Cornelis de Witt

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Cornelis de Witt
Cornelis de Witt as victor during the 2nd War with the English, c. 1669, by Jan de Baen
Cornelis de Witt

(1623-06-15)15 June 1623
Died20 August 1672(1672-08-20) (aged 49)
Other namesCornelius de Witt
Occupation(s)Regent / Mayor, Governor and Landlord
Political partyStates Faction
SpouseMaria van Berckel
RelativesJohan de Witt (brother)
Andries de Witt (uncle)

Cornelis de Witt (pronunciation; 15 June 1623 – 20 August 1672) was a Dutch politician and naval commander of the Golden Age. During the First Stadtholderless Period De Witt was an influential member of the Dutch States Party, and was in opposition to the House of Orange. In the Rampjaar of 1672 he was lynched together with his brother Johan de Witt by a crowd incited by Orange partisans.


De Witt family[edit]

Family coat of arms[1][2]

Cornelis de Witt was a member of the old Dutch patrician family De Witt. His father was Jacob de Witt, an influential regent and burgher from the patrician class in the city of Dordrecht, which in the 17th century was one of the most important cities of the dominating province of Holland. De Witt's mother was Anna van den Corput (1599–1645), niece of Johannes Corputius, an influential Dutch military leader and cartographer.[3] His younger brother Johan de Witt was Grand Pensionary of Holland from 1653 to 1672. His uncle Andries de Witt previously held the position of Grand Pensionary between 1619 and 1621. Through the marriage of one of his other uncles to Margaretha of Nassau, daughter of Anna Johanna of Nassau-Siegen, De Witt was a distant relative of the later Dutch governor and English King William III of Orange-Nassau.[4] Another relationship led him to the Tromps, Maarten and his son Cornelis Tromp, both admirals of the Netherlands.[5]

Political career[edit]

In 1648 Cornelis de Witt became a schepen (councillor) of Dordrecht.[6] He was afterwards appointed to the important post of ruwaard [nl], who combined the functions of chief of police and prosecuting attorney, of Putten[6] and bailiff of Beierland [nl].[7]

The apotheosis of Cornelis de Witt, with the raid on Chatham in the background. After Jan de Baen

De Witt associated himself closely with his younger brother, the Raadpensionaris of Holland ("Grand Pensionary") Johan de Witt, and supported him throughout his career with great ability and vigour.[7] Johan relied on his older brother for many matters of state. Johan is considered a strategist in their collaboration and Cornelis as a creative person.[8]

Cornelis de Witt was mayor of Dordrecht in 1666 and 1667,[6] and several times deputy of his city in the States of Holland. Between 1663–65 and 1669–71 De Witt was Committed Council of the Zuiderkwartier. In 1667 he was appointed curator of the Leiden University by the States of Holland. In 1665 the States General appointed him deputy in the field in the war with the Bishop of Munster. He acted in the same capacity in 1668, when troops were being gathered for the war between Spain and France.[6]

Cornelis de Witt at the Battle of Solebay

In 1667 De Witt was the deputy chosen by the States of Holland to accompany Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter in his famous raid on the Medway. Cornelis de Witt on this occasion distinguished himself greatly by his coolness and intrepidity. He again accompanied De Ruyter in 1672 and took an honorable part in the great battle of Solebay against the united English and French fleets. Compelled by illness to leave the fleet, he found on his return to Dordrecht that the Orange party were in the ascendant, and he and his brother were the objects of popular suspicion and hatred.[7]


He was arrested on false accusations of treason, but did not confess despite heavy torture and was ultimately unlawfully condemned to be banished.[6] He was assassinated by the same carefully organised lynch mob that killed his brother on the day he was to be released, victim of a conspiracy by the Orangists Johan Kievit and Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp. Both their bodies were mutilated and their remains were cannibalized. Their hearts were carved out to be exhibited as trophies. The scene was painted by Jan de Baen, the same painter who had twice painted his portrait, in The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers.[citation needed]


Cornelis de Witt married Maria van Berckel (1632–1706) in 1650. The couple had five children:[9]

  • Jacob de Witt (1653–1675). Six days after his father's murder, he set out on a journey to Germany, Geneva, Italy (where he received his doctorate in Padua in 1675) and Austria. He was unmarried and died in Vienna the same year, where he is buried.
  • Johan de Witt (1660–1681); he was enrolled at the University of Leiden
  • Anna de Witt (b. 1667)[citation needed]
  • Maria de Witt (b. 1669), married to Arend Muys van Holy, mayor of Dordrecht[10]
  • Wilhelmina de Witt (1671–1702). She married her first cousin (the son of Johan de Witt) Johan de Witt Jr. (1662–1701), secretary of Dordrecht

In popular culture[edit]

Historical-allegorical painting "De Gouden eeuw" about the De Graeff family of the Dutch Golden Age. The painting shows the protagonists around the Amsterdam regent Cornelis de Graeff (middle) and his relatives Johan de Witt (right), Cornelis de Witt (left) and Andries Bicker (second from left) as well as some events from this decade. (Painting by Matthias Laurenz Gräff, 2007)
  • Cornelis de Witt and his role in Dutch politics was depicted in the 2015 film Michiel de Ruyter.[11]
  • Both brothers play important roles in the novel The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas.[12]
  • In 2007, Austrian artist Matthias Laurenz Gräff, a distant descendant of the De Graeff-Bicker-De Witt family of the Dutch Golden Age used Jan de Baen's painting of Cornelis in his painting "De Gouden eeuw" (The Golden Age) as part of his Diploma series.[13]
  • In 2008, the famous acoustic comedy act, The Cover Girls, wrote a song based upon the famous commander, infamously titled, "Cornelius De Whitt".[14]


  1. ^ Rietstap, Johannes Baptist (1861). Armorial général, contenant la description des armoiries des familles nobles et patriciennes de l'Europe: précédé d'un dictionnaire des termes du blason. G. B. van Goor. p. 1135.
  2. ^ Bunel, Arnaud. "Héraldique européenne, Provinces-Unies et Royaume des Pays-Bas, Stadhouders et Souverains des Pays-Bas". Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  3. ^ Johann de Witt, p. 1, by N. Japikse, 2012 (German)
  4. ^ Herbert H. Rowen: John de Witt. Statesman of the "True Freedom." 1986, p. 47.
  5. ^ "Met onoprechte deelneming van neef Cornelis Tromp" (Dutch)
  6. ^ a b c d e Biography of Cornelis de Witt at DBNL (Dutch)
  7. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  8. ^ Serge ter Braake: De deductie van Johan de Witt, p. 10 (2009)
  9. ^ Biography of Cornelis de Witt at Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek. Deel 3 (1914) – P.J. Blok, P.C. Molhuysen
  10. ^ Biography of Cornelis de Witt, "Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden. Deel 20 (1877), by S.J. van der Aa
  11. ^ IMDb Der Admiral – Kampf um Europa (Originaltitel: Michiel de Ruyter)
  12. ^ The Black Tulip full text at Google Books
  13. ^ Matthias Laurenz Gräff, 15 Jahre Diplom-Jubiläum zum Akademischen Maler
  14. ^ The Black Tulip full text at Google Books

External links[edit]