GORINCHEM - Hugo Grotius, political prisoner and lawyer, has escaped from the State prison Loevestein. According to those involved, he escaped, by hiding in a bookcase. He is still a fugitive. The advisor to the city of Rotterdam was sentenced to life imprisonment.

During the truce with Spain broke in the Netherlands, a major political row between severe and moderate Protestants. several politicians, including De Groot, among moderates. As political leader Van Barneveld, he called for a stable peace with Spain, but that was against the wishes of governor Maurits.

After the synod of Dordrecht was decided that the moderate position "reprehensible" and that the adherents must be tackled. Van Barneveld was a college 24 Judges sentenced to death. Grotius was sentenced to life.


After De Groot had spent a year in a Hague cell, he was transferred two years ago to prison Loevestein. He was allowed to keep studying there. He was joined by his wife Maria van Reigersberg and maid Elsie.

Because study and was permitted to write books, De Groot was regularly sent a box of books. Which was picked up by soldiers with a family in Gorinchem and brought back. Initially, the coffin was always strictly controlled, but later relaxed the regime.

It would have been the wife of Hugo Grotius, who came up with the idea to hide her husband in the bookcase. The plan would also practiced several times. He trained to be quiet and silently lying in the coffin. Such exercise lasted about two hours, corresponding to the crossing to Gorinchem.

Time to put the plan into effect it began to penetrate, since the end of the peace agreement with Spain came. then any escape routes would be less secure.

On the way

The escape attempt was - probably not coincidentally - the Fair of Gorinchem. therefore the staffing of the prison was not complete and the town was very busy.

The bookcase was well stocked, but the books were the wife and the maid of De Groot hiding in the bed. Against the guards said Grotius was sick.

The prisoner was, dressed in only his underwear and silk stockings, crept into the coffin. The maid went with the soldiers back to Gorinchem to keep the box in the hole. Around half past nine the coffin aboard the ship was taken in the morning, it would bring to the other side. Eighteen hours later, the casket arrived at the family of De Groot.

Now the escape attempt was successful, De Groot stepped out of the box. He disguised himself as a bricklayer and then pulled through the crowded city to the south.

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The escape was discovered the same day. The wife of De Groot, who was left alone at Loevestein, forgot to light a candle in the night, as Grotius did every night. Guards became suspicious and went to size up. It that was not the sick lawyer, but was a pile of books in bed.

The authorities immediately sent riders south, to prevent De Groot would cross the border. Dutch troops may namely not come into Spanish territory.

Hoe ging het verder?

Hugo Grotius has managed to reach Antwerp. He traveled through Waalwijk, Baarle-Hertog (België, therefore safe) to Antwerp. The riders were looking for Grotius arrived around midnight at Waalwijk, but when Grotius was left for hours.

From Antwerp travels to Paris De Groot. He makes a request to the States of Holland to his wife and children also to leave for France. That request is granted, provided that De Groot never returns to Netherlands.

After the death of Prince Maurits De Groot will return to Rotterdam, in the hope he can settle in the city. Include Mayor van Berkel and poet P. C. Hooft did in Prince Frederick Henry attempted to regulate amnesty, but that did not. This is partly because Grotius was convinced that he had done nothing. Therefore he refused himself to make a request. A new arrest warrant was subsequently issued.

De Groot returned to Paris. He was a Swedish envoy, with the task to obtain French support for the Swedish battle in Germany. Ten years later, he was called as a special adviser to Stockholm.

In 1645 he dies. Ironically, he is buried in the New Church a few meters from Prince Maurits.

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For the above story are a few terms translated into a (kind) Current position: Van Barneveld was pensionary, something that came very close to the Prime Minister (premier) from The Netherlands. Hugo de Groot was pensioner Rotterdam, a top advisor species or important official.


What happened to the bookcase is not clear. The brother of Hugo Grotius, Willem, lost it at one point.

In recent centuries have certainly been eight or nine boxes that would be 'your coffin'. But in all cases it is not the case.

Delft is a casket exhibited in the Prinsenhof, but that is certainly not. The same applies to cases in Loevestein Castle and the National Museum. Where the real coffin, s of which he ever nog is, remains a mystery.


Wikipedia – Hugo Grotius

Wikipedia – Escape of Hugo Grotius

Loevestein – Hugo Grotius

is Gescheidenis – Hugo de Groot escaped from Loevestein

“The case of Hugo de Groot is still” – TVNZ, 2 mei 2003

Text: Dave Datema

published: 01 oktober 2017

story number: 43