Diary describing beheaded statesman's last months resurfaces after 200 years

Statue of Johan van Oldebarnevelt, Lange Vijverberg, The Hague
Statue of Johan van Oldebarnevelt, Lange Vijverberg, The HaguePhoto: Oswald Wenckebach / Wikimedia Commons

The diary describing the last months of the life of statesman Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, who was executed in 1619, resurfaced after being lost for nearly two centuries. The handwritten book was discovered a few months ago by an antique bookshop in the estate of a deceased person. From today, the 400th anniversary of Van Oldenbarnevelt's death, the diary will be exhibited in the Flehite museum in his birthplace Amersfoort, NOS reports.

"It was hidden in a thicker book. While browsing, the antiquarian bookstore came across the diary. So that is special", Paul Baltus, who oversees the foundation that covers the museum, said to NOS. It is not clear whether the owner of the diary knew what he had in his possession. "It is also unknown where it has been since 1825, when it was last seen. The diary surfaced in the east of the country, so it probably made some wanderings."

Onno Maurer, director of the Flehite Museum, is pleased that this "document with great historical value" is back in the public eye again.

Van Oldenbarnevelt played a major role as a statesman in the struggle against the Spaniards and the building of the Republic. He also initiated the founding of the VOC. After a period of close cooperation between him and Prince Maurits, the prince increasingly turned against the influential Van Oldenbarnevelt. In 1618, Maurits ordered Van Oldenbarnevelt's arrest, accusing him of high treason. He was beheaded after a political trial eight months later, on 13 May 1619. 

Jan Francken, Van Oldenbarnevelt's room servant, recorded the last months of the statesman's life in this diary that has now been found. The second part of the diary was written by someone else, signed D.V.K. Who this person is, is unknown.

The Francken diary, which is primarily a report of the lawsuit against Van Oldenbarnevelt, was first published in print in the early 17th century. The original was once again studied by a pastor early in the 19th century, after which it disappeared into private bookcases for almost 200 years. In addition to the diary, the executioner's sword with which Van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded is also on display in the Amersfoort museum.

What happened to Van Oldenbarnevelt's body after his execution is unclear. There is speculation that his remains were placed in the crypt under the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, on the Binnenhof.