During the Twelve Year Truce, a bitter conflict erupted between Stadholder Maurice and Grand Pensionary Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. It was a religious matter, with the link between church and state at the heart of the debate. A political coup by the stadholder was followed by a theological triumph at a national synod of the Dutch Church at Dordrecht. In 1621, the struggle with Spain resumed.


1609-1617 Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants

The Scales, cartoon commenting on the victory of the Counter-Remonstrants. Salomon Savery and Joost van den Vondel, 1618

The Arminian wagon, cartoon commenting on the Arminians. Netherlands, 1618

Before and during the truce with Spain (1609-1621), debate raged about whether to end the war. Hardly surprisingly, Maurice, who commanded the army, wanted to continue fighting. Another dispute raised tensions further. Because religion and politics were so closely interwoven, a theological conflict about predestination between two clerics, Jacobus Arminius and Franciscus Gomarus, spiralled into a national conflict. Apart from doctrine, the opposing parties also differed on the method of appointing clergy: should church councils make appointments or should municipal councils? Maurice and the Amsterdam authority supported the followers of the orthodox Gomarus (Counter-Remonstrants), while the States of Holland and Van Oldenbarnevelt backed the more tolerant Arminius (Remonstrants). In 1617, the conflict escalated. Maurice paid a public visit to the Counter-Remonstrant Klooster church in The Hague and Van Oldenbarnevelt was accused of accepting a bribe from Spain.

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1617-1619 Maurice’s coup

Satire on the trial of Johan van Oldenbarneveldt. Cornelis Saftleven, 1663

Van Oldenbarnevelt and the States of Holland raised the tension even further in August 1617. They decided that municipal authorities would henceforth be able to hire mercenaries to suppress riots against Remonstrants. He no longer trusted the Republic’s own army which was after all commanded by Maurice. The stadholder looked for support from the provinces and received a mandate to purge municipal councils of pro-Holland and Remonstrant elements. In 1618, he ordered Van Oldenbarnevelt and his entourage arrested. The theological dispute was settled at a national synod at which the Counter-Remonstrants emerged victorious. For the grand pensionary, his prospects looked weak: a special court was convened and he was sentenced to death for treason.


1619-1625 ‘Make it quick’

Van Oldenbarnevelt’s walkingstick. Netherlands, c. 1600-1625

Sword with which Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded. Netherlands, c. 1600-1625

Execution of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Claes Jansz. Visscher II, 1619

Book chest of Hugo de Groot. Netherlands, c. 1600-1615

On 13 May 1619, a day after sentence was pronounced, Van Oldenbarnevelt was executed on the square outside Ridderzaal in The Hague. Leaning on his stick, the 71-year-old walked onto the scaffold. “Make it quick,” were the grand pensionary’s last words. His death met with indignation at home and abroad. Van Oldenbarnevelt’s associates also received severe sentences: they were incarcerated for life at Loevestein castle, the state prison.

Shortly before the truce with Spain ended in 1621, the eminent jurist Hugo de Groot (Grotius) managed to escape in a book chest. From Antwerp he went on to Paris, where he continued to publish and later served as Swedish ambassador. When war with Spain resumed, Maurice failed to live up to his previous reputation as a general. Indeed, shortly after Maurice’s death in 1625, the Spanish general Spinola even recaptured the town of Breda, the prince’s personal possession.