On this day May 13, 1619

Dutch statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt who played an important role in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain was executed in The Hague after having been accused of treason.

Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

He was a Calvinist, so he supported William the Silent in his revolt against Spain, and fought in William’s army.

On 20 February 1619, Oldenbarnevelt was arraigned before a special court of twenty-four members, only half of whom were Hollanders, and nearly all his personal enemies.

This ad hoc judicial commission was necessary, because (unlike the individual provinces) the federal government did not have a judicial branch.

Normally the accused would have been brought before the Hof van Holland or the Hoge Raad van Holland en Zeeland (the highest courts in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland), but in this case the alleged crime was against the Generaliteit, or federal government, and this required the States-General to act as highest court in the land.

As was customary in similar cases (for instance the later trial of the judges in the case of the Amboyna massacre), the trial was delegated to a commission. Of course, the accused contested the competence of the court, as they contested the residual sovereignty of the States-General, but their protest was disregarded.

It was in fact a kangaroo court, and the stacked bench of judges on Sunday, 12 May 1619, pronounced a sentence of death on Oldenbarnevelt. On the following day the old statesman, at the age of seventy-one, was beheaded in the Binnenhof in The Hague.

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