1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/John Maurice of Nassau

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JOHN[1] MAURICE OF NASSAU (1604-1679), surnamed the Brazilian, was the son of John the Younger, count of Nassau-Siegen-Dillenburg, and the grandson of John, the elder brother of William the Silent and the chief author of the Union of Utrecht. He distinguished himself in the campaigns of his cousin, the stadtholder Frederick Henry of Orange, and was by him recommended to the directors of the Dutch West India company in 1636 to be governor-general of the new dominion in Brazil recently conquered by the company. He landed at the Recife, the port of Pernambuco, and the chief stronghold of the Dutch, in January 1637. By a series of successful expeditions he gradually extended the Dutch possessions from Sergipe on the south to S. Luis de Maranham in the north. He likewise conquered the Portuguese possessions of St George del Mina and St Thomas on the west coast of Africa. With the assistance of the famous architect, Pieter Post of Haarlem, he transformed the Recife by building a new town adorned with splendid public edifices and gardens, which was called after his name Mauritstad. By his statesmanlike policy he brought the colony into a most flourishing condition and succeeded even in reconciling the Portuguese settlers to submit quietly to Dutch rule. His large schemes and lavish expenditure alarmed however the parsimonious directors of the West India company, but John Maurice refused to retain his post unless he was given a free hand, and he returned to Europe in July 1644. He was shortly afterwards appointed by Frederick Henry to the command of the cavalry in the States army, and he took part in the campaigns of 1645 and 1646. When the war was ended by the peace of Münster in January 1648, he accepted from the elector of Brandenburg the post of governor of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg, and later also of Minden. His success in the Rhineland was as great as it had been in Brazil, and he proved himself a most able and wise ruler. At the end of 1652 he was appointed head of the order of St John and made a prince of the Empire. In 1664 he came back to Holland; when the war broke out with England supported by an invasion from the bishop of Münster, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Dutch forces on land. Though hampered in his command by the restrictions of the states-general, he repelled the invasion, and the bishop, Christoph von Galen, was forced to conclude peace. His campaigning was not yet at an end, for in 1673 he was appointed by the stadtholder William III. to command the forces in Friesland and Groningen, and to defend the eastern frontier of the Provinces. In 1675 his health compelled him to give up active military service, and he spent his last years in his beloved Cleves, where he died on the 20th of December 1679. The house which he built at the Hague, named after him the Maurits-huis, now contains the splendid collections of pictures so well known to all admirers of Dutch art.

Bibliography. — Caspar Barlaeus, Rerum per octennium in Brasilia et alibi nuper gestarum historia, sub praefectura illustrissimi comitis J. Mauritii Nassoviae (Amsterdam, 1647); L. Driessen, Leben des Fürsten Johann Moritz von Nassau (Berlin, 1849); D. Veegens, Leven van Joan Maurits, Graaf van Nassau-Siegen (Haarlem, 1840).


  1. This name is usually written Joan, the form used by the man himself in his signature — see the facsimile in Netscher's Les Hollandais en Brésil.