Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (September 14, 1547 — May 13, 1619) was a Dutch statesman who played an important role in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain. Born in Amersfoort, Van Oldenbarnevelt studied law at several universities throughout Europe before settling in Roderdam. Although just a moderate Calvinist, he supported William the Silent in his revolt against Spain and fought in his army. He was a fierce opponent of the policies of the Earl of Leicester, the governor-general at the time, and instead favored Maurice of Nassau, a son of William. Leicester left in 1587, leaving the military power in the Netherlands to Maurice.
In 1586, Van Oldenbarnevelt was made Land’s Advocate of the province of Holland, an office he held for 32 years. Holland being the most important province of the Dutch Republic, and Van Oldenbarnevelt being a very able politician, he became one of the most powerful men in the country.
On April 9, 1609, Van Oldenbarnevelt managed to negotiate a truce with Spain, much against the will of his former protege Maurice, even though the deal was favorable to the Netherlands. The relationship between the two became worse when they ended up in opposing camps in an ongoing religious conflict in the Netherlands. Van Oldenbarnevelt supported the more libertine Arminians (or Remonstrants), while Maurice gave his support to the strict Calvinist Gomarists (or Contra-Remonstrants). When Van Oldenbarnevelt proposed several measures that de facto called for independence of the province of Holland from the rest of the Republic, Maurice intervened, and Van Oldenbarnevelt was arrested on August 23, 1618 on accusation of treason.
A show trial followed in which no real evidence was presented and in which several judges were known political enemies of Van Oldenbarnevelt. He was sentenced to death and was executed at the Binnenhof in The Hague.
You can find additional information regarding the life of Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt from the following books:
- Oldenbarnevelt by Jan den Tex (1973)
- Maurice et Barnevelt by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1875)
- The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland (See below.) by John Lothrop Motley (1874)
Jan den Tex’s book is considered the authoritative biography on Oldenbarnevelt. Guilliame Groen was the Archivist for King William I of the Netherlands. The king conferred upon Groen the title "van Prinsterer" or "of the king." Motley acknowledges his indebtedness to Groen’s Archives in the preface to his Rise of the Dutch Republic. Although John Motley was a noted historian of his time, scholars find his account of Oldenbarnevelt’s life biased. Guilluame Groen wrote his book as a criticism of Motley’s book. Scholars make the same complaint of Maurice et Barnevelt claiming it is biased toward Maurice of Nassau. The den Tex book has been translated into English. The Groen book is written in French.