An Incident at Lyon
During the ancien regime, it was the custom of the City Fathers of Lyon that whenever the general in command of the French “Army of Italy” passed through the town, he would be presented with a purse full of gold coins. Thus, when Marshal Claude Louis Hector de Villars (1653-1734) passed through Lyon in 1734, he was invited to a little public ceremony during which the chief magistrate presented him with the aforesaid purse. As he handed the heavy purse to Villars, the mayor observed that the great Marshal-General Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, the Vicomte de Turenne (1611-1675), had several times commanded the Army of Italy, and upon being present the traditional purse of gold had always kept the purse, but returned the gold.
Upon hearing this, Villars smiled broadly, and replied “Ah, I have always looked upon Turenne as being inimitable,” and promptly pocketed both purse and gold.
Note: Villars also failed to imitate Turenne in another fashion, for he died in his bed – in fact the very same bed in which he had been born – whereas Turenne met his end as a result of an unfortunate encounter between his head and a cannon ball.
How Principles led to Principles
On February 25, 1603, a Dutch East Indiaman captured a Portuguese vessel, a perfectly legal proceeding at the time, given that the Netherlands were in revolt against Spain, which happened also to own Portugal. But a surprising legal problem arose when the Dutch vessel returned home. It seems that some of the Dutch East Indian Company’s shareholders were Mennonites, and thus pacifists, and flatly refused to benefit from the proceeds of an act of war. Worse, the peace-loving burghers proposed to pull out of the East India Company and organize one of their own, which would not indulge in warlike pursuits.
Afraid that the proposed new company would cut into their profits, the less peacefully-inclined shareholders decided to take action to establish firmly the legitimacy of prize taking in both law and public opinion. Casting about for a legal expert, they settled upon the youthful, but brilliant Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), then serving as official historian for the Dutch Republic..
In 1605 Grotius produced De jure praedae, which may be loosely translated as “The Law of Loot”, a profoundly learned work that traced the history of prize from Biblical and Classical times through the medieval Mediterranean maritime codes, to contemporary Western European usage. Grotius’ work formed the foundation of his subsequent life-long effort to codify international law, leading ultimately to his monumental De jure belli ac pacis – The Law of War and Peace (1625), which established him as “the Mozart of International law.