Sir John van Olden Barnavelt Characters
by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sir John van Olden Barnavelt

Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, the aging advocate of Holland and West Friesland. Filled with growing pride, he resents the power and the excellent reputation of the prince of Orange, and he conspires to arouse sedition to regain the control he thinks he has lost. Brought before the senate, he defends himself against charges of treachery by reiterating his real contributions to his nation, and he pathetically tries to console himself for his fall by recalling the esteem in which he was held by many monarchs in his younger days. He swears, even as he stands on the scaffold awaiting execution, that he has not committed treason, and he dies praying for his prince and casting “honour and the world” behind him.


Leidenberch, his fellow conspirator, secretary of the States of Utrecht. He is notoriously a smooth-tongued flatterer and a man who will promise anything; one soldier complains that no suitor ever left him dissatisfied, yet none ever received what he wanted. Lacking the strength to remain silent after the defeat of his forces, he confesses his part in Barnavelt’s plot before he is imprisoned. Convinced by Barnavelt that suicide is the only way to preserve some semblance of honor, he resolves to die, then delays a few moments to speak of the pain of leaving his beloved young son, who sleeps nearby.


Modesbargen, another of Barnavelt’s followers. He is at first wary of the old statesman’s plans and counsels him bluntly not to risk destroying the effects of his forty years of service to the state by giving vent to his ambition. He eventually joins Barnavelt’s campaign and is forced to flee to Germany to escape imprisonment. There he grows to love country living and calls himself a fool for participating in political schemes.


Grotius, another of Barnavelt’s followers. He, with Hogerbeets, vows to defend the old man against the prince of Orange, but the discovery of their plot makes their efforts futile.


Hogerbeets, a leader of the Arminians, the sect Barnavelt makes pawns in his attempt to gain power.


(The entire section is 657 words.)