A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Today I’m going to talk about the all-famous Dutch Jurist Hugo Grotius, a renowned alumnus of Leiden University. While no university buildings have been named after him, the Leiden Law School is home to the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, which traditionally hosts 30 students from around the world to conduct research on international law. His story will be of particular interest for the law students of our university.
Together with Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili, Grotius (Huig de Groot in Dutch) is considered the founding father of public international law. He was born in Delft in 1583 and started studying at Leiden University at just 11 years old; at 16 he published his first book. Quite remarkable isn’t it?
In his book Mare Liberum (Open Sea) published in 1609, he introduced the concept of “freedom of the seas”, although others had imagined it in other forms. The move had a profound political meaning. At that time, the seas were dominated by the British powerful navy; Grotius asserted that the seas had to be exploited freely by all nations, without a single entity exercising monopoly.
On the other side of the Channel, the UK claimed that the seas were an integral part of the British dominion. The book supporting this ideology was John Selden’s Mare Clausum (Closed Sea); as you can notice by the books’ names, the two jurists held completely opposed views.
Following a series of religious conflicts in the Netherlands, Grotius was imprisoned In the Lovestein penitentiary in 1621. He was then freed by his wife who hid him in a book chest. He finally fled to Paris where he published his major works.
Grotius is credited for being among the first to imagine an international community regulated by treaties and mutual agreements, as opposed to the full condition of anarchy that had always distinguished the international order. This topic was discussed in his most famous book De iure belli ac pacis published in 1625, where he notices the disrespect of men towards both divine and human law in times of war. Central to Grotius’ thought is the concept of natural law: an objective law existing independently of men and their political entities and legal structures.
Grotius had 8 children but only four of them survived beyond young age. He died in 1645 following a shipwreck in the Baltic sea, but his body was returned to the city of Delft where he still rests.
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