Prime Minister for Dinner Anyone?

Johan de Witt was Grand Pensionary of Holland, an office with powers similar to that of a Prime Minister cum Foreign Secretary combined. He led the country during the first stadtholder-less time from 1650 to 1672 when Republicans saw their chance to get more power for themselves personally at the expense of the House of Orange.





Johan was born in 1625 in Dordrecht into the locally influential de Witt family. The family had once been very powerful on a national scale; but its influence had waned and by that time power lay with the de Graeff family in Amsterdam. Johan was able to overcome this minor obstacle by actively pursuing marriage into the de Graeff clan.



In 1650, he became the leading deputy for Dordrecht in the States of Holland. This brought him to the right place at the right time when the young stadtholder William II of Orange suddenly died that same year. In 1653, the combined power of the Dordrecht families and the de Graeff clan made him Grand Pensionary of Holland and by dint of power distribution between the provinces in fact Prime Minister of the United Provinces of the Netherlands of which Holland was by far the most powerful.




In this position, he was concluding a peace treaty with England (Treaty of Westminster of 1654) which included the proviso that the provinces would not allow William III of Orange to become stadtholder. This addendum was instigated by Oliver Cromwell who wanted to have the toddler son of William II as a grandson of Charles I kept out of any even nominal power base. To consolidate his own power, de Witt did everything anyhow to keep all members of the House of Orange out of public offices.




He was also leading the negotiations of a peace treaty with England in 1667 (Treaty of Breda) with favorable terms for the provinces. His term in office was greatly helped by economic growth through trade from the colonies. With money flowing into the provinces and military and naval successes at his back, he made his final move in 1667 to oust the House of Orange permanently from power by abolishing the office of stadtholder.




The whole thing fell apart on him in 1672 in what would become known as the rampjaar (year of disaster). First England and then France declared war on the Netherlands. As if this was not enough, the bishops of Munster and Cologne invaded the Netherlands from the east. Virtually locked in, the frightened population turned to William III of Orange to get them out of trouble. Johan de Witt had to resign and William was appointed stadtholder, the one thing de Witt had tried to prevent.




Johan’s older brother Cornelis de Witt was apprehended and imprisoned on charge of planning to assassinate William III. A fake letter called Johan to the prison in The Hague where Cornelis was being held. After he had entered the building, the prison guards miraculously disappeared and an angry mob of citizens entered instead.




The brothers were dragged from the prison and quite literally dismembered. The hearts of both of them were on display in a jeweler's shop for years; and it seems that parts of them were eaten by the mob. The recipe on how to properly serve Prime Minister for dinner has not survived, though, probably because all politicians leave a bad taste in your mouth and are definitely toxic.

Further reading
How to Dress Your Concubine for Dinner
The Elect Circle of Elected Monarchs on Europe's Thrones
How Many Monarchies Exist in Europe?