The Long Goodbye: Hugo Grotius' Justification of Dutch Expansion Overseas, 1615-1645

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    Abstract

    This article examines Grotius' lifelong support for Dutch expansion overseas. As noted in other publications of mine, Grotius cooperated closely with the directors of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the years 1604-1615. Right up to his arrest for high treason in August 1618, he contributed towards Dutch government discussions about the establishment of a West India Company (WIC). Three years of imprisonment at Loevestein Castle and, following his escape, long years of exile could not weaken his dedication to the cause. His relatives in Holland, in particular his brother Willem de Groot and his brother-in-law Nicolaas van Reigersberch, kept him up-to-date on the fortunes of the VOC and WIC. His expertise on maritime affairs was in high demand. For example, Cardinal Richelieu invited him in November 1626 to become actively involved in the establishment of a French East India Company. As itinerant ideologue of empire, Grotius sought to further his own career and those of his nearest family members, without damaging the interests of the United Provinces. Through Willem de Groot and Nicolaas van Reigersberch, he provided informal advice on Dutch imperial policy to the VOC directors and government officials in The Hague. He was rewarded with the appointment of his brother and his second son, Pieter de Groot, as VOC lawyers (ordinaris advocaten) in 1639 and 1644, respectively. They served as his proxies in diplomatic disputes involving the VOC, the States General and the Portuguese ambassador in autumn 1644, when Pieter and Willem de Groot wrote a defense of VOC claims to the cinnamon-producing areas of Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), liberally citing De Jure Belli ac Paris. Grotius' vision of empire hardly changed in the course of 40 years. In his view, the Dutch had gone to the Indies as merchants, not conquerors, and should regulate themselves according to natural law and the law of nations. Thus he contributed to the creation of two political orders, one for Europe and one for the Indies. European diplomatic relations counted for little beyond the Line. VOC and WIC officials could act as judges and executioners in their own cause, without reference to indigenous rulers, other colonial powers, or even the political authorities back home. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)386-411
    Number of pages26
    JournalHistory of European Ideas
    Volume36
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010

    Keywords

    • Hugo Grotius
    • Dutch East India Company (VOC)
    • Dutch West India Company (WIC)
    • De Jure Belli ac Pads
    • Willem de Groot
    • Pieter de Groot
    • Nicolaas van Reigersberch
    • Cardinal de Richelieu
    • Axel Oxenstierna
    • Seraphim de Freitas
    • Northern Company (Noordsche Compagnie)
    • LAW

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