At times, power is misunderstood and silenced. The game of power has always been strong with humans, even in the 1600s. 1600’s was the time when people started discovering and trading newer routes, opportunities and materials, countries opened up to each other, a superpower was yet to be recognised and many paid the price for the cause.

Talking of an (almost) forgotten figure in history – meet Johan de Witt, a republican and the head of the Dutch government from 1653 till shortly before he passed away. With the title of ‘raadpensionaris’ (commonly rendered as “grand pensionary” or “councillor pensionary”), he was the equivalent of a Prime Minister. 

Little remembered in the English-speaking world and even in the Netherlands, he was one of the greatest statesmen and diplomats of his time, building his league with a combined population of less than 2 million and turning it into a global economic power through efficient administration and tact.

Johan de Witt tried his best to fend off his two much larger neighbours, England and France but it all fell apart in 1672. 

The people wanted strong leadership from the young Prince of Orange: Willem III, later William III of England

“The House of Orange was the nearest the republic had to royalty while de Witt and his supporters – including many among the powerful merchant class – were republicans.”

France invaded and the frightened populace turned to William III of Orange for help and support, and suddenly de Witt became the bad guy. His brother Cornelis was framed for planning to kill the prince and put in prison.

On hearing that his brother was in prison Johan decided to go and meet his brother (bad, bad decision) and in the meantime, a crowd gathered outside the prison building demanding the imprisonment of Johan. At this point, the small contingent of soldiers guarding the prison left their posts. 

The mob, in a fit of rage, stormed into the prison with fury and butchered Johan and his brother Cornelis, and were later also reported to eat the bodies of the two brothers.

“There are accounts of some among the mob taking parts of the bodies, and eating them. One man is even said to have eaten an eyeball.”

Although the stories may have been exaggerated, people did often take ‘souvenirs’ of executions, such as those who dipped handkerchiefs in the blood of King Charles I.”