On the 22nd March 1621, Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius – also known as Hugo de Groot – escaped imprisonment in Loevestein Castle concealed inside a book chest. He had been given a life sentence for treason against Prince Maurice, the executive and military leader of the United Provinces, after the Prince orchestrated a coup d’état. Once outside the castle he then fled to Paris, apparently disguised as a mason, where he lived in exile.

Grotius is known as one of the founding fathers of international law for his written work in such masterpieces as “On the Law of War and Peace” and “The Freedom of the Seas” that applied natural law to international politics. Even as a teenager his intellectual ability had been noted by King Henry IV of France who referred to him as the “miracle of Holland”.

At the time, the United Provinces were engaged in an internal conflict between the tolerant Protestantism of the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants who advocated orthodox Calvinism. Shortly after the Counter-Remonstrant Prince Maurice launched a coup d’état in 1618 he ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Remonstrants, which included Grotius.

Grotius was permitted to have books sent to him in prison, which were transported in a large chest. Over time his guards became less vigilant regarding its contents, which led his wife and maid-servant to hatch a plan to smuggle him out by hiding him inside it. Having escaped his imprisonment, Grotius fled to France where he wrote his most famous works. He became Sweden’s ambassador to France in 1634 but died in 1645 after being shipwrecked.

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© Scott Allsop