Grotius, Hugo (Huigh de Groot; 1583–1645)

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GROTIUS, HUGO (Huigh de Groot; 15831645)

GROTIUS, HUGO (Huigh de Groot; 15831645), Dutch jurist, classical scholar, theologian, and ambassador for Sweden, traditionally known as the father of modern international law. Born in Delft on 10 April 1583, Grotius was the son of Jan de Groot, a burgomaster of Delft, who had studied under Justus Lipsius and was curator of the University of Leiden. After early schooling in Delft, he was taught by Johannes Uyttenbogaert, a preacher and theologian in The Hague. At the age of eleven he entered the University of Leiden, where he studied under the famous classical scholar Joseph Scaliger. At fifteen he accompanied Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, grand pensionary of Holland, on a mission to the court of Henry IV of France, remaining in the country to earn the degree of doctor of laws from the University of Orléans in 1598. In 1599 he returned to Holland and was admitted to the bar in The Hague. In 1601 the Estates of Holland appointed him official historiographer with the request that he write about the Dutch struggle with Spain. This historical work, begun that year and titled the Annales et Historiae de Rebus Belgicis (Annals and histories of Belgian affairs), was not published until after 1657, thirteen years after Grotius's death. On the model of Tacitus's major works, it was organized in two sections, the "Annals," treating 15591588, and the "Histories," which covered the period from 1588 to the Twelve Years' Truce of 16091621. Grotius's work as a classical scholar included editions of Martianus Capella, Lucan, the Phaenomena of Aratus of Soli, Tacitus, a History of the Goths, Vandals and Lombards, a New Testament commentary, and Latin translations of Theocritus (with Daniel Heinsius) and Euripides' Phoenician Women. His writings of a literary nature included a great deal of Latin verse and a number of well-received plays (Adam in Exile, The Suffering Christ, Joseph at the Court).

In 16041605, at the request of the Dutch East India Company, he wrote a treatise On the Law of Prize and Booty, a work he himself knew as On the Indies (De Indis). The treatise defended access to the ocean by all nations against the claims of particular powers to control the seas. One chapter of this work, published anonymously in 1609 under the title Mare Liberum (The Freedom of the seas), was widely influential and frequently reprinted. In 1607 Grotius was appointed advocate general of the fisc of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland. In 1613 he was named pensionary of Rotterdam. Politically he was closely tied to Oldenbarneveldt, the leader of resistance by the province of Holland against the absolutist ambitions of Prince Maurice of Nassau (15671625). Grotius's support for the Estates of Holland against Prince Maurice in the Arminian controversy (involving aspects of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination) resulted in 1618 in a trial in which he was condemned to life imprisonment and sent to the castle of Loevestein. (His patron, Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, was put to death.) In prison he wrote Bewijs van den waren Godsdienst (On the truth of the Christian religion) and began the composition of a work on the law of Holland that was published in 1631. Hiding in a chest of books, Grotius escaped from the castle in 1621 and fled to France, where he was received by Louis XIII (ruled 16101643), who gave him a pension that was paid in fits and starts.

In Parisian exile Grotius published his greatest work, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625; On the law of war and peace). The work was dedicated to the French king in the hope of receiving steady employment; Cardinal Richelieu, however, successfully opposed this. In his book Grotius argued that all laws can be distinguished between primary laws of nature, which express the divine will, and secondary laws, which lie within the realm of human reason. International society, Grotius argued, belongs to this second sphere. Its laws may be scientifically deduced from the rational and social nature of man, without reference to religious beliefs. Grotius was famously criticized by Rousseau in Du contrat social (1762; The social contract) for being a defender of slavery and a flatterer of tyrants. Although there are indeed defenses in particular instances of slavery and absolute rule, Grotius believed that slavery and absolute rule were exceptions and somehow against nature, although under certain circumstances they may be legitimate. As one of the great theorists of religious toleration, Grotius saw in the common principles of the various confessions (belief in the existence and unity of God and God's creation of the world) the basis of natural religion, from which Christianity differentiates itself by other elements that find their justification not in natural reason but only in faith. This is conferred by the mysterious help of God. Hence it is contrary to reason to impose Christianity by arms on those to whom God has not given that help. Grotius is also believed to have established a new basis for ethics, since he affirmed it to be a tenet of natural law that all men are permitted to attempt to preserve themselves against death and harm.

Grotius devoted himself to his writing in Paris until 1631, when, six years after the death of Prince Maurice in 1625, he went home to Holland. Threatened again with imprisonment, he left for Hamburg, where acquaintance with the chancellor of Sweden, Axel Oxenstierna, resulted in his appointment in 1634 by Queen Christina as Swedish ambassador to France. Returning to Paris, Grotius proved personally incompatible both with his old foe, Richelieu, and then with Richelieu's successor, Cardinal Jules Mazarin; all the same, it was on the negotiations of these men that Swedish-French relations depended for ten crucial years of the Thirty Years' War (16181648). Only in 1644 did Queen Christina recall Grotius to Sweden, relieving him of his ambassadorship. Grotius was offered a position in Sweden, but he declined it and decided to return to Paris. On his way back, however, a ship that was carrying him to Lübeck was wrecked on the Pomeranian coast, sixty miles from Rostock. After a journey of two days he arrived in Rostock with a fever and died there on 26 August 1645.

See also Diplomacy ; Dutch Republic ; Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Law: International ; Natural Law ; Oldenbarneveldt, Johan van .


Primary Sources

Grotius, Hugo. The Annals and History of the Low-Countrey Warrs. London, 1665. English translation.

. Briefwisseling. Edited by P. C. Molhuysen. The Hague, 19282001. Rich correspondence in several languages.

. De Dichtwerken. Edited by B. L. Meulenbroek. Assen, 1970. Latin verse with Dutch translation and commentary.

. De Iure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres. 2 vols. Translated by Francis W. Kelsey. Oxford, 1925. Latin text and English translation.

. De Iure Praedae Commentarius: Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty. 2 vols. Trans. Gwladys L. Williams and Walter H. Zeydel. Oxford, 1950. Latin text and English translation of the work Grotius knew as De Indis.

Secondary Sources

Haakonssen, Knud. "Hugo Grotius and the History of Political Thought." Political Theory 13 (1985): 239265.

. Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1996.

Knight, W. S. M. Life and Works of Hugo Grotius. London, 1925. Reprinted New York and London, 1962.

Ter Meulen, Jacob, and P. J. J. Diermanse. Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius. The Hague, 1950.

Tuck, Richard. The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant. Oxford and New York, 1999.

William J. Connell

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Grotius, Hugo (Huigh de Groot; 1583–1645)

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