Why did the Peace Palace open its Doors on 28 August 1913?

By Dr. Martine J. van Ittersum, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee in Scotland

It will not have escaped the attention of Newsletter subscribers that the Peace Palace is celebrating its Centenary this year. The American-Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) provided most of the funds for the building that was to be the home of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, established by treaty at the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899.  In later years, the Peace Palace would also house the Permanent Court of International Justice and the Court of International Justice. Perhaps less commonly-known, both the building and its contents, the Library in particular, were also meant to be a shrine to the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), the person whom international lawyers regarded as their ‘founding father’ back then. Not coincidentally, the Peace Palace opened its doors on 28 August 1913, two-hundred-and-sixty-eight years to the day that Grotius had died in Rostock, Germany.  That same year, the Dutch publisher Martinus Nijhoff gifted 55 editions of Grotius’ De Jure Belli ac Pacis (first published in 1625) to the Peace Palace Library, which would become the nucleus of the PPL’s famous Grotiana collection (foto above). 

The first two Directors of the Peace Palace Library, Philipp Christiaan Molhuysen (1870-1944) and Jacob ter Meulen (1884-1962), were both Grotius specialists and devotees extraordinaire. Molhuysen produced a modern, critical edition of Grotius’ De Jure Belli ac Pacis in 1917. More importantly, he prepared the first two volume of the Briefwisseling, the modern edition of Grotius’ correspondence, comprising over 7,000 letters. With the help of P.J.J. Diermanse, his personal assistant, Ter Meulen compiled a bibliography of all known editions of Grotius’ printed works. First published in 1951, their bibliography –known as the TMD for short-- is still considered authoritative today. The present writer never travels without it! In collaboration with Brill Academic Publishers, the PPL will soon make the entire bibliography available on-line, along with digitized images of the various editions of Grotius’ printed works in its possession. Needless to say, this will become a tremendous research tool for legal historians.

Dr. Martine Julia van Ittersum has published widely on Grotius: a list of her publications may be found, here. She is currently researching the archive of Jacob ter Meulen at the Peace Palace Library, as part of a book-length project on the transmission and dispersal of Grotius’ manuscripts since the seventeenth century. She is the grateful recipient of a CRF European Visiting Research Fellowship, awarded by the Royal Society in Edinburgh in December 2012, which has made it possible for her to do archival research in The Netherlands in summer 2013. She would like to thank Jeroen Vervliet, Ingrid Kost and Kees de Man for supporting her research on Grotius and his Nachleben in so many ways!