John Maurice of Nassau (Dutch: Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen,[a] German: Johann Moritz von Nassau-Siegen, Portuguese: João Maurício de Nassau-Siegen, 17 June 1604 – 20 December 1679) was called "the Brazilian" for his fruitful period as governor of Dutch Brazil. He was count and (from 1674) prince of Nassau-Siegen, and Grand Master of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg).
He was born in Dillenburg. His father was John VII of Nassau; his grandfather John VI of Nassau, the younger brother of Dutch stadtholder William the Silent of Orange, making him a grandnephew to William the Silent.
He joined the Dutch army in 1621, at a very early age. He distinguished himself in the campaigns of his cousin, the stadtholder Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. In 1626 he became captain. He was involved in 1629 in the capture of Den Bosch. In 1636, he conquered a fortress at Schenkenschans.
He was appointed as the governor of the Dutch possessions in Brazil in 1636 by the Dutch West India Company on recommendation of Frederick Henry. He landed at Recife, the port of Pernambuco and the chief stronghold of the Dutch, in January 1637. Immediately after his arrival he began a campaign against the Spanish-Portuguese forces, which he defeated in repeated encounters. Believing himself strong enough to hold his own he dispatched part of his forces to attack the Portuguese possessions on the coast of Africa, and continued to extend his conquests with the aid of the natives who were opposed to Spanish rule. But he received a serious check in the attack on São Salvador, being obliged to raise the siege with the loss of many of his best officers. On receiving re-enforcements in 1638, and with the co-operation of the Dutch fleet, which defeated the Spanish-Portuguese squadrons in sight of Bay of All Saints, he captured the latter city. When in 1640 Portugal recovered its independence from Spain under John II, 8th Duke of Bragança, the Prince of Nassau-Siegen, anticipating an alliance with the latter, and believing that a treaty of peace with Portugal would leave Holland in possession of the conquered territory, hastened his operations, and, to give occupation to the host of adventurers that had assembled under his colors, he despatched an expedition against the Spanish possessions on Plate River, while in 1643, Johan Maurits equipped the expedition of Hendrik Brouwer that attempted to establish an outpost in southern Chile. Later he visited the conquered provinces and arranged their administration.
By this series of successful expeditions, he gradually extended the Dutch possessions from Sergipe on the south to São Luís de Maranhão in the north. With the assistance of the famous architect, Pieter Post of Haarlem, he transformed Recife by building a new town adorned with public buildings, bridges, channels and gardens in the then Dutch style, later naming the newly reformed town Mauritsstad, after himself. He was able to pay the high construction costs from the loot of his expeditions, and from the proceeds of his estates in Germany.
By his statesmanlike policy he brought the colony into a most flourishing condition. His leadership in Brazil inspired two Latin epics from 1647: Caspar Barlaeus' Rerum per octennium in Brasilia et alibi nuper gestarum sub praefectura and Franciscus Plante's Mauritias. The painters Albert Eckhout, Frans Post, and Abraham Willaerts served as members of John Maurice's entourage.
He also established representative councils in the colony for local government, and developed Recife's transportation infrastructure. His large schemes and lavish expenditure alarmed the parsimonious directors of the West India Company, and John Maurice, refusing to retain his post unless he were given a free hand, returned to Europe in July 1644.
Shortly after returning to Europe, John Maurice was appointed by Frederick Henry to the command of the cavalry in the Dutch 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, John Maurice was appointed head of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg) and made a prince of the Empire. In 1664 he came back to Holland; when war broke out with an England supported by the invading bishop of Münster, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Dutch States Army. Though hampered in his command by the restrictions of the states-general, he repelled the invasion, and the bishop, Christoph Bernhard von Galen, nicknamed "Bommen Berend", was forced to conclude peace. His campaigning was not yet at an end, for in 1668 he was appointed first Field-Marshal of the States Army and in 1673 he was charged by stadtholder William III to command the forces in Friesland and Groningen, and to defend the eastern frontier of the Provinces, again against Van Galen.
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 in December 1679.
The residence he built in The Hague is now called the Mauritshuis, and houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings. It is now a major museum of old Dutch paintings. In the National Library of Paris there are two folio volumes containing a fine collection of colored prints of Brazilian animals and plants, which were executed by order of the prince, and accompanied with a short explanation by him.
Brazilian author Paulo Setúbal wrote a historic novel about John Maurice and the Dutch settlement in Brazil, O Príncipe de Nassau ("The Prince of Nassau", translated into Dutch by R. Schreuder and J. Slauerhoff in 1933 as Johan Maurits van Nassau).
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John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-SiegenBorn: 17 June 1604 Died: 20 December 1679
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