The bodies of the The Witt Brothers. Painting by J. IJver, ca 1672-1702. Property of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

The assassination of the The Witt Brothers

On August 20th 1672, Johan de Witt went to the Prison Gate in The Hague to collect his brother. Outside, an angry mob demanding the life of the De Witt brothers had gathered. The cavalry withdrew by higher order, allowing the mob to gain access to the prison, drag out the brothers, and brutally murder them on the spot. The bodies were undressed, hung upside down, emasculated, and partly eaten. Their hearts were cut out and put on display.

Cornelis was under a ban, although he had been acquitted of an attempt at murdering the Prince of Orange.

Johan de Witt (1625 – 1672) was a Dutch statesman. As the Grand Pensionary of Holland, he was the most influential politician at the time. The unprecedented wealth of the Republic caused conflicts with France and Britain. A coalition of French, German, and English forces invaded the country in 1672 and the French were rapidly gaining ground. Dutch citizens furiously turned against Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis.

The French writer Alexandre Dumas, well-known for his ‘The Three Musketeers’ and his ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ used these events as a basis for his novel ‘The Black Tulip’, which contains the charming love story of a tulip-growing hobbyist and a jailer’s daughter.

The Prince of Orange is portrayed as the evil genius behind the assassination of the brothers as well as the wise ruler who does justice to a tulip lover.

The Dutch are portrayed as people who are extremely fond of tulips, celebrations, and dancing.

The book appeared in a new English translation in 2003, with an introduction and notes by Robin Buss.


Alexandre Dumas



Haarlem, Gorkum, Dordrecht, The Hague



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