August 20, 2016

The gruesome murder of the De Witt brothers was 344 years ago today

Filed under: Art,History by Branko Collin @ 10:58 pm

de-wit-brothers-jan-de-baenThe year was 1672. The 80-year war of independence of the United Provinces against Spain had been hard fought, but had also ushered in a golden age in which trade, science and arts blossomed. Now that progress was halting. The Treaty of M√ľnster in 1648 had seen the recognition of the young Dutch republic as an independent nation, but 24 years later fresh enemies were at the door. England had declared war, followed by France and a bunch of German bishops.

An Anglo-French attack over sea had been thwarted with ease by the mighty Dutch fleet, but the weakened Dutch army could not stop the French from invading over land. The Dutch tried to retreat to the redoubt formed by the Dutch Water Line; a huge lake formed by flooding parts of Utrecht and Brabant. The flooding went slower than expected and it also made the people outside the redoubt feel they were being left to their own devices. People started panicking and started looking for scapegoats.

These scapegoats were found in the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt. The former was the grand pensionary of the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, which made him the de facto leader of a federation of provinces that preferred not to have leaders. It also brought him in direct competition with the line of Orange-Nassau which had assumed the stadtholdership and had turned it into a hereditary position. The Oranges were the favourites of many people who saw in the latest heir, William III, a new leader for the new war.

Cornelis had been framed for the crime of conspiracy and had been banished from the country. On 20 August 1672 his brother Johan came to pick him up from prison in The Hague, but outside a mad crowd awaited them. The rabble lynched the brothers, mutilated their bodies and cut parts off. The heart of Johan was cut out of his body and thrown in his face.

The painting shown here was created by Jan de Baen. On the back is written: “These are the corpses of Jan and Cornelis de Witt, painted from life by an important painter, as they were hanging from the gallows at 11 o’clock in the evening. Cornelis is the one without a wig, Jan de Witt has his own hair. This is the only painting painted from life on 20 August 1672 and therefore worth a lot of money.”

According to, “some of their body parts were even traded, taken as souvenirs and eaten. The Haags Historisch Museum owns a tongue and a toe of one or both of the brothers. These became the property of supporters of the brothers who kept them as relics.”

(Illustration: Jan de Baen / Wikimedia Commons)

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April 7, 2013

Anti-monarchal society almost doubles in size

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 4:23 pm

One of the two Dutch republican societies has seen an increase in membership from 1200 to 2000 since January, AD writes.

The Nieuw Republikeins Genootschap (New Republican Society) wants to replace the Dutch hereditary monarchy by a republic with an elected head of state. It was founded in 1998 in response to the existing Republikeins Genootschap which only admits new members through co-option and which believes that merely existing is enough to bring about the republic.

The society expects that the large increase in members is due to the ‘hype’ surrounding the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the ascension to the throne of her son Willem Alexander on 30 April.

According to TNS Nipo the monarchy continues to enjoy strong support among the Dutch. In 2011 a whopping 87% of the population supported the monarchy, 4 percentage points down from 1961, but 6 percentage points up from 2003.

The Netherlands was a republic from 1581 until 1806 at which point Napoleon Bonaparte made his brother king of the country. After Napoleon was defeted at Waterloo in 1815, Willem Frederik of Orange-Nassau became King Willem I of the Netherlands. Since then the country has been a monarchy.

(Photo: statue of William the Silent, he who both led the Dutch revolution that started the republic and who started the house of Orange-Nassau.)

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August 2, 2009

Straight talk deeply ingrained in Dutch culture

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 3:31 pm

Why are the Dutch so impolite? The German-born historian Christoph Driessen proposes a couple of hypotheses in yesterday’s NRC (Dutch).

The Calvinist is interested in the essence of things. Everything else is unnecessary. In that view politeness is quickly seen as hypocrisy in the Netherlands.

The republican form of government of the Netherlands [from 1581 – 1795, Branko] may also have led to a very direct and uncomplicated form of contact. In other countries, manners were largely determined by the aristocracy—hence the word courteous. […] One of the leaders of the republic, Johan de Witt, was mighty enough to oppose the Sun King [Louis XIV, Branko], but when he tried to wear a gold and silver garment to underline that position, instead of the simple black every other Dutchman wore, the troops he tried to inspect jeered and laughed at him.

Considering the Dutch saw themselves as burghers before they became Protestants, I am guessing the second hypothesis may carry the larger weight. Unfortunately, Driessen does not expand on why the republic was such a successful idea in the Netherlands long before it became popular in other Western states.

The historian also points out that since other countries like Germany are letting go of class-based societies, the Dutch head start may actually turn into a disadvantage. Unlike people from other countries who now also learn how to talk straight when needed, the Dutch cannot easily reverse gear and use politeness to sugar coat unpleasant messages, as they have not been brought up in a culture of politeness. Driessen suggests that children could be taught manners in school to remedy this.

(Drawing of a Goop by Gelett Burgess, from a 1903 children’s book on manners.)

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