A book chest to Paris

Probably best known today in the Netherlands for his escape from Loevenstein Castle, Hugo Grotius has gained international recognition as one of the fathers of international law, along with a Spaniard, Francisco de Vitoria.

Grotius in front of Neuwe Kirke, Delft
Grotius in front of Nieuwe Kerk, Delft

Hugo de Groot, born in Delft in 1583, entered University at age 11, and by the age of 14 had already published his first book. At 15, he accompanied a leading politician to Paris, where he was hailed by King Henry IV of France as “the miracle of Holland.”

In 1609, he laid the principle of the sea as international territory, which all nations were free to use to support their trade activities.

Shortly after that, Grotius got involved in a theological dispute between orthodox Calvinists and Reformers, and claimed that Calvinist beliefs could have political and religious dangers to Protestantism. For Grotius, while recognition by the State that the existence of God was essential to maintain civil order, personal beliefs regarding theological doctrines should be left to each indidivual to determine.

The dispute resulted in an outburst of hostilities, with the ensuing raising of troops and intervention of the stadtholder, Maurice of Nassau, Prince van Oranje, who staged a coup, overthrowing the States General of which Grotius was a member. Grotius was sentenced to life imprisonment in Loevenstein Castle, in 1618.

Three years later, Grotius managed to escape from the castle. His wife, Maria van Reigersbergen, had sent a trunk which had to be removed on the pretence that it was filled with books. Hidden in the chest, Grotius was able to get out, undiscovered, and take refuge in Antwerp and from there flee to Paris.

His first book published in Paris, in 1625, was to be his most famous work: On the Law of War and Peace. Started while he was in prison, the book sets a system of principles of natural law, the “just war” is defined as a war to obtain a right.

Hugo Grotius, Delft

Hugo Grotius, Delft

Also started while he was in prison, On the Truth of the Christian Religion defends Christian belief: a huge success, this work was used for almost two centuries to support missionary work.

Following Maurice van Oranje’s death, Grotius tried to be allowed back in the Netherlands. For a while, in 1631, he practiced law in Amsterdam, but was soon forced to flee his country again in April 1632 for Hamburg. From there, he was invited to serve as Swedish Ambassador to France. During this time, he returned to his project of Christian unity, harmonizing the various Protestant factions and the Protestants with the Catholics.

He was recalled by Queen Christine of Sweden from his ambassadorial position in March 1645. On the way back to Sweden, the ship wrecked and Grotius barely escaped with his life. After a few months in Sweden, Grotius left for Hamburg and following a long crossing, weak and ill, he died in Rostock, Germany, in August 1645. 

His body was buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft, the city where he was born.

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One Response to “A book chest to Paris”

  1. Seth Says:

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    ñïñ çà èíôó!…

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