Johan de Witt was the grand pensionary of the province of Holland in 1653. This was a stadholderless period in the Republic because Prince William III was still a minor. The accomplished Johan emerged as the actual leader of the civil government, over which the States General, rather than the stadholder, held sway.
This led to considerable tension. One of De Witt’s early successes was in pitting the Republic’s enemies, England and France, against one another. Nevertheless, these two superpowers invaded invaded the Netherlands in 1672. The cry for a stadholder – the prince of Orange was by then of age – gained urgency, which De Witt, understandably, opposed fiercely.
The States General appointed Johan’s brother Cornelis a deputy in the armed forces. In this capacity he took part in the naval battle against England in 1667. Cornelis was accused of conspiring against the prince of Orange in 1672. Although there was little evidence to this effect, he was nevertheless convicted and imprisoned. When Johan came to visit Cornelis, an angry mob gathered outside. The brothers were dragged out of the prison and horribly lynched.