Profit and Principle

Hugo Grotius, Natural Rights Theories and the Rise of Dutch Power in the East Indies, 1595-1615


This monograph is a study of the interaction of politics and political theory in The Netherlands and Asia in the early seventeenth century. Its focal point is the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), who developed his rights and contract theories for the benefit of the United Dutch East India Company or VOC. The monograph reconstructs the immediate historical context of his political thought, as conceptualized in his early manuscript De Jure Praedae/On the Law of Prize and Booty and Mare Liberum/The Free Sea (1609). It argues that Grotius’ justification of Dutch interloping in the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal made possible the VOC’s rise to power in the Malay Archipelago, which resulted in the slow, but steady, loss of self-determination on the part of the inhabitants of the Spice Islands.

Prices from (excl. shipping):

Add to Cart
Martine Julia van Ittersum, Ph.D. (2002) in History, Harvard University, is Lecturer in European History at the University of Dundee in Scotland (UK).
In short, Profit and Principle convincingly argues how De Jure Praedae and Mare Librum were part of the day-to-day legal, political and diplomatic practices of a talented young jurist, politician, and diplomat. Legal principles served profit and national interest. In stead of presenting him as one of the great champions of contemporary international law, Van Ittersum pictures Grotius convincingly as one of the masterminds behind the making of the Dutch Republic as a major economic, military, political and diplomatic power and of its aggressive policies. In the introduction, Van Ittersum criticizes the Cambridge School for not having attempted to contextualize the works of political theorists more radically. In this book, convincingly and comprehensively (…) she demonstrates what such a contextualization brings us.
Arjan van Dixhoorn, Renaissance Quarterly

Profit and Principle is (...) a breath of fresh air. At last a study on De Groot and the VOC (Dutch East India Company) based on sound research in archives. And just as Peter Boschberg (Singapore State University) has done, Van Ittersum reduces Hugo de Groot to earthly proportions and places the still young lawyer in a clear historical context. (...) In my view, this book will determine our ideas about the VOC and Hugo de Groot for generations to come.
Victor Enthoven, BMGN

List of Illustrations


1. Jacob van Heemskerck’s Capture of the Santa Catarina and Its Justification in De Jure Praedae (1604–1606)
2. Hugo Grotius and the Spanish Black Legend: Humanist Historiography and Moral Philosophy in De Jure Praedae
3. Why Was De Jure Praedae Written?
4. Hugo Grotius and the Peace Negotiations between Spain and the United Provinces, 1607–1608
5. Hugo Grotius and the Truce Negotiations between Spain and the United Provinces, 1608–1609
6. VOC Spokesman and Lobbyist during the Twelve Years’ Truce


Author Index
Subject Index
All those interested in the history of political thought and the history of Southeast Asia in the early modern period, as well as legal historians and IR specialists.
  • Collapse
  • Expand