Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) is the most famous humanist scholar of the Dutch Golden Age. He wrote influential works on the laws of war and peace, Dutch history and the unification of the churches. His plea for a freedom of the seas in
Mare liberum offered the Dutch East India Company a ready justification for the establishment of a trading empire in the East Indies. As far as his daily duties left him any spare time, he penned confidential, learned and beautifully-written letters. This voluminous correspondence offers a trove of information on Grotius’ life and works, and forms the basis of his newest biography which sketches a life caught in a fierce struggle for peace in Church and State.
Early Modern letter-writing was often the only way to maintain regular and meaningful contact. Scholars, politicians, printers, and artists wrote to share private or professional news, to test new ideas, to support their friends, or pursue personal interests. Epistolary exchanges thus provide a private lens onto major political, religious, and scholarly events. Sixteenth century’s reform movements created a sense of disorder, if not outright clashes and civil war. Scholars could not shy away from these tensions. The private sphere of letter-writing allowed them to express, or allude to, the conflicts of interest which arose from their studies, social status, and religious beliefs. Scholarly correspondences thus constitute an unparalleled source on the interrelation between broad historical developments and the convictions of a particularly expressive group of individuals.