Neutrality before Grotius: A City, a State and Seven Salt Ships in the Baltic (1564-1567)

In: Journal of Early Modern History
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  • 1 Department of History, European Studies & Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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The article argues on the basis of a case from the 1560s in Danzig that prior to the formulation of the legal concept of neutrality by Hugo Grotius, there was a practice of neutrality. It was expressed in various terms and manners. This practice pertained to both cities and states, and the case discloses the first documented instance when the Netherlands explicitly strove for neutrality also by legal means. The choice for neutrality was rooted in political and economic interests and as such had advantages, but it was also fraught with difficulties. The analysis shows that the actual extent of neutrality depended on the acceptance (or lack thereof) of the warring parties. Also, by excluding the possibilities of the use of violence or economic means of pressure like blockades, neutrals were limited to diplomacy and law during conflicts. This lay the ground for the development of a legal concept of neutrality.

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