Johan van Olden Barneveldt was a statesman who played an important role in the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain. His name is also associated – at least, according to British accounts – with a nation’s lack of gratitude for those who devote their lives to its service.

(The English have frequently displayed an antipathy toward the Dutch which has manifested itself in the language. A Dutch uncle is the opposite of a kindly relative; Dutch courage is a synonym for drunkenness; a Dutch treat is a demonstration of stinginess.)

As Land’s Advocate for the States of Holland, an office he held for 32 years, Olden Barneveldt was the chief civil officer with tremendous influence in a republic without any central executive authority. And it was Olden Barneveldt who obtained for his country a footing among the powers of Europe, gaining peace and prosperity, freeing it from debt. He restored Dutch integrity by gaining back towns which had been surrendered to England as collateral for a loan and gained recognition of Dutch independence from Spain.

The country owed nearly everything to this capable and upright administrator. Yet he had enemies. One Prince Maurice of Orange, head of the military forces, along with other military and naval leaders and the Calvinist clergy, were opposed to the peace with Spain, contending that the Spanish king was merely seeking time to recuperate his strength for a renewed attack against Dutch independence.

This coalition against Olden Barneveldt proved to be overwhelming as well as nefarious. In 1619, he was arraigned before a special court of 24 members, only half of whom were Hollanders, and nearly all of whom were his personal enemies. In a mockery of justice, this kangaroo court ( a phrase showing English antipathy toward Australians?) condemned him to death, a sentence which was promptly carried out the following day, May 13, 1619, when the 72-year-old statesman was executed at the Hague.

All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable. ― Fran Lebowitz

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