Hugo Grotius: biography of this Dutch jurist

Hugo Grotius is one of the key figures in 17th century European law studies, contributing to valuable work.

Below we will take a tour of his entire life through a biography of Hugo Grotius, Find out what were the most important milestones, how he influenced the society of his time and what is the impact of his legacy even today.

    Brief biography of Hugo Grotius

    Hugo Grotius, Grocio or de Groot, was born in 1583 in Delft, the Netherlands, in the middle of the Dutch War of Independence.. Son of a good family, intellectual father and renowned politician, he received a very high level of education, based on Aristotelian and humanist principles. Hugo Grotius’ abilities quickly appeared in different fields, such as the arts. And it is that with only 9 years, he was already able to compose poems of a surprising quality.

    At the impressive age of 11, he started studying law at Leiden University, and it only took him 4 years to complete his education, using this time to study other subjects as different as the theology. Astrology (which at the time was a discipline of scientific studies) or mathematics. He even published the first of his literary works, a study of the works of Martianus Capella, which generated a great impact.

    At just 15 years old, Hugo Grotius was already involved in diplomatic activities, going to Paris and dispatching with King Henry IV of France.. A year later, he obtained his law degree in The Hague and began a meteoric career as a lawyer. He also became a historiographer and was given the important task of writing the history of the Netherlands so that they would be in a superior position to that of Spain (from which they had just become independent).

    He uses his legal knowledge to also publish works on international principles of justice, based on the real case of the confiscation of a Portuguese vessel that the Dutch fleet carried out off Singapore. Thereby it was the precedent to start generating legal treaties on the legality of international actions, Hugo Grotius was therefore a pioneer in the field.

    His career as an eminence of law

    The event of the confiscation of the Portuguese blue jay and the subsequent legal study in this regard conducted by Hugo Grotius marked his rise as a benchmark figure in international law. Its work culminated in the treaty known like Indians, or “Indias”. In this work start talking about natural law and debating the legality of wars. His next major contribution was that of Mare Liberum, or The Free Sea.

    In this text, what Hugo Grotius said is that the seas must be internationally neutral territories, that is to say that they do not belong to anyone in particular and that all nations can therefore make use of. This argument was used politically by the Netherlands to demand that countries like England cease their monopoly on the use of the sea, although they did so in order to increase their own naval power later.

    It should be noted that Hugo Grotius was not the first author to address in his work the theme of free navigation across the seas, as Francisco de Vitoria, Spanish author of the previous century, had already mentioned this idea in his work, using the principle of Roman law known as ius gentium. To this day, it is still considered that the high seas should be free to use for any nation.

    By 1613 Grotius was already such an influential person that even he was elected mayor (in his equivalent administrative figure) of Rotterdam. Just then, a maritime conflict erupted between Holland and England, as the latter captured two Dutch ships. The government of the Netherlands considered Hugo Grotius the ideal diplomat to travel to the British Isles and intervene in the situation, to recover the detained ships. However, the attempt was unsuccessful, as England did not give in.

      theological controversy

      Also during these years another type of conflict arises, in this case of religious cut, between the Calvinistas and the Arminians. The power struggle between the two sectors was exacerbated by the appointment of Conrad Vorstius (Arminian) as professor of theology at the University of Leiden, and Calvinist followers accused him of pursuing religious teachings beyond their purview. dictated beliefs.

      Hugo Grotius took part in this controversy, writing the ordinum Pietas, a manifesto in which asserted that civil authorities had the power to appoint anyone they deemed appropriate to prosecute in universities, Without having to rely on the approval of religious leaders for this. How could it be otherwise, the counter-protesters (the opposing faction) accused him of arson and started a campaign against him.

      As a result of this conflict, Hugo Grotius, who at the time was already Attorney General of the Netherlands, was asked to write a letter to resolve the issue. This work would be the edict of tolerance, called Decretum pro pace ecclesiarum. With him it was achieve a harmonious position in religious matters in the civil order, Stating that theological differences should be put aside in this regard.

      Of course, at that time, many powers were heavily influenced by religion, and this position seemed unacceptable to them, and an escalation of protests began which would even lead to riots around the territory. Civilian authorities attempted to maintain order, but when one of the factions grew strong, they arrested several of those believed to be responsible for the conflict, including Hugo Grotius.

      Grotius was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment at Loevestein Castle. After two years in detention, his wife and assistant helped him devise a plan to escape the fortress, hiding in a trunk with which he was able to settle in France.

      Exile in Paris

      In 1621, Hugo Grotius arrived in Paris, where he began his life in exile, far from the religious conflict which had deprived him of his freedom in the Netherlands. The French government provided him with a pension. It was the time of King Louis XIII and the government of Cardinal Richelieu. precisely to the monarch he dedicated to him what is probably one of his most famous works, “On the Law of War and Peace”.

      Another of his literary contributions at this time was De veritate religionis Christianae, the Latin translation of some verses he wrote in Dutch when it closed. This work dealt with the fundamental truths of Christianity.

      He attempted to return to his homeland in 1631. However, the response from the authorities was hostile, so he had to give up his plan of return. Instead, he decided to move to the German city of Hamburg, but two years later Sweden claimed him as its ambassador to Paris, so he returned to the French capital, this time with a different status. .

      It was the time of the Thirty Years’ War, and his main task was to work to find a solution to this conflict. of his new post as ambassador in Paris. He continued to work for an entire decade to achieve this. At the same time, he published new religious works, gathered mainly at the Opera Omnia Theologica.

      last years

      The religious conflict began to subside in the Netherlands and people who had been forced into exile were gradually able to return to their countries of origin. As for Hugo Grotius, Queen Christina of Sweden brought him back to Stockholm, after his work as ambassador in Paris. During the trip, he suffered a shipwreck which caused physical damage from which he would no longer recover..

      It was the year 1645, and Hugo Grotius did not wish to continue in Sweden, but to return to his native land, Holland. He did so so that he could spend the last days of his life in his home country, where he died that summer. Grotius was buried in the city of Delft, specifically in the church of Nieuwe Kerk. They say the last words to pronounce were: “I understood a lot of things and I didn’t achieve anything.”

      In inheritance are all his works, his contributions to theological studies, the treaties of international law, in particular those related to maritime law, and his diplomatic work in which he tried to intervene in the important conflicts which afflict the European nations. . And on top of all that, he left a motto: Eight hours, which means “Time is running out”.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Forde, S. (1998). Hugo Grotius on ethics and war. American Journal of Political Science.
      • Haakonssen, K. (1985). Hugo Grotius and the history of political thought. Political theory.
      • Van Ittersum, M. (2006). Benefit and Principle: Hugo Grotius, Theories of Natural Rights and the Rise of Dutch Power in the East Indies, 1595-1615. Brill.

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