Hugo Grotius

Dutch jurist and theologian


April 10, 1583
August 28, 1645
Related topics
Early works, Apologetics, Freedom of the seas, History, Grotius, Hugo,--1583-1645,


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Hugo was also known as Huigh, or Hugeianus De Groot. After initial schooling in Delft, Grotius’ father entrusted him to the Hague preacher and theologian Johannes Uyttenbogaert. An extremely gifted child, Grotius wrote Latin elegies at the age of eight and became a student in the faculty of letters at Leiden University at the age of 11. When at the age of 15 he accompanied the leading statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt on an embassy to Henry IV of France, he was received there with great honor and decided to remain to study law at Orléans. That same year his Pontifex Romanus appeared, six monologues offering a synthesis of the political situation in 1598. In 1600 his “Mirabilia” appeared, a poem about what had taken place on land and sea in the first half of that year. In 1601 the states of Holland appointed Grotius their official Latin historiographer and specifically requested from him a description of the Dutch republic's revolt against Spain, which became Annales et Historiae de Rebus Belgicis in the manner of the Roman historian Tacitus.

Increasingly, Grotius became involved in Dutch politics. Although the republic was then at peace with the United Kingdom of Spain and Portugal, the latter claimed a monopoly of trade with the East Indies. When a Dutch admiral seized the Portuguese vessel “Santa Catarina,” the Dutch East India Company asked Grotius in 1604 to write a juridical treatise, “De Jure Praedae” (‘On the Law of Prize and Booty’), defending the action on the ground that Spain–Portugal had deprived the Dutch of their trading rights. In 1609 one chapter of it, in which Grotius defends free access to the ocean for all nations, appeared under the title “Mare Liberum.” The work circulated widely and was often reprinted. In 1607 Grotius was appointed advocaat fiscaal (attorney general) of the province of Holland.

In 1608 he married Maria van Reigersberch, the daughter of the burgomaster of Veere. In 1613 Grotius led an embassy to James I of England. Its official purpose was the settlement of trade differences, but he took advantage of the opportunity to discuss religious matters with the King as well, especially the reunion of all Christian churches, a problem that concerned him deeply.

The same year he became deeply involved in the religious and political controversy that was dividing the republic, originally a theological argument about predestination it developed into a dispute between the province of Holland and the orthodox Calvinist majority of the States General of the Netherlands under the leadership of Prince Maurice.

In 1618 Prince Maurice ordered the arrest of the leaders of the opposition, including Grotius and the statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. The latter was executed for high treason; Grotius was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated in the castle of Loevestein. Hidden in a chest of books, he made a celebrated escape from the castle of Loevestein on March 22, 1621. He fled to Antwerp and to Paris, where he was received with great honor by Louis XIII and numerous statesmen and scholars. His wife and children were permitted to join him, and the family lived precariously on what he was able to earn with his pen. Although Louis granted him a pension, it was paid irregularly; as a Calvinist he was unable to obtain a professorship.

In 1625, still in exile, he published his legal masterpiece De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace), in which he laid the foundations of international law. In 1625 Prince Maurice died, and in 1631 Grotius returned to Holland. After hot debate in the assembly and despite the intervention of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, he was again threatened with arrest. In 1632 he went to Hamburg, then the center of Franco-Swedish diplomatic relations.

During the years 1636–37 he worked on the Historia Gothorum, Vandalorum et Langobardom (History of the Goths, Vandals, and Lombards). He also edited the works of Tacitus (1640). In 1644, when Queen Christina invited him to Sweden, he was received with great honour but nevertheless relieved of his post of ambassador. Although he was offered membership in the Swedish Council of State, he refused to settle in Sweden. On his way back to Paris he was shipwrecked on the coast of Pomerania and died of exhaustion at Rostock two days later.

Influence of Hugo Grotius

Works published by Hugo Grotius

Works published about Hugo Grotius

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