Hugo Grotius Biography and Works

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Who is Hugo Grotius? Information on Hugo Grotius biography, life story and works.

Hugo GrotiusHugo Grotius; (1583-1645), Dutch jurist, who has been called the father of modern international law. The name Hugo Grotius is the Latinized form of Huig de Groot.

Life. Grotius was born into a distinguished family in Delft on April 10, 1583. At the age of 8 he had already composed some Latin verses, and at 11 he entered the University of Leiden, graduating at 14. In 1598, when he was not yet 15, he accompanied the Dutch statesman Jan van Oldenbarneveldt on a diplomatic mission to the court of King Henry IV of France. The King was so impressed by the youth that he called him “the miracle of Holland.” Before leaving France a year later, Grotius obtained a doctorate in law at the University of OrlĂ©ans.

On his return to the Netherlands in 1599, he began practicing law in The Hague. Two years later he was chosen official historian of the province of Holland by its assembly, the States of Holland. He became attorney general of Holland in 1607.

From 1613, as a representative of Rotterdam in the States of Holland and of Holland in the Netherlands States-General, Grotius was involved in a bitter religious and political struggle. A majority of the States of Holland supported Calvin-ist reformers against the orthodox Calvinist party, which was backed by a majority in the States-General and by the stadtholder and army commander, Maurice of Nassau. In 1618, Maurice suppressed the dissenters by force. Grotius was arrested and the following year was condemned for high treason to life imprisonment in the fortress of Loevestein. However, he escaped in 1621 with the help of his wife, who hid him in a chest that was being carried out of the prison.

Grotius fled to France, where he was warmly received, and in 1634 he entered the service of Sweden as minister to the French court. He was finally permitted to return to Holland in 1645, but died on Aug. 28, 1645, at Rostock, Germany, on his way home from Sweden.

Works. The most influential work that Grotius wrote was De jure belli ac pads (On the Law of War and Peace), published in Paris in 1625 during his exile in France. Applying the doctrine of natural law to the conduct of nations, Grotius held that states, like individuals, are bound by a code of duties and prohibitions that are universal, reasonable, and unchangeable. One nation, for example, may not attack another. However, Grotius regarded certain wars or hostile actions as just if there is no tribunal authorized to settle a dispute. In that case, a state may use armed force in defense of its rights or property or to punish a criminal act.

Grotius’ first important work on international law had been De jure praedae commentarius (Commentary on the Law of Spoils). Although written in 1604, it was not printed until 1868 except for the 12th chapter, which appeared in 1609 as a short treatise called Mare liberum (Freedom of the Seas). In Mare liberum, Grotius asserted the Dutch right to unhindered commercial navigation to the East Indies on the principle that no state may claim sovereignty over the high seas.

Grotius was a prolific writer with many interests. Besides other legal books, his works include poetry, plays, and writings on history, theology, and philology.



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