Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)


Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) - Research Guide International Law

The Peace Palace Library holds the most comprehensive collection in the world of the works of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), founder of the systematic modern doctrine of international law and universally called the 'father of international law'. His works also include theological, poetical, historical and philosophical themes.

At the early age of eleven years, he left his hometown Delft to study at the faculty of Letters at the University of Leiden, where he defended his doctoral thesis in 1597. After earning a law degree at the University of Orleans in 1598, his star as advocate rose within the Dutch Republic. His involvement in the dispute between the Republic and England over the freedom of the seas led to his views published in Mare liberum (1609), still studied by modern researchers of the law of the sea.

In 1618, he was caught up in the religious fight between orthodox Calvinists and reformers. He was accused of treason, imprisoned and sent to the castle of Loevestein. His escape in a bookchest and flight to Paris marked the beginning of a new period. In Paris he published his masterpiece De iure belli ac pacis (1625). In this work, based on natural law, he investigated and explained his theory of 'just war'. When is war is justified, what are the causes of war and what are the rules of war? It is widely regarded as the 'foundation of modern international law'. After it became clear to him that the Dutch authorities would not tolerate his return to Holland, he embarked on a diplomatic career as Swedish Ambassador to France in 1634. In 1645 returning from a visit to Queen Christina in Stockholm, he was shipwrecked and washed up on the shore of Rostock, where he, exhausted, ill and weather-beaten, died on August 28, 1645. His last words being: "By attempting many things, I have accomplished nothing". His body at last returned to the country of its youth, being laid to rest in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on the works of Hugo Grotius. It provides the basic materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's systematic classification → Grotius collection and subject heading (keyword) Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.


Biographies, printed sources, reference works

Recent books

Grotiana, Volume 36 (2015)

  • Grotiana: a Journal under the Auspices of the Foundation GrotianaIn Memoriam Merio Scattola (1962-2015), Franco Todescan, University of Padua, Italy
  • Owing Punishment: Grotius on Right and Merit, Andrew Blom, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Central Michigan University
  • Grotius and Empire: On Andrew Fitzmaurice 'Sovereignty, Property and Empire 1500-2000', Camilla Boisen, Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Grotius's Biography: On Henk Nellen's Hugo Grotius. A Lifelong Struggle, Fiammetta Palladini, Retired from Consiglio nazionale delle Richerche (CNR), Instituto ILIESI, Roma
  • What we own Before Property: Hugo Grotius and the Suum, Alejandra Mancilla, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN), University of Oslo
  • On Good Faith and Bad Faith: Introductory Note, Arthur Eyffinger, Former staff member, Grotius (Huygens) Institute and International Court of Justice, The Hague, The Netherlands, followed by Hugo Grotius, De fide et perfidia / On Trust and Treachery, Latin text constituted from the Ms, with English translation
  • Bibliography, Rens Steenhard, Peace Palace Library, The Hague

Grotiana appears under the auspices of the Grotiana Foundation. The journal’s leading objective is the furtherance of the Grotian tradition. It welcomes any relevant contribution to a better understanding of Grotius’ life and works. At the same time close attention will be paid to Grotius’ relevance for present-day thinking about world problems. Grotiana therefore intends to be a forum for exchanges concerning the philosophical, ethical and legal fundamentals of the search for an international order.

Periodicals, serial publications


Systematic classification → Grotius collection

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  • Aure, A.H., The Right to Wage War (Jus ad bellum): the German Reception of Grotius 50 years after De iure belli ac pacis, Berlin, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2015.

    With De iure belli ac pacis libri tres (1625), the Dutch humanist and natural law philosopher Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) quickly became the greatest authority on international law (jus gentium) and on just war (bellum justum) in Europe for the next hundred years or so. By examining the theories of three largely unknown German scholars, Konrad Friedlieb, Valentin Alberti and Johann Wolfgang Textor, Andreas Harald Aure discusses dominant visions of international law and the right to go to war (jus ad bellum) in the Protestant parts of the Holy Roman Empire, two generations after Grotius wrote his magnum opus. The authors struggled with questions such as: - What may serve as right justification (cause) for war - Can an offensive war be just - Can a war be just on both sides - Has a belligerent the right to pass through third-party territory - Is there a right to wage war on behalf of people in foreign countries Two chapters discuss the conceptual development of jus gentium (the law of nations). As an adherent of Thomas Hobbes' systematic approach to law, Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694) realigned jus gentium as natural law (jus naturale). The main topic of this book is a detailed account of the just conditions for war (jus ad bellum) among leading German scholars in the 17th Century, based on in-depth research of primary sources.

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  • Straumann, B., Roman Law in the State of Nature: the Classical Foundations of Hugo Grotius' Natural Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    Straumann, B., Roman Law in the State of Nature: the Classical Foundations of Hugo Grotius' Natural Law, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    Roman Law in the State of Nature offers a new interpretation of the foundations of Hugo Grotius' natural law theory. Surveying the significance of texts from classical antiquity, Benjamin Straumann argues that certain classical texts, namely Roman law and a specifically Ciceronian brand of Stoicism, were particularly influential for Grotius in the construction of his theory of natural law. The book asserts that Grotius, a humanist steeped in Roman law, had many reasons to employ Roman tradition and explains how Cicero's ethics and Roman law – secular and offering a doctrine of the freedom of the high seas – were ideally suited to provide the rules for Grotius' state of nature. This fascinating new study offers historians, classicists and political theorists a fresh account of the historical background of the development of natural rights, natural law and of international legal norms as they emerged in seventeenth-century early modern Europe.

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  • Nellen, H., Hugo Grotius. A Lifelong Struggle for Peace in Church and State, 1583-1645, Leiden, Brill, 2014.

    Nellen, H., Hugo Grotius. A Lifelong Struggle for Peace in Church and State, 1583-1645, Leiden, Brill, 2014.

    Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) is the most famous humanist scholar of the Dutch Golden Age. He wrote influential works on the laws of war and peace, Dutch history and the unification of the churches. His plea for a freedom of the seas in Mare liberum offered the Dutch East India Company a ready justification for the establishment of a trading empire in the East Indies. As far as his daily duties left him any spare time, he penned confidential, learned and beautifully-written letters. This voluminous correspondence offers a trove of information on Grotius’ life and works, and forms the basis of his newest biography which sketches a life caught in a fierce struggle for peace in Church and State.

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  • Waszink, J.H. (ed.), Kroniek van de Nederlandse Oorlog: de Opstand 1559-1588, Nijmegen, Uitgeverij VanTilt, 2014.

    Waszink, J.H. (ed.), Kroniek van de Nederlandse Oorlog: de Opstand 1559-1588, Nijmegen, Uitgeverij VanTilt, 2014.

    De Kroniek en geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Oorlog is een onbekend werk van de grote geleerde en staatsman Hugo de Groot (1583-1645). Het bevat een dwarse visie op de vroegste periode van de Tachtigjarige Oorlog. Dat was in de ogen van De Groot geen eendrachtige strijd om het geloof en de oude vrijheden, maar een moeizame worsteling met niet alleen het machtige Spanje, maar ook met politiek eigenbelang, verdeeldheid en religieus fanatisme aan Nederlandse kant. Om deze complexe en controversiële visie op de Opstand te verkondigen, nam De Groot de denktrant en markante stijl van de bekende Romeinse geschiedschrijver Tacitus als voorbeeld. Zijn opdrachtgevers, de Staten van Holland, zagen ervan af om het werk te publiceren; het verscheen uiteindelijk pas een halve eeuw later. Jan Waszink tekent voor de vertaling van het eerste deel van de Kroniek (tot het begin van Maurits' regering in 1588) in hedendaags Nederlands, met behoud van de unieke stijl van De Groots politiek-literaire experiment.

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  • Ertz, S., Vertrag und Gesetz: das Naturrecht und die Bible bei Grotius, Hobbes, Spinoza, Würzburg, Königshausen und Neumann, 2014.

    Ertz, S., Vertrag und Gesetz: das Naturrecht und die Bible bei Grotius, Hobbes, Spinoza, Würzburg, Königshausen und Neumann, 2014.

    Die Relevanz biblischer Vertragsmodelle für die politische Theologie der frühen Neuzeit wird in der Regel mit der radikalprotestantischen Opposition gegen die absolutistische Souveränitätsdoktrin, mit den Herrschaftsvertragstheorien der calvinistischen Monarchomachen und den Lehren vom Widerstandsrecht assoziiert. Für das kontinentale politische Denken wirkungsvoller aber ist nicht die theokratische, sondern die naturrechtliche Lektüre der biblischen Gesetzesverträge geworden. Diese Studie untersucht den Komplex ,Naturrecht und Bibel‘ an den beiden prominentesten Vordenkern der modernen Naturrechts- und Staatslehre, Hugo Grotius und Thomas Hobbes. Sie zeigt, dass der Rekurs auf das ,göttliche Naturrecht‘ der biblischen Offenbarung aufs genaueste mit einer radikal individualistischen Wende des Naturrrechtsdenkens, mit einer dezidierten Abkehr von der aristotelisch-scholastischen Naturrechtstradition zusammenfällt und sie im wesentlichen erst ermöglichte. Vor diesem Hintergrund lässt sich schließlich Spinozas Religionskritik in den Kontext der neuzeitlichen Naturrechtsdebatte einrücken, lässt sich die systematische Lücke zwischen Spinozas Metaphysik der Immanenz, seinem Programm einer ,Naturgeschichte‘ der Offenbarung und seiner Kritik der individualistischen Naturrechtsanthropologien schließen und damit auch Spinozas Verhältnis zur Rationalität der mosaischen Gesetzesreligion gegen seine christlichen Überschreibungen verteidigen. Die Autorin Stefanie Ertz studierte Philosophie, Neuere deutsche Literatur und Kunstgeschichte an der Humboldt- Universität zu Berlin, wo sie mit vorliegender Arbeit promovierte.

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  • Barthélemy, J. (eds.) (et al.), Les fondateurs du droit international, Paris, Éditions Panthéon-Assas, 2014.

    Barthélemy, J. (eds.) (et al.), Les fondateurs du droit international, Paris, Éditions Panthéon-Assas, 2014.

    Publié en 1904 par un collectif de jeunes universitaires, parmi lesquels Jules Basdevant et George Scelle, l'ouvrage Les fondateurs du droit international consacre à dix grands auteurs du passé qui ont contribué à construire la doctrine du droit international des études qui ont gardé, aujourd'hui encore et malgré les progrès de l'histoire du droit international, tout leur intérêt scientifi que. Comme l'écrit le professeur Denis Alland dans une préface d'une grande fi nesse historique et doctrinale, « il n'y a toujours pas beaucoup d'ouvrages qui puissent être comparés aux Fondateurs, ne fût-ce que par l'étendue du champ que l'ouvrage embrasse, par le temps qu'il fait gagner à ceux qui, tout en ne se destinant pas à devenir des historiens érudits du droit international public, souhaitent bénéfi cier de quelques lumières sur des doctrines passées qui ont, à un titre ou à un autre, contribué à l'émergence de cette discipline.

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  • Happy Retirement Ingrid!

    [On the retirement of our curator Ingrid Kost; blog in Dutch] Vandaag 15 januari 2015 is een memorabele dag voor de bibliotheek van het Vredespaleis. Wij nemen na 39 jaar afscheid van onze collega Ingrid Kost. Zij zal genieten van een welverdiend pensioen. Tijd om andere dingen te gaan doen, zoals oppassen op de kleinkinderen en bijenhouden. Wij zullen haar deerlijk missen als collega en als mens. Alvorens vandaag afscheid te nemen, spraken wij met haar en haalden herinneringen op.

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  • Bibliotheek van het Vredespaleis viert 200 jaar Nederlandse Grondwet

    On Saturday 29 March, the Netherlands will celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the 1814 Constitution. During the so-called Grondwetfestival (Constitution Festival) government buildings normally off limits to the public, like the Catshuis and Trêveszaal, will open especially for this occasion. The Peace Palace Library will also participate in this event with an interactive tour – in Dutch – explaining the relationship between the Dutch Constitution and international law. [Further information in Dutch]

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  • In memoriam Professor Emeritus Robert Feenstra (1920-2013), Eminent Legal Historian and Grotius Expert

    Professor Robert Feenstra, one of the most outstanding specialist in the legal writings of Hugo Grotius, died on March 2 at the age of 92. Prof. Feenstra was Professor of Legal History in Utrecht from 1949 till 1952 and Professor of Roman Law at Leyden University from 1952 till 1985. He published extensively on Grotius’s legal heritage.

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  • Conference on "The True Faith?", Potsdam, 10-12 February 2012

    The true faith? A cosmopolitan project in the early Enlightenment 10 February-11 February 2012, University of Potsdam and HBPG, Potsdam. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) still is a subject of study, thought, research and discussion!

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  • Grotius in Slovenia

    Grotius’ theory on the Freedom of the Sea might help Slovenia in the dispute with Croatia over a small bay in the Adriatic. Since their independence from Yuogoslavia in 1991 they quarrel over the territorial sea delimitation in the Bay of Piran. Croatia claims that the border should be drawn in the middle of the bay, which would deny Slovenian ships direct access to the high sea…

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  • Announcement lecture 'The law of the sea'

    On monday, June 21 2010, prof. mr. A.H.A. Soons (Utrecht university) will give a lecture on the ‘Law of the Sea’. The topics will be international maritime law in general and specific issues like piracy, overfishing and Japanese whaling. Professor Soons will also speak on disputes that states had to claim marine areas. The lecture […]

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  • Mare Liberum 1609-2009

    Celebration of the 400th anniversary of Grotius’ famous book “Mare Liberum”.
    Highlight was the presentation of the first copy of a new English translation of Mare Liberum “ Hugo Grotius Mare liberum 1609-2009. Original Latin and English Translation”. Edited and annotated by Robert Feenstra, General Introduction by Jeroen Vervliet. Leiden : Brill 2009. ISBN 9789004177017.

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  • Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum 1609-2009

    The Hague celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Leiden, Publishing House of Elsevier) with an extensive program of activities. It commemmorates the fact that Grotius wrote his book in The Hague with exhibitions, theater/musical plays, films, publications and lectures in museums and libraries.

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