Isaac Le Maire

Last updated
Drawing of the tombstone of Isaac le Maire and his wife Grafsteen van Isaac Le Maire en vrouw.png
Drawing of the tombstone of Isaac le Maire and his wife
Le Mairs polder near Den Helder. Map from 1641 by Claes Jansz. Visscher. (view from the north) CJ Visser - Le Maires polder 1641.jpg
Le Mairs polder near Den Helder. Map from 1641 by Claes Jansz. Visscher. (view from the north)

Isaac Le Maire (c. 1558 in Tournai September 20, 1624 in Egmond aan den Hoef) was a Walloon-born Dutch entrepreneur, investor, and a sizeable shareholder of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He is best known for his constant strife with the VOC, which ultimately led to the discovery of Cape Horn.

Tournai Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Tournai, known in Dutch as Doornik and historically as Dornick in English, is a Walloon municipality of Belgium, 85 kilometres southwest of Brussels on the river Scheldt. In the province of Hainaut, Tournai is part of Eurometropolis Lille–Kortrijk–Tournai, which had 2,155,161 residents in 2008.

Egmond aan den Hoef Place in North Holland, Netherlands

Egmond aan den Hoef is a village in the Dutch province of North Holland. It is a part of the municipality of Bergen, and lies about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of Alkmaar. Until 2001, Egmond aan den Hoef was part of the municipality of Egmond.

An investor is a person that allocates capital with the expectation of a future financial return. Types of investments include: equity, debt securities, real estate, currency, commodity, token, derivatives such as put and call options, futures, forwards, etc. This definition makes no distinction between the investors in the primary and secondary markets. That is, someone who provides a business with capital and someone who buys a stock are both investors. An investor who owns a stock is a shareholder.


Isaac Le Maire [1] was born in 1558 or 1559 in Tournai. He learned the trade from his merchant brother-in-law Jacques van de Walle. Isaac had four brothers, three of them were merchants. [2] Already in 1584 he was registered in Antwerp as a wealthy grocer. At the time, he was also captain of the company of the Antwerp militia. He rented the house of Bourgognien Schilt, but in 1585 after the fall of Antwerp he fled to the northern Netherlands.

Schutterij Dutch Civic guard

Schutterij refers to a voluntary city guard or citizen militia in the medieval and early modern Netherlands, intended to protect the town or city from attack and act in case of revolt or fire. Their training grounds were often on open spaces within the city, near the city walls, but, when the weather did not allow, inside a church. They are mostly grouped according to their district and to the weapon that they used: bow, crossbow or gun. Together, its members are called a Schuttersgilde, which could be roughly translated as a "shooter's guild". It is now a title applied to ceremonial shooting clubs and to the country's Olympic rifle team.

Fall of Antwerp siege

The Fall of Antwerp on 17 August 1585 took place during the Eighty Years' War, after a siege lasting over a year from July 1584 until August 1585. The city of Antwerp was the capital of the new Protestant-dominated Dutch Revolt, but was forced to surrender to the Spanish forces. Under the terms agreed all Protestants were given four years to settle their affairs and leave the city. Many migrated north, especially to Amsterdam, which became the capital of the Dutch Republic. Apart from losing a high proportion of its mercantile population, Antwerp's trade suffered for two centuries as Dutch forts blockaded the River Scheldt up to 1795.

In 1585 he settled in Amsterdam. He was married in Antwerp to Maria Jacobsdr. Walraven and they had 22 children, [3] and one of them, his son Jacob, would go down in history as an explorer. In 1641 his son Maximiliaen became the first VOC chief of Dejima in Japan.

Amsterdam Capital city of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, with a population of 866,737 within the city proper, 1,380,872 in the urban area, and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area. Amsterdam is in the province of North Holland.

Jacob Le Maire Dutch explorer

Jacob Le Maire was a Dutch mariner who circumnavigated the earth in 1615 and 1616. The strait between Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados was named the Le Maire Strait in his honor, though not without controversy. It was Le Maire himself who proposed to the council aboard Eendracht that the new passage should be called by his name and the council unanimously agreed with Le Maire. The author or authors of The Relation took Eendracht captain Schouten’s side by proclaiming:

VOC Opperhoofden in Japan

VOC Opperhoofden in Japan were the chief traders of the Dutch East India Company in Japan during the period of the Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the Edo period.

Initially, Isaac Le Maire was the largest shareholder in the VOC.

Merchant in Amsterdam

In 1592 his name was registered for the first time in Amsterdam as a participant in the oldest marine insurance policy. In the following years he grew into the trade in European waters. Initially, he wasn't one of the wealthiest merchants, but he could make major investments by ensuring warrant positions within the direct and indirect family network. Together with Peter van de Pulle and Dirck van Os he constituted a company for trading in Russia. They carried Baltic grain and timber to Spain. Ships with leather, wax, fur and caviar from Archangelsk often were destined for Venice and Livorno. They also traded in bills of exchange, chartering and marine insurances. Between 1594 and 1598 he had a major position in the fish trade between British ports and Spain.

In insurance, the insurance policy is a contract between the insurer and the insured, known as the policyholder, which determines the claims which the insurer is legally required to pay. In exchange for an initial payment, known as the premium, the insurer promises to pay for loss caused by perils covered under the policy language.

Venice Comune in Veneto, Italy

Venice is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It is situated on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges. The islands are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers. In 2018, 260,897 people resided in the Comune di Venezia, of whom around 55,000 live in the historical city of Venice. Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area (PATREVE), which is considered a statistical metropolitan area, with a total population of 2.6 million.

Livorno Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Livorno is a port city on the Ligurian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of 158,493 residents in December 2017. It has traditionally been known in English as Leghorn.

After Cornelis de Houtman made the first trip to the Indies from 1595 to 1597, Le Maire, like many other merchants, plunged into the Indian adventure. In 1599 he and several others in Amsterdam established the Brabant Company, which carried out two voyages to the Indies. The Brabant Company was very successful, it quickly yielded the company 400% profit.

Cornelis de Houtman Dutch explorer

Cornelis de Houtman, brother of Frederick de Houtman, was a Dutch explorer who discovered a new sea route from Europe to Indonesia and who thus begun the Dutch spice trade. At the time, the Portuguese Empire held a monopoly on the spice trade, and the voyage was a symbolic victory for the Dutch, even though the voyage itself was a disaster. Houtman was also a spy, having worked against the Portuguese by bringing back to the Netherlands privileged nautical information obtained during his stay in Portugal.

In 1600 he decided to concentrate on trade with the East Indies, but at that time he already acted in the West Indies as well. In 1601 he officially became a citizen of Amsterdam, which was no doubt because of the merger of the New Brabant Company and the Old Company into the First United East Indies Company in Amsterdam. This company, in which Le Maire was a participant, fitted out eight ships to the Indies, led by Jacob van Heemskerk.

East Indies region encompassing South (Indian subcontinent) and Southeast Asia

The East Indies or the Indies are the lands of South and Southeast Asia. In a more restricted sense, the Indies can be used to refer to the islands of Southeast Asia, especially the Indonesian Archipelago and the Philippine Archipelago. The name "Indies" is used to connote parts of Asia that came under the Indian cultural sphere.

West Indies Island region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean

The West Indies is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean that includes the island countries and surrounding waters of three major archipelagos: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antilles, and the Lucayan Archipelago.

Shareholder of the Dutch East India Company

In 1602, at the insistence of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, all Dutch trading companies merged into the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) (also known as the Dutch East India Company). Le Maire applied for shares for the sum of 85,000 guilders and he became the largest shareholder in the VOC. [4] He got the high position of governor of the VOC. But he soon fell into conflict with the VOC and the consistory as a result of malpractice concerning the journey of Wijbrant van Warwijck in 1602. There were rumours that Le Maire intentionally did not submit receipts and other evidence of his share in the costs. The partners of the VOC let him be sued by the sheriff, but Le Maire settled the matter for 7200 guilders. The details of the offence were held secret. Because of this matter le Maire was forced to leave the VOC in 1605, while he also had to waive acting as a competitor of the VOC. This event was the foundation of his resentment and opposition against the VOC for the rest of his life. After leaving the VOC, he threw himself upon the European coasting trade, especially in grain. However, the thought of the lucrative trade with the Indies haunted him.

Competitor of the Dutch East India Company

Le Maire found his first opportunity to thwart the VOC in the efforts of France to set up a French trading company for India. King Henry IV of France invited him in 1607 for that purpose. Le Maire advised the French on the establishment and organization of a company, and in doing so ignored the competition stipulation with the VOC. However, at that time a French company was not yet established.

Next came the idea to involve Henry Hudson in the French plans. Hudson had already made two unsuccessful attempts for England to find a new North-Eastern passage, and in 1608 he came to the Netherlands to interest the VOC for that plan. He came in contact with Le Maire who proposed to the king of France to finance this expedition. With this attempt to find a new route to the Indies, Le Maire would not commit a breach of contract with the VOC, because the VOC only had a patent to trade via the Cape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellan, until then the only two known routes to the Indies. The VOC got scent of this intention and offered Hudson a better contract, which ultimately led to his famous third voyage in 1609, discovering the river that was named after him. After the VOC had caught away Hudson, Le Maire and the king of France secretly came to an agreement to make the North-Eastern journey with another captain. The newly to be discovered strait would be named after the French king, and the new discoveries would be made under the French flag. However, the voyage, led by Melchior van den Kerckhove, was a failure.

In 1609, Isaac Le Maire travelled together with Joris van Spilbergen, Balthazar de Moucheron and others to Paris, again to discuss the formation of a French East India Company. De Moucheron played a double role in these discussions, because at one point he asked the ambassador of the Netherlands what it would be worth if he would disrupt the proceedings. The discussions so flagged because of mistrust by the French in Le Maire. Within the VOC the intrigues of Le Maire led to indignation, but it didn't result in actual actions against him, probably because the Republic wasn't looking for a conflict with France during the war with Spain. In 1610 the King of France was killed and thus plans for a French East India Company were shelved.

Speculator against the Dutch East India Company

Isaac Le Maire has also tried to use his knowledge of the VOC to cross the company financially. In 1609 he and eight others founded a secret company with the purpose to trade in VOC shares. Le Maire owned nearly one quarter of its shares. This so-called "Grote Compagnie" sold short shares of the VOC, that is, without actually owning them. By the time these shares were to be delivered, there was an interest in keeping the share price as low as possible. Le Maire probably expected that the competition by the still to be created French East India Company, would ensure the share price of the VOC to drop significantly. However, the French company was shelved. Rumours were spread to depress the prices, anyway. Such activities were detrimental to the (existing) VOC shareholders, who sometimes were forced to sell their shares at a low price. In particular, in 1609 the share price fell significantly, and the VOC imputed this to the machinations of Le Maire.

The VOC attempted via the States-General of the Netherlands to impose restrictions on free trade in VOC shares, which the company of Le Maire fiercely resisted. They claimed, the price drop was the result of the bad course of actions of the VOC. But the States-General decided in 1610 to prohibit the sale of shares not in possession. During 1610 and 1611 the stock price of the VOC increased. The company of Le Maire suffered big losses because many shares had to be delivered at a lower price than the market. They were therefore compelled to deliver shares at a loss. Several members of his company went bankrupt and Le Maire had also suffered significant losses, but he could still meet his obligations. This fiasco led him to withdraw from Amsterdam.

Dutch East India Company monopoly broken

Isaac Le Maire sold his property in Amsterdam and retired to his possessions in Egmond aan den Hoef, which he had bought between 1598 and 1600 from the estate of the Count of Egmont. After some time, he again started to make plans to break the VOC monopoly. The VOC owned by patent from the States-General the Dutch monopoly on travels to the Indies via the Cape of Good Hope and through the Strait of Magellan, until then the only two known passages to the Indies. From various travel accounts Le Maire assumed that south of the Magellan Strait another passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean could exist. In 1614 he founded the Austraalse Compagnie for the purpose of discovering this passage, which would fall outside the VOC monopoly. The voyage was prepared in Hoorn. Two ships were fitted out, the Eendracht and the Hoorn. The journey would be made under the responsibility of his son Jacob Le Maire. Willem Schouten was recruited as an experienced captain. The sailing orders expressly forbade a passage through the Strait of Magellan, even if a new route to the Pacific Ocean could not be found. Furthermore, the expedition was forbidden to trade on the coasts where the VOC had a trading post. At that time, there was still the expectation that a great unknown South Land would exist. Isaac Le Maire hoped to discover it, and in this way tap into an unimagined trading area. But above all, his motive was to circumvent the VOC monopoly. But Isaac gave his son a remarkable secret instruction: although the official sailing order was that no trade should be driven on the coasts where the VOC was established, on arrival in the Indies his son had to make clear to the administrators of the VOC that their monopoly had not been violated, because they had not sailed via the Cape of Good Hope or the Strait of Magellan. Then, he should ask permission to still be allowed to trade. Isaac le Maire anticipated it would not be granted, so Jacob would then have to do everything needed to win Governor-General Gerard Reynst, who had been, like Isaac Le Maire, a participant in the Brabant Company, for their cause. This even went so far as to Jacob asking Van Reynst the hand of one of his daughters. In this way Isaac le Maire tried to sow dissension within the VOC, because if Gerard Reynst allowed them to trade in this way it could lead to a major conflict within the VOC.

On June 14, 1615 the two ships set sail from Texel. The journey was a success in that, with the discovery of the passage round Cape Horn, the monopoly of the VOC was indeed broken, but the unknown South Land was not discovered, and the secret instruction could not be put into action because Gerard Reynst was already deceased.

After the ships had left Texel, the VOC got wind of the real intention of the travel. Therefore, the order was sent to the Indies that, if the expedition would arrive there, the ships would have to be confiscated because of a breach of the VOC's patent. And so it happened. Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten were sent back to the Republic, but Jacob Le Maire died during the return voyage. The VOC attempted to rewrite history by assigning the new discoveries to Willem Schouten.

The aftermath of the voyage

Isaac Le Maire had to fight many years to obtain his right. In 1619 the court ruled that the ship Eendracht was unlawfully seized by the VOC. The journals were to be returned to Le Maire, and in 1622 Le Maire could finally publish the Spieghel der Australische Navigatie door den Wijtvermaerden ende Cloeckmoedighen Zee-heldt Jacob Le Maire, to do justice to the discoveries of his son. For the damage, he was awarded 64,000 pounds. However, the court ruled that the Austraalse Compagnie was not allowed to trade in the Indian region, but that they did have the right to travel across the newly discovered route around Cape Horn. However, one year earlier the Dutch West India Company was established and in its patent it received also the monopoly on travels through the Strait of Magellan and other routes in that region. This was contrary to the rights that were granted to Le Maire's Austraalse Compagnie.

Le Maire died on September 20, 1624. He was buried in the Buurkerk in Egmond-Binnen, and on his tombstone he had written that he had lost during 30 years (except for his honour) 1.5 million guilders, a considerable sum at that time. His Australian Company continued the legal fight, but ultimately the States-General decided in 1644 to the detriment of the company.

See also

Related Research Articles

Dutch West India Company Dutch trading company

Dutch West India Company was a chartered company of Dutch merchants as well as foreign investors. Among its founders was Willem Usselincx (1567–1647). On June 3, 1621, it was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the Dutch West Indies by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and given jurisdiction over Dutch participation in the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition, particularly Spanish or Portuguese, between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the largely ephemeral Dutch colonization of the Americas in the seventeenth century. From 1624 to 1654, in the context of the Dutch-Portuguese War, the WIC held Portuguese territory in northeast Brazil, but they were ousted from Dutch Brazil following fierce resistance.

Dutch East India Company 17th-century Dutch trading company

The Dutch East India Company, officially the United East India Company was an early megacorporation founded by a government-directed amalgamation of several rival Dutch trading companies (voorcompagnieën) in the early 17th century. It was established on March 20, 1602, as a chartered company to trade with Mughal India during the period of proto-industrialization, from which 50% of textiles and 80% of silks were imported, chiefly from its most developed region known as Bengal Subah. In addition, the company Indianised Southeast Asian countries when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. It has been often labelled a trading company or sometimes a shipping company. However, VOC was in fact a proto-conglomerate company, diversifying into multiple commercial and industrial activities such as international trade, shipbuilding, and both production and trade of East Indian spices, Formosan sugarcane, and South African wine. The Company was a transcontinental employer and an early pioneer of outward foreign direct investment. The Company's investment projects helped raise the commercial and industrial potential of many underdeveloped or undeveloped regions of the world in the early modern period. In the early 1600s, by widely issuing bonds and shares of stock to the general public, VOC became the world's first formally listed public company. In other words, it was the first corporation to be listed on an official stock exchange. It was influential in the rise of corporate-led globalisation in the early modern period.

French East India Company Defunct French trading company

The French East India Company was a commercial Imperial enterprise, founded in 1664 to compete with the English and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies.

Willem Schouten Dutch explorer

Willem Cornelisz Schouten was a Dutch navigator for the Dutch East India Company. He was the first to sail the Cape Horn route to the Pacific Ocean.

Jacob Roggeveen Dutch Pacific Ocean explorer

Jacob Roggeveen was a Dutch explorer who was sent to find Terra Australis, but instead came across Easter Island. Jacob Roggeveen also encountered Bora Bora and Maupiti of the Society Islands and Samoa. He planned the expedition along with his brother Jan Roggeveen, who stayed in the Netherlands. In the XVIII century was named "Roggewein" by the maritime and geographic literature.

Willem Janszoon, sometimes abbreviated to Willem Jansz., was a Dutch navigator and colonial governor. Janszoon served in the Netherlands East Indies in the periods 1603–1611 and 1612–1616, including as governor of Fort Henricus on the island of Solor. He is the first European known to have seen the coast of Australia during his voyage of 1605–1606.

Mississippi Company

The Mississippi Company was a corporation holding a business monopoly in French colonies in North America and the West Indies. When land development and speculation in the region became frenzied and detached from economic reality, the Mississippi bubble became one of the earliest examples of an economic bubble.

Sebald de Weert Captain and vice admiral Dutch East India Company

Sebald or Sebalt de Weert was a Dutch captain and vice-admiral of the Dutch East India Company. He is most widely remembered for accurately plotting the Falkland Islands in 1600.

Hope & Co. Dutch bank with Scottish founders

Hope & Co. is the name of a famous Dutch bank that spanned two and a half centuries. Though the founders were Scotsmen, the bank was located in Amsterdam, and at the close of the 18th century it had offices in London as well.

Isaac Titsingh 18th and 19th-century Dutch diplomat, scholar, and merchant

Isaac Titsingh FRS was a Dutch scholar, merchant-trader and ambassador.

Gerard Reynst Dutch colonial governor

Gerard Reynst was a Dutch merchant and later the second Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies.

Johan Nieuhof Dutch explorer, writer, sinologist

Johan Nieuhof was a Dutch traveler who wrote about his journeys to Brazil, China and India. The most famous of these was a trip of 2,400 km from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657, which enabled him to become an authoritative Western writer on China. He wrote An embassy from the East-India Company containing the written account of this journey.

Laurens Reael Dutch admiral

Laurens Reael was an employee of the Dutch East India Company, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1616 to 1619, and an admiral of the Dutch Republican Navy from 1625 to 1627.

Hessel Gerritsz Dutch engraver and cartographer

Hessel Gerritsz was a Dutch engraver, cartographer and publisher. He was one of the notable figures in the Golden Age of Dutch/Netherlandish cartography. Despite strong competition, he is considered by some “unquestionably the chief Dutch cartographer of the 17th century”.

The Compagnie van Verre was a forerunner of the Dutch East India Company.

The Brabant Company, also known as the New Company was a precursor of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

Maximiliaan le Maire was a merchant/trader and official of the Dutch East India Company.

Dirck van Os Dutch merchant

Dirck van Os was an Amsterdam merchant, insurer, financier and shipowner. He is among the founders of the Compagnie van Verre, the Amsterdam Exchange Bank and the United East India Company (VOC).

Simon de Cordes was a Dutch explorer and after the death of Admiral Jacques Mahu, he became leader of an expedition of five ships that the Indies wanted to achieve.


  1. The name has many spelling variants, f.i. Lameer or Lemaire. In modern history only the name Le Maire "used.
  2. Around 1600 Isaacs brother Pieter Le Maire was appointed agent for Isaac in Hamburg, together with Andries Silmer and Jacques Bernarts. David le Maire established himself in 1604 in Livorno, and when he died in 1617 he was replaced by Isaacs third brother, Solomon le Maire. Wijnroks pp. 254-255
  3. Certificates of baptism, Amsterdam Municipal Archives. [ permanent dead link ] From the 22 children, approximately 8 died young. At his death, 9 children were registered in his last will. Schoorl pp. 176-177
  4. Perhaps he did not raise the full amount by himself. His brother in law, Jacques van der Walle, had creditors and he probably participated in the VOC in Isaac's name. Wijnroks, p. 243