Monday, 29 June 2009

Prison Break + Joinery = International Law

In keeping in the discussion of natural law, Hugo de Groot, or Grotius, as he was known, was the dude. Well, he and Selden, but we'll get to Selden later. Grotius was a fascinating figure of the seventeenth century; in addition to being a jurist, he was also a theologian, a playwright, and a poet. Where does the woodworking bit come in? Well, you can scroll down to the orange text-which is an account of Grotius's escape from jail-to find out. In the meantime, here's a brief sketch of the cultural climate and the circumstances under which Grotius was imprisoned.

Grotius had allied himself with Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, and with the Remonstrants. The Remonstrants were basically Protestants who took issue with some of the more uptight aspects of Calvinism (like the belief that if you're saved, no matter how horrible you are, you're in--the Remonstrants believed in Grace, but not as independent of a person's merit or actions--in other words, if you're naughty, you jeopardise your spiritual immunity), and who maintained the doctrines of Jakob Harmenszoon, better known as Jacob Arminius. In order to fill the picture in a bit more (because all of these strains of Protestantism are, well...a strain), John Wesley, the guy who started Methodism, was a huge fan of Arminianism. Now, the connection here between English and Dutch theology is not merely an aside--each had significant impact on the other. In fact, the Synod of Dordrecht (or Dort) was inspired by the Authorised Version of the Bible, and just as this was a landmark in the English language, the Statenvertaling was to deeply impact spoken Dutch, as well. And just to throw some modern references in, click here for Margaret Thatcher's thoughts on Methodism, Anglicanism, and society.

Grotius, whilst in jail, actually wrote a letter to the man responsible for Genesis--Kings I of the Authorised Version: Launcelot Andrewes. Four days after the synod, van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded (13 May 1619). Finally, in 1621, Grotius made a move, recorded in Barbeyrac's short biography on Grotius:
[He was severely used for above 18 months; from whence,] by the Contrivance of Mary de Regelsberg his Wife, he made his Escape, who having observed that the Guards, being weary of searching a large Trunk full of Books and Linnen to be washed at Gorcum, a neighbouring Town, let it go without opening it as they used to do, advised her Husband to put himself into it, having made some Holes with a Wimble in the Place where the fore-part of his Head was, that he might not be stifled. He followed her Advice, and was in that manner carried to a Friend of his at Gorcum; from whence he went to Antwerp in the usual Waggon, after he had crossed the publick Place in the Disguise of a Joyner, with a Ruler in his Hand.
Barbeyrac's biography is included in the beginning of his edition of Grotius's De Jure Belli ac Pacis (The Rights of War and Peace)

John Milton had a total man-crush on 'the learned Hugo Grotius':
For a more extended treatment of Milton's usage of Grotius, click here.

As we saw in Sharkwater, the issues that Seashepherd attempts to deal with, namely the ownership of the seas (and legal jurisdiction), was actually at the root of a controversy in the seventeenth century that culminated in the first Anglo-Dutch War. Grotius's Mare Liberum (The Free Sea), published in 1609, argued that the sea was international territory, and was therefore open for all to trade. This was the perfect green light for the Dutch, who were a maritime powerhouse, to use their strengths in order to break up trade monopolies, and then establish their own. This infuriated the English, who were the other main contenders in maritime trade, eliciting, amongst other works, John Selden's Mare Clausum, in which Selden naturally argued that both land and sea could be appropriated by nations.

As we have seen, there seems to be a lot of intrigue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries surrounding hiding places, religious persecution, and joiners. Jason Rosenblatt notes:
There is something comic and unreal about the picture of Grotius conspicuously holding a tool to give himself an identity, the way a character in an allegorical painting might hold a compass or an anchor.
from Renaissance England's Chief Rabbi: John Selden, p. 135
Cool. It seems like there are many permutations of the religion-and-carpentry motif beyond the classic:
Cartoon by Mike Stanfill


  1. Oooohhhh! That ontsnapping in de kist (escape in the box) brings back my Dutch history lessons when I was a kid!! But of course you make it sound much more interesting with references to Selden, sea rights etc. And I LOVE the cartoon, although devout Christians might have a problem with the irreverence...

  2. I feel you might appreciate this (slightly very inappropriate) post from the blog "smart bitches, trashy books"

  3. Tiks, what can i say? I'm elated that it turns out you're a perv! Nice! So...i didn't get it. Is there another post i have to read to get some background? In a similar vein, i decided NOT to get a T-shirt that said 'Got Wood?'--i don't think it's just a reference to the milk advert...

  4. Naoms,
    You are so dense. It's a blog about romance novels you twit, what do you think it's about?