Hugo Grotius, a Dutch philosophic attorney and writer who forwarded the concept of ‘international law’ in the early 17th century, is remembered by a monument on the main square in Delft…
Hugo Grotius was born in Delft in 1583. He was intelligent beyond his years as was evidenced by his admission to Leiden University at age 11. By the time he was 16, in 1599, he was appointed advocate to The Hague.
Over the next several years his association with Johan van Oldenbarnevelt helped accelerate his rise in government, being appointed resident advisor to Van Oldenbarnevelt in 1605, advocate general of Holland two years later and mayor of Rotterdam by 1609 at just 26 years of age.
In the early 17th century, religion was playing a major factor in politics and society in general, with various offshoots of Calvinistic theology becoming increasingly opposed to one another. Such was the case at Leiden University when the head of the theology department died in 1609 and controversy ensued as to who should replace him and which administrative body should make the decision. Grotius came out in support of the civil authority’s right to make the appointment rather than religious authorities.
Van Oldenbarnevelt and the States of Holland were supportive of religious freedom and Grotius was called upon to write an edict stating such. This was completed around 1614, a point in time when the relationship between Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Prins Maurits of Nassau had already begun to sour.
The friction between civil leaders and religious leaders continued to grow over the next few years and in 1618 the Synod of Dort was called to settle issues among the various factions within the Dutch Reformed Church. This special church leadership conference continued into the next year and when it ended, it announced that Arminianism was outlawed. This led to the arrest of prominent Arminianism supporters, including Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Hugo Grotius, who were made to stand trial. The court sentenced Van Oldenbarnevelt to death and Hugo Grotius to life in prison at Loevenstein Castle.
Two years later, with the help of his wife, Hugo Grotius escaped by hiding in a wooden book chest. He fled to Paris where he lived in exile and continued to write. In 1625 his most popular work was published, which consisted of 3 books, On the Law of War and Peace. It was the same year that Prins Maurits of Nassau died.
Hugo Grotius did return to Holland periodically following the prince’s death, as religious freedom grew in acceptance. He even taught at the Presbyterian seminary which had been newly established in Amsterdam.
In 1634, the King of Sweden offered Grotius the position of ambassador to France which he accepted. He spent most of the next 10 years in Paris in this capacity. In 1645, he was relieved of his appointment. When he was leaving Sweden on his final voyage, his boat became shipwrecked near Rostock. Although he survived to make it to shore, he died shortly thereafter. His body was returned to Holland and he was laid to rest in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.
The bronze statue of Hugo Grotius which sits on Markt square in front of the Nieuwe Kerk was created by Franciscus Leonardus Stracke in 1886.