Constantijn Huygens

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Constantijn Huygens (1623) Constantijn Huygens01a.jpg
Constantijn Huygens (1623)

Sir Constantijn Huygens, Lord of Zuilichem (4 September 1596 28 March 1687), was a Dutch Golden Age poet and composer. He was secretary to two Princes of Orange: Frederick Henry and William II, and the father of the scientist Christiaan Huygens.

Dutch Golden Age history of the Netherlands 1575 to 1675

The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The first section is characterized by the Eighty Years' War, which ended in 1648. The Golden Age continued in peacetime during the Dutch Republic until the end of the century.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of Holland

Frederick Henry, or Frederik Hendrik in Dutch, was the sovereign Prince of Orange and stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel from 1625 to 1647.



Constantijn Huygens was born in The Hague, the second son of Christiaan Huygens (senior), secretary of the Council of State, [1] and Susanna Hoefnagel, niece of the Antwerp painter Joris Hoefnagel.

The Hague City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

The Hague is a city on the western coast of the Netherlands and the capital of the province of South Holland. It is also the seat of government of the Netherlands.

States General of the Netherlands legislature of the Netherlands

The States General of the Netherlands is the bicameral legislature of the Netherlands consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both chambers meet at the Binnenhof in The Hague.

Antwerp Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Antwerp is a city in Belgium, and is the capital of Antwerp province in Flanders. With a population of 520,504, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium, and with 1,200,000 the second largest metropolitan region after Brussels.


Constantijn was a gifted child in his youth. His brother Maurits and he were educated partly by their father and partly by carefully instructed governors. When he was five years old, Constantijn and his brother received their first musical education.

Music education

They started with singing lessons, and they learned their notes using gold-coloured buttons on their jackets. It is striking that Christiaan senior imparted the "modern" system of 7 note names to the boys, instead of the traditional, but much more complicated hexachord system. Two years later the first lessons on the viol started, followed by the lute and the harpsichord. Constantijn showed a particular acumen for the lute. At the age of eleven he was already asked to play for ensembles, and later — during his diplomatic travels — his lute playing was in demand; he was asked to play at the Danish Court and for James I of England, although they were not known for their musical abilities. In later years he also learnt the more modern guitar. In 1647 he published in Paris his Pathodia sacra et profana with his compositions of airs de cour in French, madrigals in Italian and Psalms in Latin.

In music, a hexachord is a six-note series, as exhibited in a scale or tone row. The term was adopted in this sense during the Middle Ages and adapted in the 20th century in Milton Babbitt's serial theory. The word is taken from the Greek: ἑξάχορδος, compounded from ἕξ and χορδή, and was also the term used in music theory up to the 18th century for the interval of a sixth.

Art instruction

They were also schooled in art through their parents art collection, but also their connection to the magnificent collection of paintings in the Antwerp house of diamond and jewellery dealer, Gaspar Duarte (1584–1653), who was a Portuguese Jewish exile.

Language lessons

Constantijn also had a talent for languages. He learned French, Latin and Greek, and at a later age Italian, German and English. He learned by practice, the modern way of learning techniques. Constantijn received education in maths, law and logic and he learned how to handle a pike and a musket.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

In 1614 Constantijn wrote his first Dutch poem, inspired by the French poet Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas, in which he praises rural life. In his early 20s, he fell in love with Dorothea, however their relationship did not last and Dorothea met someone else.

Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas French courtier and poet

Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas was a Gascon Huguenot courtier and poet. Trained as a doctor of law, he served in the court of Henri de Navarre for most of his career. Du Bartas was celebrated across sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe for his divine poetry, particularly L'Uranie (1584), Judit (1584), La Sepmaine; ou, Creation du monde (1578), and La Seconde Semaine (1584-1603).

In 1616, Maurits and Constantijn started studies at Leiden University. [1] Studying in Leiden was primarily seen as a way to build a social network. Shortly after, Maurits was called home to assist his father. Constantijn finished his studies in 1617 and returned home. [1] This was followed by six weeks of training with Antonis de Hubert, a lawyer in Zierikzee. De Hubert was committed to the study of language and writing, having held consultations with Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, Laurens Reael and Joost van den Vondel concerning language and orthography in 1623.

Early career

In the Spring of 1618 Constantijn found employment with Sir Dudley Carleton, the English envoy at the Court in The Hague. [1] In the summer, he stayed in London in the house of the Dutch ambassador, Noël de Caron. During his time in London his social circle widened and he also learned to speak English. In 1620, towards the end of the Twelve Years' Truce, he travelled as a secretary of ambassador François van Aerssen to Venice, to gain support against the threat of renewed war. He was the only member of the legation who could speak Italian. In January 1621 he traveled to England as the secretary of six envoys of the United Provinces with the object of persuading James I to support the German Protestant Union, returning in April of that year. In December 1621 he left with another delegation, this time with the aim of requesting support for the United Provinces, returning after a year and two months in February 1623. There was yet another trip to England in 1624.


He is often considered a member of what is known as the Muiderkring, a group of leading intellectuals gathered around the poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, who met regularly at the castle of Muiden near Amsterdam. In 1619 Constantijn came into contact with Anna Roemers Visscher and with Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft. Huygens exchanged many poems with Anna. In 1621 a poetic exchange with Hooft also starts. Both would always try to exceed the other. In October of that year Huygens sent Jacob Cats a large poem in Dutch, entitled 't Voorhout, about a woodland near the Hague. In December he started writing 't Kostelick Mal, a satirical treatment of the nonsense of the current vogue. In 1623 Huygens wrote his Printen, a description of several characteristics of people. This satirical, moralising work was one of the most difficult of Huygens' poems. In the same year Maria Tesselschade and Allard Crombalch were married. For this occasion verses were written by Huygens, Hooft and Vondel. During the festival, Constantijn flirted with Machteld of Camps. As a result of this he wrote the poem Vier en Vlam. In 1625 the work Otia, or Ledige Uren, was published. This work showcased his collected poems.

English knighthood and marriage

In 1622, when Constantijn stayed as a diplomat for more than one year in England, he was knighted by King James I. [1] This marked the end of Constantijn's formative years, and of his youth. Huygens was employed as a secretary to Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, who — after the death of Maurits of Orange — was appointed as stadtholder. In 1626 Constantijn fell in love with Suzanna van Baerle. Earlier courtship by the Huygens family to win her for Maurits had failed. Constantijn wrote several sonnets for her, in which he calls her Sterre (Star). They wed on 6 April 1627.

Huygens and his children (property of the Mauritshuis, The Hague) Adriaen Hanneman - Constantijn Huygens and his-five-children.png
Huygens and his children (property of the Mauritshuis, The Hague)

Huygens describes their marriage in Dagh-werck, a description of one day. He worked on this piece, which contains almost 2000 lines, during the entire time they were married.

The couple had five children: in 1628 their first son, Constantijn Jr., in 1629 Christiaan, in 1631 Lodewijk and in 1633 Philips. In 1637 their daughter Suzanna was born; shortly after her birth their mother died.

Later career and French knighthood

Huygens started a successful career despite his grief over the death of his wife (1638). In 1630 he was appointed to the Council and Exchequer, managing the estate of the Orange family. This job provided him with an income of about 1000 florins a year. In that same year he bought the heerlijkheid Zuilichem and became known as Lord of Zuilichem (in Dutch: Heer van Zuilichem). [2] [3] In 1632, Louis XIII of France - the protector of the famous exiled jurist Hugo Grotius - appointed him as Knight of the Order of Saint-Michel. In 1643 Huygens was granted the honor of displaying a golden lily on a blue field in his coat of arms.

In 1634 Huygens received from Prince Frederick Henry a piece of property in The Hague on the north side of the Binnenhof. The land was near the property of a good friend of Huygens, Count Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, who built his house, the Mauritshuis, around the same time and using the same architect, Huygens' friend Jacob van Campen.


Aside from his membership in the Muiderkring (which was not as formerly supposed, an official club), at the start of the 1630s he was also in touch with René Descartes, [4] with Rembrandt, [5] and the painter Jan Lievens. He became friends with John Donne, [1] and translated his poems into Dutch. He was unable to write poetry for months because of his anguish over his wife's death, but eventually he composed, inspired by Petrarch, the sonnet Op de dood van Sterre (On the death of Sterre), which was well received. He added the poem to his Dagh-werck, which he left unfinished: the day he has described has not ended yet, but his Sterre is already dead. After sending the unfinished work to different friends for approval, he eventually published it in 1658 as part of his Koren-bloemen.


Hofwijck Hofwijck-Voorburg.png

After a couple of years as a widower, Huygens bought a piece of land in Voorburg and commissioned the building of Hofwijck. [6] Hofwijck was inaugurated in 1642 in the company of friends and relatives. Here Huygens hoped to escape the stress at court in The Hague, forming his own "court", indicated by the name of the house which has a double meaning: Hof (=Court or courtyard) Wijck (=avoid or township). In that same year, his brother Maurits died. Due to his grief Huygens wrote little Dutch poetry, but he continued to write epigrams in Latin. Shortly afterwards, he began writing Dutch pun poems, which are very playful by nature. In 1644 and 1645 Huygens began more serious work. As a new year's present for Leonore Hellemans, he composed the Heilige Daghen, a series of sonnets on the Christian holidays. In 1644, a garlanded portrait of Huygens was painted by Daniel Seghers and Jan Cossiers: it is now in the Mauritshuis. [7] In 1647 he published another work, in which play and seriousness are united, Ooghentroost, addressed to Lucretia of Trello, who was losing her sight and who was already half-blind. The poem was offered as consolation.

From 1650 to 1652 Huygens wrote the poem Hofwijck in which he described the joys of living outside the city. It is thought that Huygens wrote his poetry as a testament to himself, a memento mori, because Huygens lost so many dear friends and family during this time: Hooft (1647), Barlaeus (1648), Maria Tesschelschade (1649) and Descartes (1650).

Education of his sons and the new royal Prince

In 1645, his sons Constantijn Jr. and Christiaan began their studies in Leiden. In these years Prince Frederick Henry of Orange, Huygens' confidante and protector, became increasingly ill, and died in 1647. The new stadtholder, William II of Orange, greatly appreciated Huygens and gave him the estate of Zeelhem, but he died too in 1650.

The emphasis of Huygens' activities moved more and more to his presidency of the Council of the house of Orange, which was in the hands of the young Prince inheritor, a small baby. He traveled frequently during that time, in connection with his work. There were however strong disagreements between the baby's widowed mother in law Amalia van Solms, and widow daughter in law Mary, Princess Royal, (4 November 1631 – 24 December 1660, aged 29) on even the name for christening the Dutch-English Royal newborn.

The Orange Order flag, also known as the Boyne Standard, consisting of an orange background with a St George's Cross and a purple star which was the symbol of Williamite forces. The late political career of Constantijn Huygens consisted in nurturing orphaned Dutch-English Prince William III, an orphan of both father and mother since aged 11, to become an acclaimed Protestant stadtholder in Holland and then a King in England. Flag of the Orange Order.svg
The Orange Order flag, also known as the Boyne Standard, consisting of an orange background with a St George's Cross and a purple star which was the symbol of Williamite forces. The late political career of Constantijn Huygens consisted in nurturing orphaned Dutch-English Prince William III, an orphan of both father and mother since aged 11, to become an acclaimed Protestant stadtholder in Holland and then a King in England.

In 1657, his son Philips died after a short sickness during his Grand Tour while in Prussia. In that same year Huygens became seriously ill, but healed in a miraculous manner.

In 1680 Constantijn Jr. moved with his family out of the house of his father. To stop the gossiping which started shortly afterwards, Huygens write the poem Cluijs-werck, in which he shows a glimpse of the latter stages of his life.


He still tried to find time to publish more of his work. In 1647 a number of Huygens' musical creations, Pathodia sacra et profana, was published in Paris. It contained some compositions in Latin (Psalms), in French, and Italian amorous worldly texts. The work was dedicated to the pretty niece, Utricia Ogle, of an English diplomat.

In 1648 Huygens wrote Twee ongepaerde handen for a harpsichord. This work was connected with Marietje Casembroot, a twenty-five-year-old harpsichord player, with whom he could share his love for music.

In 1657 the collected work of his Dutch poems, the Koren-bloemen appears. Some of its contents contain: Heilighe Daghen (1645), Ooghen-troost (1647), Hofwijck (1653) and Trijntje Cornelis (1653). This last work, Trijntje Cornelis, is an explosion of Huygens' creativity. It testifies to the rare language - and expressive capacity - of the author. Considering that the piece was written in a rather short time, it can be considered work of an enormous performance. Since his mother Suzanna was from Antwerp, he visited there often and Trijntje Cornelis takes place in Antwerp.

In 1660 his daughter Suzanna married her cousin, Philips Doublet, son of Huygens' sister Geertruijd. In 1661, a grandfather by now, Huygens was sent to France by the circle of tutors of William III, to recover possession of the county of Orange. The county was returned to the family of Orange-Nassau in 1665 and Huygens returned to the Netherlands.

Drawing of the Zee-straet Scheveningse-zee-straet.jpg
Drawing of the Zee-straet

On his return, Huygens designed the new sand road in The Hague, running through the dunes to Scheveningen. He had already planned this road in 1653, and wrote about it in his work the Zee-straet. The road was made according to Huygens' design.

In 1676 the second edition of the Koren-bloemen appeared, a collected work containing 27 books. New in this edition were the Zee-straet, the Mengelingh (a section of serious poems written after 1657) and seven books with snel-dichten (quick poems). As he was older now, Huygens found refuge in music. He wrote around 769 compositions during his lifetime.


Constantijn Huygens died in The Hague on Good Friday, 28 March 1687 at the age of 90. A week later he was buried in the Grote Kerk in the Hague, together with his son, the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens.

In 1947 a literary award was created, the Constantijn Huygens Prize, to honor his legacy.

Constantijn Huygens in fiction

Constantijn Huygens plays a major part in Brian Howell's novel, The Stream and The Torrent: Jan Torrentius and The Followers of the Rosy Cross: Vol.1 (Zagava/Les Editions de L'Oubli, 2014).

See also


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wikisource-logo.svg Gosse, Edmund William (1911). "Huygens, Sir Constantijn"  . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica . 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 22.
  2. The Lord of Zuilichem - website of the National Gallery of Ireland
  3. Constantijn Huygens: Lord of Zuilichem - website of Essential Vermeer
  4. Sanford Budick, “Descartes’s Cogito, Kant’s Sublime, and Rembrandt’s Philosophers: Cultural Transmission as Occasion for Freedom,” from A Journal of Literary History (Washington: Modern Language Quarterly, 1997), 38.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Official website of Huygens' Hofwijck
  7. "Acquisitions of the month: October 2018". Apollo Magazine.