Cornelis de Witt

Cornelis de Witt (About this soundpronunciation ) (15 June 1623 – 20 August 1672) was a Dutch politician.


Cornelis de Witt was a member of the old Dutch patrician family De Witt. He was born on June 15, 1623 in Dordrecht, Holland, Dutch Republic. He was the son of Jacob de Witt and the older brother of Johan.

In 1650 he became burgomaster of Dordrecht and member of the States of Holland and West Friesland. He was afterwards appointed to the important post of ruwaard [nl], who combined the functions of chief of police and prosecuting attorney, of Putten and bailiff of Beierland [nl].

The apotheosis of Cornelis de Witt, with the raid on Chatham in the background. After Jan de Baen

He associated himself closely with his younger brother, the Raadpensionaris of Holland ("Grand Pensionary") Johan de Witt, and supported him throughout his career with great ability and vigour. In 1667 he was the deputy chosen by the States of Holland to accompany Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter in his famous raid on the Medway. Cornelis de Witt on this occasion distinguished himself greatly by his coolness and intrepidity. He again accompanied De Ruyter in 1672 and took an honorable part in the great battle of Solebay against the united English and French fleets. Compelled by illness to leave the fleet, he found on his return to Dortrecht that the Orange party were in the ascendant, and he and his brother were the objects of popular suspicion and hatred. He was arrested on false accusations of treason, but did not confess despite heavy torture and was ultimately unlawfully condemned to be banished.

He was assassinated by the same carefully organised lynch mob that killed his brother on the day he was to be released, victim of a conspiracy by the Orangists Johan Kievit and Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp. Both their bodies were mutilated and their hearts were carved out to be exhibited as trophies. The scene was painted by Jan de Baen, the same painter who had twice painted his portrait, in The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers.

Cornelis de Witt was married to Maria van Berckel (1632–1706). The couple had one daughter, Wilhelmina de Witt (1671–1702). She married her first cousin (the son of Johan de Witt) Johan de Witt Jr. (1662–1701), secretary of Dordrecht.

In popular culture

Cornelis de Witt and his role in Dutch politics was depicted in the 2015 film Michiel de Ruyter.

Both brothers play important roles in the novel The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "De Witt, Cornelius". Encyclopædia Britannica. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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