Freedom of the Seas

Readers of ths blog may be interested in the new Exhibition in the Rare Books Department of the Yale Law School Library. This is devoted to Freedom of the Seas, focusing around the publication of Mare Liberum on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, some four hundred years ago. For those who cannot visit, pictures of the exhibits will be displayed on the Yale Law Library, Rare Books Blog (which can in general be recommended as excellent).

Selden famously replied to Grotius with Mare Clausum; less well known is the response of the Scotsman, and sometime Professor of Law at St Andrews University, William Welwood. Welwood, who had studied at St Andrews and Wittenberg, replied in his Abridgement of All Sea-Lawes of 1613 and later in De dominio maris (1615). It is interesting to note that Welwood's critique was the only one to which Grotius in fact composed a reply. Some of Welwood's arguments were adopted by Grotius when he came to write De iure belli ac pacis (1625), in which he now agreed with Welwood that territorial waters could be possessed.

For the Scots, one of the continuing anxieties about Grotius' arguments was protection of the herring fisheries off the shores of Scotland from Dutch fishermen. These were of enormous economic importance to Scotland, and this anxiety was often reflected in the Scottish records from the middle ages onwards.


See also Hugo Grotius, The Free Sea, ed. by David Armitage, Liberty Fund, 2004, available online at