He was a key figure in the Dutch East India Company and made a fortune. He built the Villa Welgelegen in Haarlem.
Henry Hopes’ father, Henry the elder, was a Rotterdam merchant who left for the “New World” after experiencing financial difficulties in the economic bubble of 1720. Though born in Rotterdam, he was considered Scottish because his father and brothers were members of the Scottish Church in Rotterdam.
Henry the elder settled near Boston in the ‘New World’ in the 1720s and became a Freemason and merchant. When his son Henry the younger was 13, he sent him away to London for schooling, and six years later in 1754, he became an apprentice to Henry Hoare of the well-known banking firm called Gurnell, Hoare, & Harman.
In 1762, Henry the younger accompanied his only sister, Harriet, to the Netherlands when she married the son of a Rotterdam merchant and business associate, John Goddard. Henry went to work for his uncles, Thomas and Adrian, together with his cousin, Jan Hope (who changed his name to John at the age of 26), in the family business in Amsterdam.
Eighteenth-century Amsterdam was the largest port in Europe and the continent’s centre of commerce and merchant banking. By that time, the Hope brothers were already established as leading merchants in the Netherlands, but when the younger Hopes joined the Amsterdam branch, the name was changed from Hope Brothers to Hope & Co. The company would play a major role in the finances of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
Henry Hope the Diamond seller
After the Seven Years’ War, Hope & Co. started international banking, arranging loans to the governments of Sweden, Russia, Portugal and Bavaria. The firm also gave loans to plantations in the West Indies, taking payment in kind: sugar, coffee or tobacco, which the Hope’s would then sell on the Amsterdam market.
In exchange for loans to the King of Portugal, Hope & Co received an exclusive concession to sell diamonds originating in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The Hopes would accept the diamonds and sell them on the Amsterdam market. These sales helped to make Amsterdam the leading diamond centre of Europe.
The most important client of Hope & Co. was Catherine the Great of Russia. In addition to the large loans it made to Russia, Hope & Co. obtained the right to export sugar to Russia, and the firm acted as agents for sales of Russian wheat and timber to countries throughout Europe. Both Henry and Catherine were leading art collectors, and Henry Hope sometimes acted as an art dealer.
Henry Hope built the villa from 1785 to 1789 as a summer home. From 1769 onwards, Henry Hope purchased more and more adjoining land in order to fulfil the plans he had for a great palace. During the five-year period that the construction took place, it was the talk of the town. No one had seen such a large summer home.
Henry Hope was so influential that he persuaded the Haarlem local government to redesign the public park Frederickspark and he persuaded the Heemstede local government to redesign the Haarlemmerhout, both of which adjoined his property. Henry Hope collected many paintings and sculptures and had renowned artisans design the interior. Inside, he displayed some of his magnificent art collection, which included artworks from Frans Hals, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt.
Henry Hope had many famous visitors to his palace, including William V of Orange, who visited with his wife, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia, and Thomas Jefferson in 1788. The Netherlands was the first country to recognize the United States as a country in 1782 and attracted many US visitors looking to trade with the wealthy merchants of Amsterdam.
Henry Hope left Welgelegen Villa only 5 years after the main house was completed. In 1794 Henry Hope fled to England before the French revolutionary forces found him, taking most of his art collection with him. He transferred the property to his nephew John Williams Hope who remained behind in Amsterdam to see to the family banking business. John Williams Hope carried on the Hope & Co. family business in Amsterdam together with Alexander Baring and Adriaan van der Hoop, young partners in the firm.
In 1800 Henry Hope became influential together with his London friend Francis Baring in financing the Louisiana Purchase. On behalf of the French government, together they sold US government bonds worth $11.25 million in 1804. It is known as the largest land transaction in history.
John Williams Hope sold the villa in 1808 to Napoleon’s brother Louis Bonaparte who had just been named King of Holland. Louis, or Ludwig as he called himself, loved Holland and enjoyed a good standing among the Dutch people. He gave the villa its current name ‘Paviljoen Welgelegen’. Louis enjoyed his stay in the villa but left in a hurry in 1810 when he was forced to abdicate the throne by his brother Napoleon. Napoleon then annexed Holland, making the King function redundant. Three years later after the War of 1812, Welgelegen Villa became the property of the government of the Netherlands.
Museums and Legacy
The Villa was open to the public and hosted many museums (mostly art collections) between the years of 1885 to 1926. In 1930 the Villa became a Provinciale Staten as the seat of government for the Province of North Holland. The private park grounds and some of the rooms are open to the public during office hours, while the larger meeting rooms are open to the public for walking tours only one day of the year on Monumenten Dag.