Hugo Grotius

Hugo Grotius (latinization of the Dutch name De Groot) was born in Delft in 1583, one year before the killing of William the Silent of the House of Orange in Delft in 1584. Grotius was married to Maria van Reigersbergen, whose biography was written by Robert Fruin. Grotius died in 1645 in Rostock in the North of Germany, exhausted after having been shipwrecked, possibly on his return to the Netherlands from Sweden. The year of his death preceeded the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the starting point of modern international, diplomatic and legal relations by three years.

Life as work Grotius lived in the transitional era between the feudal society and the establishment of sovereign states. His was an age of religious turmoil between catholicism and protestantism, between tolerant and orthodox calvinism, of the vanishing power of the church as the secular state was slowly coming into its own and countries were exploring their boundaries as nations and as colonial powers. Overseas diplomacy became more important as an alternative to the recurrence to arms. In Grotius lifetime a new world order became gradually visible, to which he himself may have contributed with his seminal work De Iure Belli ac Pacis, published in 1625. The second and last edition prepared by Grotius himself was published in 1631.

Grotius has been the subject of several biographies. In 1727 Historie van het leven des heeren Huig de Groot was published. Started by Caspar Brandt it had remained unfinished due to his untimely death in 1696. Adriaan van Cattenburg continued Brandt's work.
Another biography was published in 1785, written by Jacob Klinkhamer, entitled Het leven van Hugo de Groot. Klinkhamer prided himself on being the owner of the bookcase in which De Groot escaped from Loevestein Castle in 1621.

In De Iure Belli ac Pacis Grotius combined the traditional theologically inspired natural law with modern secular and rational conceptions of legal relations between nations. It is for this approach in particular that since then he is called the father of international law. 'On the Law of War and Peace' is the first comprehensive and systematic treatise on the subject, the main merit of which was, however, merely a synthesis of older writers and thinkers. Since Grotius' death many editions of his works have appeared, in Latin and in the vernacular, as well as catalogues and bibliographies, the most siginificant of which is Ter Meulen and Diermanse's Bibliographie des écrits imprimés de Hugo Grotius (1950). Characteristic for Grotius's work are the descriptions of the Bellum Justum, Ius ad Bellum and Ius in Bello (Prolegomenon XXV). De Iure Belli ac Pacis may have served as the theoretical framework for the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The Peace of Westphalia. Ratification of the peace treaty between Spain and the Netherlands, Münster, 15 May 1648. Painting by Gerard ter Borgh.

Scholarly contexts Scholars like James Brown Scott and Gesina van der Molen praise Grotius as a scholar and attribute an important role to Grotius as a compiler. Brown Scott is the author of The Spanish Origin of International Law (1932) in which he argued that the creative minds of international law were the Spanish theologians Francisco Vitoria and Francisco Suarez. Van der Molen wrote Alberico Gentili and the Development of International Law (1937), in which she explained in what way and to what extent Gentili had been an inspiring source for Grotius (the influence of Gentili is especially pervasive in De Iure Belli ac Pacis). The Spanish theologians and jurists Suarez and Vitoria were indeed the real founders of international law and Grotius relied heavily on them in Mare Liberum (1609) and even in 'De Iure Praedae ' (1604, no formal publication, manuscript discovered in 1864 by the Dutch publisher Martinus Nijhoff in 1864 and sold to Leiden University Library).Mare Liberum consists in fact of Chapter XII of the internal policy advice 'De Iure Praedae', stating that navigation of the sea is open to all those capable of sailing it, thus obviously echoing the law of nature.

Dutch interest Since very early on, Dutch professors of law seem to have felt quite a bond with Grotius, as indicated by publications such as C. van Vollenhoven's On the Genesis of De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1924), W. van de Vlugt's L'œuvre de Grotius et son influence sur le développement du droit international (1925), Jan Kosters's Het Ius Gentium van Hugo de Groot en diens voorgangers (1924) and W.J.M. van Eysinga's Huigh de Groot: Een schets (1945).

Due to the generosity of Martinus Nijhoff, founder of the eponymous publishing house, the Peace Palace Library has a unique Grotius collection. In its initial years Nijhoff donated 55 Grotius books to the library. Not unnaturally, then, using the Grotius Archive librarians and other staff of the Peace Palace have published regularly on Grotius too. Peace Palace Library Director J. ter Meulen and his curator P.J.J. Diermanse compiled the Bibliographie. Arthur Eyffinger's contributions are of course considerable, e.g. his edition of De Groot's Denken over oorlog en vrede. Peace Palace Library Director P.C. Molhuysen, who later became Royal Librarian, started the edition of Grotius' correspondence, published since then in the Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicaties. Peace Palace Library curator A. Lysen contributed to the range of Grotius studies as well, in particular during the third centenary of De Iure Belli ac Pacis in 1925. In his historiographical essay 'Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche wetenschap van het volkenrecht' (1950) Professor Van Eysinga summarized the highlights of international law in the Netherlands by referring to Grotius and to Cornelis van Vollenhoven.

Here is an extensive biography of De Groot.