Freedom of the Seas

About this Collection

The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius wrote a defence of the freedom of the seas, Mare Liberum, in 1609. According to the editor of the Liberty fund edition of this work:

By publishing Mare Liberum, he was displaying the literary, rhetorical, and philosophical talents that had won him his burgeoning fame and respect, and he was also intervening in two political debates of pivotal significance for his own country. The first was the relationship between the United Provinces and the Spanish monarchy, from which the Dutch had broken away in 1581; the second was the Dutch right to commercial penetration in Southeast Asia. Although the arena of dispute was local, the implications of Mare Liberums arguments were global. The book was taken by the English and the Scots as an assault on their fishing rights in the North Sea (see Welwod’s critique) and by the Spanish as an attack on the foundations of their overseas empire. It had implications no less for coastal waters than it did for the high seas, for the West Indies as much as for the East Indies, and for intra-European disputes as well as for relations between the European powers and extra-European peoples.

Key People

Titles & Essays

Group by Category
The Free Sea (Hakluyt trans.)

Hugo Grotius (author)

Grotius’s influential argument in favor of freedom of navigation, trade, and fishing in Richard Hakluyt’s translation. The book also contains William Welwod’s critque and Grotius’s reply to Welwod.

The Freedom of the Seas (Latin and English version, Magoffin trans.)

Hugo Grotius (author)

This edition of Grotius’ defense of the right of all nations (especially the Dutch) to use the international sea lanes for trade, was published during World War One by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of their…