• The Bodies of the De Wit Brothers

    Title The Bodies of the De Witt Brothers, Hanged at Groene Zoodje on Vijverberg in The Hague

    Artist Jan de Baen

    The 'Groene zoodje' on Vijverberg in The Hague, was, for a few days in August 1672, silent witness to this gruesome scene. Two naked bodies are hanging with their feet tied to the gallows. The belly of the body on the left has been ripped open. It is night time and the bodies are illuminated by a burning torch. These are the bodies of the De Witt brothers, Cornelius and Johan. Both played prominent roles in the Stadholderless Period (1651-1672). As the pensionary, Johan had been the most powerful statesman in the Republic for a long time. In the disaster year of 1672, their time was up, once and for all: Johan and Cornelius de Witt were lynched by a mob in The Hague.

    Johan De witt

    His pro-French policy however would prove to be his undoing. In the Dutch rampjaar (disaster year) of 1672, when France and England during the Franco-Dutch War (Third Anglo-Dutch War) attacked the Republic, the Orangists took power by force and expelled him. Recovering from an earlier attempt on his life in June, he was assassinated by a carefully organized lynch "mob" after visiting his brother Cornelis de Witt in prison. He was decoyed into this trap by a forged letter.

    After the arrival of Johan de Witt the city guard was sent away to stop plundering farmers, the farmers were not found. Without any protection against the assembled mob the brothers were doomed. They were taken out of the prison and on their way to the scaffold killed. Immediately after their death the bodies were mutilated and fingers toes and other parts were cut off. The heart of Cornelis de Witt was exhibited for many years next to his brother's by Dirck Verhoeff[citation needed].
    Nowadays most historians assume that his adversary and successor as leader of the government stadtholder William III of Orange was involved. At the very least he protected and rewarded the killers.

    Year c. 1672-1702


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