22: Chapter XXII
<< 21: Chapter XXI (1619-23) || 23: Chapter XXIII >>
Two days after the execution of the Advocate, judgment was pronounced
upon Gillis van Ledenberg. It would have been difficult to try him, or
to extort a confession of high-treason from him by the rack or otherwise,
as the unfortunate gentleman had been dead for more than seven months.
Not often has a court of justice pronounced a man, without trial, to be
guilty of a capital offence. Not often has a dead man been condemned and
executed. But this was the lot of Secretary Ledenberg. He was sentenced
to be hanged, his property declared confiscated.
His unburied corpse, reduced to the condition of a mummy, was brought out
of its lurking-place, thrust into a coffin, dragged on a hurdle to the
Golgotha outside the Hague, on the road to Ryswyk, and there hung on a
gibbet in company of the bodies of other malefactors swinging there in
His prudent scheme to save his property for his children by committing
suicide in prison was thus thwarted.
The reading of the sentence of Ledenberg, as had been previously the case
with that of Barneveld, had been heard by Grotius through the open window
of his prison, as he lay on his bed. The scaffold on which the Advocate
had suffered was left standing, three executioners were still in the
town, and there was every reason for both Grotius and Hoogerbeets to
expect a similar doom. Great efforts were made to induce the friends of
the distinguished prisoners to sue for their pardon. But even as in the
case of the Barneveld family these attempts were fruitless. The austere
stoicism both on the part of the sufferers and their relatives excites
something like wonder.
Three of the judges went in person to the prison chamber of Hoogerbeets,
urging him to ask forgiveness himself or to allow his friends to demand
it for him.
"If my wife and children do ask," he said, "I will protest against it.
I need no pardon. Let justice take its course. Think not, gentlemen,
that I mean by asking for pardon to justify your proceedings."
He stoutly refused to do either. The judges, astonished, took their
"Then you will fare as Barneveld. The scaffold is still standing."
He expected consequently nothing but death, and said many years
afterwards that he knew from personal experience how a man feels who
goes out of prison to be beheaded.
The wife of Grotius sternly replied to urgent intimations from a high
source that she should ask pardon for her husband, "I shall not do it.
If he has deserved it, let them strike off his head."
Yet no woman could be more devoted to her husband than was Maria van
Reigersbergen to Hugo de Groot, as time was to prove. The Prince
subsequently told her at a personal interview that "one of two roads
must be taken, that of the law or that of pardon."
Soon after the arrest it was rumoured that Grotius was ready to make
important revelations if he could first be assured of the Prince's
His friends were indignant at the statement. His wife stoutly denied its
truth, but, to make sure, wrote to her husband on the subject.
"One thing amazes me," she said; "some people here pretend to say that
you have stated to one gentleman in private that you have something to
disclose greatly important to the country, but that you desired
beforehand to be taken under the protection of his Excellency. I have
not chosen to believe this, nor do I, for I hold that to be certain which
you have already told me--that you know no secrets. I see no reason
therefore why you should require the protection of any man. And there is
no one to believe this, but I thought best to write to you of it. Let
me, in order that I may contradict the story with more authority, have by
the bearer of this a simple Yes or No. Study quietly, take care of your
health, have some days' patience, for the Advocate has not yet been
The answer has not been preserved, but there is an allusion to the
subject in an unpublished memorandum of Grotius written while he was in
It must be confessed that the heart of the great theologian and jurist
seems to have somewhat failed him after his arrest, and although he was
incapable of treachery--even if he had been possessed of any secrets,
which certainly was not the case--he did not show the same Spartan
firmness as his wife, and was very far from possessing the heroic calm of
Barneveld. He was much disposed to extricate himself from his unhappy
plight by making humble, if not abject, submission to Maurice. He
differed from his wife in thinking that he had no need of the Prince's
protection. "I begged the Chamberlain, Matthew de Cors," he said, a few
days after his arrest, "that I might be allowed to speak with his
Excellency of certain things which I would not willingly trust to the
pen. My meaning was to leave all public employment and to offer my
service to his Excellency in his domestic affairs. Thus I hoped that the
motives for my imprisonment would cease. This was afterwards
misinterpreted as if I had had wonderful things to reveal."
But Grotius towards the end of his trial showed still greater weakness.
After repeated refusals, he had at last obtained permission of the judges
to draw up in writing the heads of his defence. To do this he was
allowed a single sheet of paper, and four hours of time, the trial having
lasted several months. And in the document thus prepared he showed
faltering in his faith as to his great friend's innocence, and admitted,
without any reason whatever, the possibility of there being truth in some
of the vile and anonymous calumnies against him.
"The friendship of the Advocate of Holland I had always highly prized,"
he said, "hoping from the conversation of so wise and experienced a
person to learn much that was good . . . . I firmly believed that his
Excellency, notwithstanding occasional differences as to the conduct of
public affairs, considered him a true and upright servant of the land
. . . I have been therefore surprised to understand, during my
imprisonment, that the gentlemen had proofs in hand not alone of his
correspondence with the enemy, but also of his having received money from
"He being thus accused, I have indicated by word of mouth and afterwards
resumed in writing all matters which I thought--the above-mentioned
proofs being made good--might be thereto indirectly referred, in order to
show that for me no friendships were so dear as the preservation of the
freedom of the land. I wish that he may give explanation of all to the
contentment of the judges, and that therefore his actions--which,
supposing the said correspondence to be true, are subject to a bad
interpretation--may be taken in another sense."
Alas! could the Advocate--among whose first words after hearing of his
own condemnation to death were, "And must my Grotius die too?" adding,
with a sigh of relief when assured of the contrary, "I should deeply
grieve for that; he is so young and may live to do the State much service
"could he have read those faltering and ungenerous words from one he so
held in his heart, he would have felt them like the stab of Brutus.
Grotius lived to know that there were no such proofs, that the judges did
not dare even allude to the charge in their sentence, and long years
afterwards he drew a picture of the martyred patriot such as one might
have expected from his pen.
But these written words of doubt must have haunted him to his grave.
On the 18th May 1619--on the fifty-first anniversary, as Grotius
remarked, of the condemnation of Egmont and Hoorn by the Blood Tribunal
of Alva--the two remaining victims were summoned to receive their doom.
The Fiscal Sylla, entering de Groot's chamber early in the morning to
conduct him before the judges, informed him that he was not instructed to
communicate the nature of the sentence. "But," he said, maliciously,
"you are aware of what has befallen the Advocate."
"I have heard with my own ears," answered Grotius, "the judgment
pronounced upon Barneveld and upon Ledenberg. Whatever may be my fate, I
have patience to bear it."
The sentence, read in the same place and in the same manner as had been
that upon the Advocate, condemned both Hoogerbeets and Grotius to
The course of the trial and the enumeration of the offences were nearly
identical with the leading process which has been elaborately described.
Grotius made no remark whatever in the court-room. On returning to his
chamber he observed that his admissions of facts had been tortured into
confessions of guilt, that he had been tried and sentenced against all
principles and forms of law, and that he had been deprived of what the
humblest criminal could claim, the right of defence and the examination
of testimony. In regard to the penalty against him, he said, there was
no such thing as perpetual imprisonment except in hell. Alluding to the
leading cause of all these troubles, he observed that it was with the
Stadholder and the Advocate as Cato had said of Caesar and Pompey. The
great misery had come not from their being enemies, but from their having
once been friends.
On the night of 5th June the prisoners were taken from their prison in
the Hague and conveyed to the castle of Loevestein.
This fortress, destined thenceforth to be famous in history and--from
its frequent use in after-times as a state-prison for men of similar
constitutional views to those of Grotius and the Advocate--to give its
name to a political party, was a place of extraordinary strength. Nature
and art had made it, according to military ideas of that age, almost
impregnable. As a prison it seemed the very castle of despair.
"Abandon all hope ye who enter" seemed engraven over its portal.
Situate in the very narrow, acute angle where the broad, deep, and turbid
Waal--the chief of the three branches into which the Rhine divides itself
on entering the Netherlands--mingles its current with the silver Meuse
whose name it adopts as the united rivers roll to the sea, it was guarded
on many sides by these deep and dangerous streams. On the land-side it
was surrounded by high walls and a double foss, which protected it
against any hostile invasion from Brabant. As the Twelve Years' Truce
was running to its close, it was certain that pains would be taken to
strengthen the walls and deepen the ditches, that the place might be
proof against all marauders and land-robbers likely to swarm over from
the territory of the Archdukes. The town of Gorcum was exactly opposite
on the northern side of the Waal, while Worcum was about a league's
distance from the castle on the southern side, but separated from it by
The prisoners, after crossing the drawbridge, were led through thirteen
separate doors, each one secured by iron bolts and heavy locks, until
they reached their separate apartments.
They were never to see or have any communication with each other. It had
been accorded by the States-General however that the wives of the two
gentlemen were to have access to their prison, were to cook for them in
the castle kitchen, and, if they chose to inhabit the fortress, might
cross to the neighbouring town of Gorcum from time to time to make
purchases, and even make visits to the Hague. Twenty-four stuivers, or
two shillings, a day were allowed by the States-General for the support
of each prisoner and his family. As the family property of Grotius was
at once sequestered, with a view to its ultimate confiscation, it was
clear that abject indigence as well as imprisonment was to be the
lifelong lot of this illustrious person, who had hitherto lived in modest
affluence, occupying the most considerable of social positions.
The commandant of the fortress was inspired from the outset with a desire
to render the prisoner's situation as hateful as it was in his power to
make it. And much was in his power. He resolved that the family should
really live upon their daily pittance. Yet Madame de Groot, before the
final confiscation of her own and her husband's estates, had been able to
effect considerable loans, both to carry on process against government
for what the prisoners contended was an unjust confiscation, and for
providing for the household on a decent scale and somewhat in accordance
with the requirements of the prisoner's health. Thus there was a
wearisome and ignoble altercation, revived from day to day, between the
Commandant and Madame de Groot. It might have been thought enough of
torture for this virtuous and accomplished lady, but twenty-nine years of
age and belonging to one of the eminent families of the country, to see
her husband, for his genius and accomplishments the wonder of Europe,
thus cut off in the flower of his age and doomed to a living grave.
She was nevertheless to be subjected to the perpetual inquisition of the
market-basket, which she was not ashamed with her maid to take to and
from Gorcum, and to petty wrangles about the kitchen fire where she was
proud to superintend the cooking of the scanty fare for her husband and
her five children.
There was a reason for the spite of the military jailer. Lieutenant
Prouninx, called Deventer, commandant of Loevestein, was son of the
notorious Gerard Prouninx, formerly burgomaster of Utrecht, one of the
ringleaders of the Leicester faction in the days when the Earl made his
famous attempts upon the four cities. He had sworn revenge upon all
those concerned in his father's downfall, and it was a delight therefore
to wreak a personal vengeance on one who had since become so illustrious
a member of that party by which the former burgomaster had been deposed,
although Grotius at the time of Leicester's government had scarcely left
Thus these ladies were to work in the kitchen and go to market from time
to time, performing this menial drudgery under the personal inspection of
the warrior who governed the garrison and fortress, but who in vain
attempted to make Maria van Reigersbergen tremble at his frown.
Hugo de Groot, when thus for life immured, after having already undergone
a preliminary imprisonment of nine months, was just thirty-six years of
age. Although comparatively so young, he had been long regarded as one
of the great luminaries of Europe for learning and genius. Of an ancient
and knightly race, his immediate ancestors had been as famous for
literature, science, and municipal abilities as their more distant
progenitors for deeds of arms in the feudal struggles of Holland in the
His father and grandfather had alike been eminent for Hebrew, Greek, and
Latin scholarship, and both had occupied high positions in the University
of Leyden from its beginning. Hugo, born and nurtured under such
quickening influences, had been a scholar and poet almost from his
cradle. He wrote respectable Latin verses at the age of seven, he was
matriculated at Leyden at the age of eleven. That school, founded amid
the storms and darkness of terrible war, was not lightly to be entered.
It was already illustrated by a galaxy of shining lights in science and
letters, which radiated over Christendom. His professors were Joseph
Scaliger, Francis Junius, Paulus Merula, and a host of others. His
fellow-students were men like Scriverius, Vossius, Baudius, Daniel
Heinsius. The famous soldier and poet Douza, who had commanded the
forces of Leyden during the immortal siege, addressed him on his
admission to the university as "Magne peer magni dignissime cura
parentis," in a copy of eloquent verses.
When fourteen years old, he took his bachelor's degree, after a
rigorous examination not only in the classics but astronomy, mathematics,
jurisprudence, and theology, at an age when most youths would have been
accounted brilliant if able to enter that high school with credit.
On leaving the University he was attached to the embassy of Barneveld and
Justinus van Nassau to the court of Henry IV. Here he attracted the
attention of that monarch, who pointed him out to his courtiers as the
"miracle of Holland," presented him with a gold chain with his miniature
attached to it, and proposed to confer on him the dignity of knighthood,
which the boy from motives of family pride appears to have refused.
While in France he received from the University of Orleans, before the
age of fifteen, the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in a very
eulogistic diploma. On his return to Holland he published an edition of
the poet Johannes Capella with valuable annotations, besides giving to
the public other learned and classical works and several tragedies of
more or less merit. At the age of seventeen he was already an advocate
in full practice before the supreme tribunals of the Hague, and when
twenty-three years old he was selected by Prince Maurice from a list of
three candidates for the important post of Fiscal or Attorney-General of
Holland. Other civic dignities, embassies, and offices of various kinds,
had been thrust upon him one after another, in all of which he had
acquitted himself with dignity and brilliancy. He was but twenty-six
when he published his argument for the liberty of the sea, the famous
Mare Liberum, and a little later appeared his work on the Antiquity of
the Batavian Republic, which procured for him in Spain the title of "Hugo
Grotius, auctor damnatus." At the age of twenty-nine he had completed
his Latin history of the Netherlands from the period immediately
preceding the war of independence down to the conclusion of the Truce,
1550-1609--a work which has been a classic ever since its appearance,
although not published until after his death. A chief magistrate of
Rotterdam, member of the States of Holland and the States-General,
jurist, advocate, attorney-general, poet, scholar, historian, editor of
the Greek and Latin classics, writer of tragedies, of law treatises, of
theological disquisitions, he stood foremost among a crowd of famous
contemporaries. His genius, eloquence, and learning were esteemed among
the treasures not only of his own country but of Europe. He had been
part and parcel of his country's history from his earliest manhood, and
although a child in years compared to Barneveld, it was upon him that the
great statesman had mainly relied ever since the youth's first appearance
in public affairs. Impressible, emotional, and susceptive, he had been
accused from time to time, perhaps not entirely without reason, of
infirmity of purpose, or at least of vacillation in opinion; but his
worst enemies had never assailed the purity of his heart or integrity of
his character. He had not yet written the great work on the 'Rights of
War and Peace', which was to make an epoch in the history of civilization
and to be the foundation of a new science, but the materials lay already
in the ample storehouse of his memory and his brain.
Possessed of singular personal beauty--which the masterly portraits of
Miereveld attest to the present day--tall, brown-haired; straight-
featured, with a delicate aquiline nose and piercing dark blue eyes, he
was also athletic of frame and a proficient in manly exercises. This was
the statesman and the scholar, of whom it is difficult to speak but in
terms of affectionate but not exaggerated eulogy, and for whom the
Republic of the Netherlands could now find no better use than to shut him
up in the grim fortress of Loevestein for the remainder of his days. A
commonwealth must have deemed itself rich in men which, after cutting off
the head of Barneveld, could afford to bury alive Hugo Grotius.
His deportment in prison was a magnificent moral lesson. Shut up in a
kind of cage consisting of a bedroom and a study, he was debarred from
physical exercise, so necessary for his mental and bodily health. Not
choosing for the gratification of Lieutenant Deventer to indulge in weak
complaints, he procured a huge top, which he employed himself in whipping
several hours a day; while for intellectual employment he plunged once
more into those classical, juridical, and theological studies which had
always employed his leisure hours from childhood upwards.
It had been forbidden by the States-General to sell his likeness in the
shops. The copper plates on which they had been engraved had as far as
possible been destroyed.
The wish of the government, especially of his judges, was that his name
and memory should die at once and for ever. They were not destined to be
successful, for it would be equally difficult to-day to find an educated
man in Christendom ignorant of the name of Hugo Grotius, or acquainted
with that of a single one of his judges.
And his friends had not forgotten him as he lay there living in his tomb.
Especially the learned Scriverius, Vossius, and other professors, were
permitted to correspond with him at intervals on literary subjects, the
letters being subjected to preliminary inspection. Scriverius sent him
many books from his well-stocked library, de Groot's own books and papers
having been confiscated by the government. At a somewhat later period
the celebrated Orientalist Erpenius sent him from time to time a large
chest of books, the precious freight being occasionally renewed and the
chest passing to and from Loevestein by way of Gorcum. At this town
lived a sister of Erpenius, married to one Daatselaer, a considerable
dealer in thread and ribbons, which he exported to England. The house of
Daatselaer became a place of constant resort for Madame de Groot as well
as the wife of Hoogerbeets, both dames going every few days from the
castle across the Waal to Gorcum, to make their various purchases for the
use of their forlorn little households in the prison. Madame Daatselaer
therefore received and forwarded into Loevestein or into Holland many
parcels and boxes, besides attending to the periodical transmission of
the mighty chest of books.
Professor Vossius was then publishing a new edition of the tragedies of
Seneca, and at his request Grotius enriched that work, from his prison,
with valuable notes. He employed himself also in translating the moral
sentences extracted by Stobaeus from the Greek tragedies; drawing
consolation from the ethics and philosophy of the ancient dramatists,
whom he had always admired, especially the tragedies of Euripides; he
formed a complete moral anthology from that poet and from the works of
Sophocles, Menander, and others, which he translated into fluent Dutch
verse. Becoming more and more interested in the subject, he executed a
masterly rhymed translation of the 'Theban Brothers' of Euripides, thus
seeking distraction from his own tragic doom in the portraiture of
antique, distant, and heroic sorrow.
Turning again to legal science, he completed an Introduction to the
Jurisprudence of Holland, a work which as soon as published became
thenceforward a text-book and an oracle in the law courts and the high
schools of the country. Not forgetting theology, he composed for the use
of the humbler classes, especially for sailors, in whose lot, so exposed
to danger and temptation, be ever took deep interest, a work on the
proofs of Christianity in easy and familiar rhyme--a book of gold, as it
was called at once, which became rapidly popular with those for whom it
At a somewhat later period Professor Erpenius, publishing a new edition
of the New Testament in Greek, with translations in Arabic, Syriac, and
Ethiopian, solicited his friend's help both in translations and in the
Latin commentaries and expositions with which he proposed to accompany
the work. The prisoner began with a modest disclaimer, saying that after
the labours of Erasmus and Beza, Maldonatus and Jasenius, there was
little for him to glean. Becoming more enthusiastic as he went on, he
completed a masterly commentary on the Four Evangelists, a work for which
the learned and religious world has ever recognized a kind of debt of
gratitude to the castle of Loevestein, and hailed in him the founder of a
school of manly Biblical criticism.
And thus nearly two years wore away. Spinning his great top for
exercise; soothing his active and prolific brain with Greek tragedy,
with Flemish verse, with jurisprudence, history, theology; creating,
expounding, adorning, by the warmth of his vivid intellect; moving the
world, and doing good to his race from the depths of his stony sepulchre;
Hugo Grotius rose superior to his doom and took captivity captive. The
man is not to be envied who is not moved by so noble an example of great
calamity manfully endured.
The wife of Hoogerbeets, already advanced in years, sickened during the
imprisonment and died at Loevestein after a lingering illness, leaving
six children to the care of her unfortunate husband. Madame de Groot had
not been permitted by the prison authorities to minister to her in
sickness, nor to her children after her death.
Early in the year 1621 Francis Aerssens, Lord of Sommelsdyk, the arch
enemy of Barneveld and of Grotius, was appointed special ambassador to
Paris. The intelligence--although hardly unexpected, for the stratagems
of Aerssens had been completely successful--moved the prisoner deeply.
He felt that this mortal enemy, not glutted with vengeance by the
beheading of the Advocate and the perpetual imprisonment of his friend,
would do his best at the French court to defame and to blacken him. He
did what he could to obviate this danger by urgent letters to friends on
whom he could rely.
At about the same time Muis van Holy, one of the twenty-four
commissioners, not yet satisfied with the misery he had helped to
inflict, informed the States-General that Madame de Groot had been buying
ropes at Gorcum. On his motion a committee was sent to investigate the
matter at Castle Loevestein, where it was believed that the ropes had
been concealed for the purpose of enabling Grotius to make his escape
Lieutenant Deventer had heard nothing of the story. He was in high
spirits at the rumour however, and conducted the committee very eagerly
over the castle, causing minute search to be made in the apartment of
Grotius for the ropes which, as they were assured by him and his wife,
had never existed save in the imagination of Judge Muis. They succeeded
at least in inflicting much superfluous annoyance on their victims, and
in satisfying themselves that it would be as easy for the prisoner to fly
out of the fortress on wings as to make his escape with ropes, even if he
Grotius soon afterwards addressed a letter to the States-General
denouncing the statement of Muis as a fable, and these persistent
attempts to injure him as cowardly and wicked.
A few months later Madame de Groot happened to be in the house of
Daatselaer on one of her periodical visits to Gorcum. Conversation
turning on these rumours March of attempts at escape, she asked Madame
Daatselaer if she would not be much embarrassed, should Grotius suddenly
make his appearance there.
"Oh no," said the good woman with a laugh; "only let him come. We will
take excellent care of him."
At another visit one Saturday, 20th March, (1621) Madame de Groot asked
her friend why all the bells of Gorcum march were ringing.
"Because to-morrow begins our yearly fair," replied Dame Daatselaer.
"Well, I suppose that all exiles and outlaws may come to Gorcum on this
occasion," said Madame de Groot.
"Such is the law, they say," answered her friend.
"And my husband might come too?"
"No doubt," said Madame Daatselaer with a merry laugh, rejoiced at
finding the wife of Grotius able to speak so cheerfully of her husband in
his perpetual and hopeless captivity. "Send him hither. He shall have,
a warm welcome."
"What a good woman you are!" said Madame de Groot with a sigh as she rose
to take leave. "But you know very well that if he were a bird he could
never get out of the castle, so closely, he is caged there."
Next morning a wild equinoctial storm was howling around the battlements
of the castle. Of a sudden Cornelia, daughter of the de Groots, nine
years of age, said to her mother without any reason whatever,
"To-morrow Papa must be off to Gorcum, whatever the weather may be."
De Groot, as well as his wife, was aghast at the child's remark, and took
it as a direct indication from Heaven.
For while Madame Daatselaer had considered the recent observations of her
visitor from Loevestein as idle jests, and perhaps wondered that Madame
de Groot could be frivolous and apparently lighthearted on so dismal a
topic, there had been really a hidden meaning in her words.
For several weeks past the prisoner had been brooding over a means of
escape. His wife, whose every thought was devoted to him, had often cast
her eyes on the great chest or trunk in which the books of Erpenius had
been conveyed between Loevestein and Gorcum for the use of the prisoner.
At first the trunk had been carefully opened and its contents examined
every time it entered or left the castle. As nothing had ever been found
in it save Hebrew, Greek, and Latin folios, uninviting enough to the
Commandant, that warrior had gradually ceased to inspect the chest very
closely, and had at last discontinued the practice altogether.
It had been kept for some weeks past in the prisoner's study. His wife
thought--although it was two finger breadths less than four feet in
length, and not very broad or deep in proportion--that it might be
possible for him to get into it. He was considerably above middle
height, but found that by curling himself up very closely he could just
manage to lie in it with the cover closed. Very secretly they had many
times rehearsed the scheme which had now taken possession of their minds,
but had not breathed a word of it to any one. He had lain in the chest
with the lid fastened, and with his wife sitting upon the top of it, two
hours at a time by the hour-glass. They had decided at last that the
plan, though fraught with danger, was not absolutely impossible, and they
were only waiting now for a favourable opportunity. The chance remark of
the child Cornelia settled the time for hazarding the adventure. By a
strange coincidence, too, the commandant of the fortress, Lieutenant
Deventer, had just been promoted to a captaincy, and was to go to Heusden
to receive his company. He left the castle for a brief absence that very
Sunday evening. As a precautionary measure, the trunk filled with books
had been sent to Gorcum and returned after the usual interval only a few
The maid-servant of the de Groots, a young girl of twenty, Elsje van
Houwening by name, quick, intelligent, devoted, and courageous, was now
taken into their confidence. The scheme was explained to her, and she
was asked if she were willing to take the chest under her charge with her
master in it, instead of the usual freight of books, and accompany it to
She naturally asked what punishment could be inflicted upon her in case
the plot were discovered.
"None legally," answered her master; "but I too am innocent of any crime,
and you see to what sufferings I have been condemned."
"Whatever come of it," said Elsje stoutly; "I will take the risk and
accompany my master."
Every detail was then secretly arranged, and it was provided beforehand,
as well as possible, what should be said or done in the many
contingencies that might arise.
On Sunday evening Madame de Groot then went to the wife of the
Commandant, with whom she had always been on more friendly terms than
with her malicious husband. She had also recently propitiated her
affections by means of venison and other dainties brought from Gorcum.
She expressed the hope that, notwithstanding the absence of Captain
Deventer, she might be permitted to send the trunk full of books next day
from the castle.
"My husband is wearing himself out," she said, "with his perpetual
studies. I shall be glad for a little time to be rid of some of these
The Commandant's wife made no objection to this slight request.
On Monday morning the gale continued to beat with unabated violence on
the turrets. The turbid Waal, swollen by the tempest, rolled darkly and
dangerously along the castle walls.
But the die was cast. Grotius rose betimes, fell on his knees, and
prayed fervently an hour long. Dressed only in linen underclothes with a
pair of silk stockings, he got into the chest with the help of his wife.
The big Testament of Erpenius, with some bunches of thread placed upon
it, served him as a pillow. A few books and papers were placed in the
interstices left by the curves of his body, and as much pains as possible
taken to prevent his being seriously injured or incommoded during the
hazardous journey he was contemplating. His wife then took solemn
farewell of him, fastened the lock, which she kissed, and gave the key to
The usual garments worn by the prisoner were thrown on a chair by the
bedside and his slippers placed before it. Madame de Groot then returned
to her bed, drew the curtains close, and rang the bell.
It was answered by the servant who usually waited on the prisoner, and
who was now informed by the lady that it had been her intention to go
herself to Gorcum, taking charge of the books which were valuable. As
the weather was so tempestuous however, and as she was somewhat
indisposed, it had been decided that Elsje should accompany the trunk.
She requested that some soldiers might be sent as usual to take it down
to the vessel. Two or three of the garrison came accordingly, and seeing
the clothes and slippers of Grotius lying about, and the bed-curtains
closed, felt no suspicion.
On lifting the chest, however, one of them said, half in jest:
"The Arminian must be in it himself, it seems so heavy,"
"Not the Arminian," replied Madame de Groot, in a careless voice, from
the bed; "only heavy Arminian books."
Partly lifting, partly dragging the ponderous box, the soldiers managed
to get it down the stairs and through the thirteen barred and bolted
doors. Four several times one or other of the soldiers expressed the
opinion that Grotius himself must be locked within it, but they never
spoke quite seriously, and Elsje was ever ready to turn aside the remark
with a jest. A soldier's wife, just as the box was approaching the
wharf, told a story of a malefactor who had once been carried out of the
castle in a chest.
"And if a malefactor, why not a lawyer?" she added. A soldier said he
would get a gimlet and bore a hole into the Arminian. "Then you must get
a gimlet that will reach to the top of the castle, where the Arminian
lies abed and asleep," said Elsje.
Not much heed was given to this careless talk, the soldiers, before
leaving the chamber of Grotius, having satisfied themselves that there
were no apertures in the chest save the keyhole, and that it would be
impossible by that means alone for sufficient air to penetrate to keep a
man enclosed in it from smothering.
Madame Deventer was asked if she chose to inspect the contents of the
trunk, and she enquired whether the Commandant had been wont so to do.
When told that such search had been for a long time discontinued, as
nothing had ever been found there but books, she observed that there was
no reason why she should be more strict than her husband, and ordered the
soldiers to take their heavy load to the vessel.
Elsje insisted that the boatmen should place a doubly thick plank for
sliding the box on board, as it seemed probable, she said, that the usual
one would break in two, and then the valuable books borrowed of Professor
Erpenius would be damaged or destroyed. The request caused much further
grumbling, but was complied with at last and the chest deposited on the
deck. The wind still continued to blow with great fury, and as soon as
the sails were set the vessel heeled over so much, that Elsje implored
the skipper to cause the box to be securely lashed, as it seemed in
imminent danger, at the first lurch of the vessel, of sliding into the
This done, Elsje sat herself down and threw her white handkerchief over
her head, letting it flutter in the wind. One of the crew asked her why
she did so, and she replied that the servant in the castle had been
tormenting her, saying that she would never dare to sail to Gorcum in
such tempestuous weather, and she was now signalling him that she had
been as good as her word. Whereupon she continued to wave the
In reality the signal was for her mistress, who was now straining her
eyes from the barred window which looked out upon the Waal, and with whom
the maid had agreed that if all went prosperously she would give this
token of success. Otherwise she would sit with her head in her hands.
During the voyage an officer of the garrison, who happened to be on
board, threw himself upon the chest as a convenient seat, and began
drumming and pounding with his heels upon it. The ever watchful Elsje,
feeling the dreadful inconvenience to the prisoner of these proceedings,
who perhaps was already smothering and would struggle for air if not
relieved, politely addressed the gentleman and induced him to remove to
another seat by telling him that, besides the books, there was some
valuable porcelain in the chest which might easily be broken.
No further incident occurred. The wind, although violent, was
favourable, and Gorcum in due time was reached. Elsje insisted upon
having her own precious freight carried first into the town, although the
skipper for some time was obstinately bent on leaving it to the very
last, while all the other merchandise in the vessel should be previously
At last on promise of payment of ten stuivers, which was considered an
exorbitant sum, the skipper and son agreed to transport the chest between
them on a hand-barrow. While they were trudging with it to the town, the
son remarked to his father that there was some living thing in the box.
For the prisoner in the anguish of his confinement had not been able to
restrain a slight movement.
"Do you hear what my son says?" cried the skipper to Elsje. "He says you
have got something alive in your trunk."
"Yes, yes," replied the cheerful maid-servant; "Arminian books are always
alive, always full of motion and spirit."
They arrived at Daatselaer's house, moving with difficulty through the
crowd which, notwithstanding the boisterous weather, had been collected
by the annual fair. Many people were assembled in front of the building,
which was a warehouse of great resort, while next door was a book-
seller's shop thronged with professors, clergymen, and other literary
persons. The carriers accordingly entered by the backway, and Elsje,
deliberately paying them their ten stuivers, and seeing them depart, left
the box lying in a room at the rear and hastened to the shop in front.
Here she found the thread and ribbon dealer and his wife, busy with their
customers, unpacking and exhibiting their wares. She instantly whispered
in Madame Daatselaer's ear, "I have got my master here in your back
The dame turned white as a sheet, and was near fainting on the spot. It
was the first imprudence Elsje had committed. The good woman recovered
somewhat of her composure by a strong effort however, and instantly went
with Elsje to the rear of the house.
"Master! master!" cried Elsje, rapping on the chest.
There was no answer.
"My God! my God!" shrieked the poor maid-servant. "My poor master is
"Ah!" said Madame Daatselaer, "your mistress has made a bad business of
it. Yesterday she had a living husband. Now she has a dead one."
But soon there was a vigorous rap on the inside of the lid, and a cry
from the prisoner:
"Open the chest! I am not dead, but did not at first recognize your
The lock was instantly unfastened, the lid thrown open, and Grotius arose
in his linen clothing, like a dead man from his coffin.
The dame instantly accompanied the two through a trapdoor into an upper
Grotius asked her if she was always so deadly pale.
"No," she replied, "but I am frightened to see you here. My lord is no
common person. The whole world is talking of you. I fear this will
cause the loss of all my property and perhaps bring my husband into
prison in your place."
Grotius rejoined: "I made my prayers to God before as much as this had
been gained, and I have just been uttering fervent thanks to Him for my
deliverance so far as it has been effected. But if the consequences are
to be as you fear, I am ready at once to get into the chest again and be
carried back to prison."
But she answered, "No; whatever comes of it, we have you here and will do
all that we can to help you on."
Grotius being faint from his sufferings, the lady brought him a glass of
Spanish wine, but was too much flustered to find even a cloak or shawl to
throw over him. Leaving him sitting there in his very thin attire, just
as he had got out of the chest, she went to the front warehouse to call
her husband. But he prudently declined to go to his unexpected guest.
It would be better in the examination sure to follow, he said, for him to
say with truth that he had not seen him and knew nothing of the escape,
from first to last.
Grotius entirely approved of the answer when told to him. Meantime
Madame Daatselaer had gone to her brother-in-law van der Veen, a clothier
by trade, whom she found in his shop talking with an officer of the
Loevestein garrison. She whispered in the clothier's ear, and he, making
an excuse to the officer, followed her home at once. They found Grotius
sitting where he had been left. Van der Veen gave him his hand, saying:
"Sir, you are the man of whom the whole country is talking?"
"Yes, here I am," was the reply, "and I put myself in your hands--"
"There isn't a moment to lose," replied the clothier. "We must help you
away at once."
He went immediately in search of one John Lambertsen, a man in whom he
knew he could confide, a Lutheran in religion, a master-mason by
occupation. He found him on a scaffold against the gable-end of a house,
working at his trade.
He told him that there was a good deed to be done which he could do
better than any man, that his conscience would never reproach him for it,
and that he would at the same time earn no trifling reward.
He begged the mason to procure a complete dress as for a journeyman, and
to follow him to the house of his brother-in-law Daatselaer.
Lambertsen soon made his appearance with the doublet, trunk-hose, and
shoes of a bricklayer, together with trowel and measuring-rod. He was
informed who his new journeyman was to be, and Grotius at once put on the
The doublet did not reach to the waistband of the trunkhose, while those
nether garments stopped short of his knees; the whole attire belonging to
a smaller man than the unfortunate statesman. His delicate white hands,
much exposed by the shortness of the sleeves, looked very unlike those of
a day-labourer, and altogether the new mason presented a somewhat
incongruous and wobegone aspect. Grotius was fearful too lest some of
the preachers and professors frequenting the book-shop next door would
recognize him through his disguise. Madame Daatselaer smeared his face
and hands with chalk and plaster however and whispered encouragement, and
so with a felt hat slouched over his forehead and a yardstick in his
hand, he walked calmly forth into the thronged marketplace and through
the town to the ferry, accompanied by the friendly Lambertsen. It had
been agreed that van der Veen should leave the house in another direction
and meet them at the landing-place.
When they got to the ferry, they found the weather as boisterous as ever.
The boatmen absolutely refused to make the dangerous crossing of the
Merwede over which their course lay to the land of Altona, and so into
the Spanish Netherlands, for two such insignificant personages as this
mason and his scarecrow journeyman.
Lambertsen assured them that it was of the utmost importance that he
should cross the water at once. He had a large contract for purchasing
stone at Altona for a public building on which he was engaged. Van der
Veen coming up added his entreaties, protesting that he too was
interested in this great stone purchase, and so by means of offering a
larger price than they at first dared to propose, they were able to
effect their passage.
After landing, Lambertsen and Grotius walked to Waalwyk, van der Veen
returning the same evening to Gorcum. It was four o'clock in the
afternoon when they reached Waalwyk, where a carriage was hired to convey
the fugitive to Antwerp. The friendly mason here took leave of his
illustrious journeyman, having first told the driver that his companion
was a disguised bankrupt fleeing from Holland into foreign territory to
avoid pursuit by his creditors. This would explain his slightly
concealing his face in passing through a crowd in any village.
Grotius proved so ignorant of the value of different coins in making
small payments on the road, that the honest waggoner, on being
occasionally asked who the odd-looking stranger was, answered that he was
a bankrupt, and no wonder, for he did not know one piece of money from
another. For, his part he thought him little better than a fool.
Such was the depreciatory opinion formed by the Waalwyk coachman as to
the "rising light of the world" and the "miracle of Holland." They
travelled all night and, arriving on the morning of the 21st within a few
leagues of Antwerp, met a patrol of soldiers, who asked Grotius for his
passport. He enquired in whose service they were, and was told in that
of "Red Rod," as the chief bailiff of Antwerp was called. That
functionary happened to be near, and the traveller approaching him said
that his passport was on his feet, and forthwith told him his name and
Red Rod treated him at once with perfect courtesy, offered him a horse
for himself with a mounted escort, and so furthered his immediate
entrance to Antwerp. Grotius rode straight to the house of a banished
friend of his, the preacher Grevinkhoven. He was told by the daughter of
that clergyman that her father was upstairs ministering at the bedside of
his sick wife. But so soon as the traveller had sent up his name, both
the preacher and the invalid came rushing downstairs to fall upon the
neck of one who seemed as if risen from the dead.
The news spread, and Episcopius and other exiled friends soon thronged to
the house of Grevinkhoven, where they all dined together in great glee,
Grotius, still in his journeyman's clothes, narrating the particulars of
his wonderful escape.
He had no intention of tarrying in his resting-place at Antwerp longer
than was absolutely necessary. Intimations were covertly made to him
that a brilliant destiny might be in store for him should he consent to
enter the service of the Archdukes, nor were there waning rumours,
circulated as a matter of course by his host of enemies, that he was
about to become a renegade to country and religion. There was as much
truth in the slanders as in the rest of the calumnies of which he had
been the victim during his career. He placed on record a proof of his
loyal devotion to his country in the letters which he wrote from Antwerp
within a week of his arrival there. With his subsequent history, his
appearance and long residence at the French court as ambassador of
Sweden, his memorable labours in history, diplomacy, poetry, theology,
the present narrative is not concerned. Driven from the service of his
Fatherland, of which his name to all time is one of the proudest
garlands, he continued to be a benefactor not only to her but to all
mankind. If refutation is sought of the charge that republics are
ungrateful, it will certainly not be found in the history of Hugo Grotius
or John of Barneveld.
Nor is there need to portray the wrath of Captain Deventer when he
returned to Castle Loevestein.
"Here is the cage, but your bird is flown," said corpulent Maria Grotius
with a placid smile. The Commandant solaced himself by uttering
imprecations on her, on her husband, and on Elsje van Houwening. But
these curses could not bring back the fugitive. He flew to Gorcum to
browbeat the Daatselaers and to search the famous trunk. He found in it
the big New Testament and some skeins of thread, together with an octavo
or two of theology and of Greek tragedies; but the Arminian was not in
it, and was gone from the custody of the valiant Deventer for ever.
After a brief period Madame de Groot was released and rejoined her
husband. Elsje van Houwening, true heroine of the adventure, was
subsequently married to the faithful servant of Grotius, who during the
two years' imprisonment had been taught Latin and the rudiments of law by
his master, so that he subsequently rose to be a thriving and respectable
advocate at the tribunals of Holland.
The Stadholder, when informed of the escape of the prisoner, observed,
"I always thought the black pig was deceiving me," making not very
complimentary allusion to the complexion and size of the lady who had
thus aided the escape of her husband.
He is also reported as saying that it "is no wonder they could not keep
Grotius in prison, as he has more wit than all his judges put together."
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