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The Anglo-Dutch Context for the Writing and Reception of Hugo Grotius’s De Imperio Summarum Potestatum Circa Sacra, 1617-1659

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As an illustration of the complexity of Anglo-Dutch intellectual connections in the seventeenth century, this essay focuses on the transnational context for the writing and reception of Grotius’s De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra. DI was composed by Grotius during the dispute between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants, but it was addressed not solely to a Dutch audience, but also to an English one. DI was intended by Grotius and by his patron Oldenbarnevelt to win the favour of James I to the cause of the Remonstrants in the context of their struggle against the orthodox Calvinists, the Contra-Remonstrants. Grotius praised the control of James I over the state church, and expressed his admiration for the hierarchical organisation of Anglican episcopacy. In doing so, he expressly took the English civil and ecclesiastical government of James I as a blueprint for the solution of the Dutch religious troubles. This article argues that despite of Grotius’s attempt to gain the approval of James I’s entourage before sending DI to press, DI was criticized both by his English interlocutors and, consistently throughout the century, by English Anglican-Royalist readers. The first part of this article will sketch the Anglo-Dutch cultural and political context which formed the background of DI. Secondly, it will examine the English sources of this work and how Grotius bent them to his and Oldenbarnevelt’s internal and foreign policy. Finally, it will offer some brief considerations concerning the controversial reception of DI in mid-seventeenth century England with a special focus on the Anglican tradition.

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