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Online Exhibition - Grotius, a Life Between Freedom and Oppression

In 2021, it is exactly 400 years since Hugo Grotius mounted his daring escape from Loevestein Castle, hidden in his book chest. Although his escape is a widely known event, especially in the Netherlands, the man behind the story and the reasons behind his imprisonment are often overlooked. In this small online exhibition, nine students from Leiden University College The Hague introduce the general public to the person Hugo Grotius through a selection of books, prints, maps and letters from the Leiden University Libraries’ (UBL) Special Collections.

Hugo Grotius and the tolerant Republic

Although the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic is often lauded for its religious tolerance and diversity, this tolerance was hardly a matter of course. Many in the Dutch Republic struggled for the privilege to practice their faith, a privilege that was often challenged and regularly proved to be insecure. Hugo Grotius was one key player in this struggle, by providing the theoretical and practical framework for a tolerant society where religious co-existence was the norm. His continuous defence of his theories in support of tolerance and refusal to stop his advocacy eventually cost him his freedom.

A life between Freedom and Oppression

Grotius – A life between Freedom and Oppression tells the story of Hugo Grotius’ life in four parts, starting with his time as a student in Leiden, before moving on to his life as an advocate in The Hague. The third chapter deals with his trial, the resulting life-sentence he was to serve in Loevestein Castle and what preceded his daring escape from this luxury prison. Grotius’ exile in Paris, subject of part four of the exhibition, is one of the most overlooked parts of Grotius’ life. Using correspondence held at the Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections, the exhibition shows Grotius’ continued dedication to the creation of a truly tolerant way of life in the Dutch Republic. Jacqueline Hylkema also joined us at the UBLpodcast to talk about Grotius' escape from Loevestein Castle. Listen to the UBLpodcast here.

Online exhibitions

The UBL occasionally creates online exhibitions featuring treasures from the Leiden Special Collections. With digitised collections spanning centuries of human development on six continents in dozens of media, from photography and printed books to manuscripts and personal archives, stories are richly illustrated using original source materials. Take a look at our other online exhibitions.

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