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Jacob Cats
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Brouwershaven (Zeeland)
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
The Hague
A statesman and lawyer in 17th-century Holland, Jacob Cats is best known as the writer of “emblem books,” collections of moralistic verse accompanied by illustrations intended to expand on the messages of the verses. Cats published several emblem books, many illustrated by engravings after designs by Dutch artist Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662). Such was the popularity of his books that he became known as “Father Cats,” a sobriquet that survived into modern times. Born in the southern Dutch province of Zeeland, Cats pursued legal studies at the University of Leiden and at Orléans, France, returning to practice law in The Hague. After a period of illness, he began practicing law in the town of Middelburg in Zeeland in 1603, where he married Elisabeth van Valkenburg, whose inherited wealth enabled them to live in prosperity. Beginning in 1609, during an interruption of the Eighty Years’ War between Holland and Spain, Cats and his brother engaged in profitable real estate speculation by draining and reclaiming land that had been flooded during the war. He received political appointments in Middelburg and then Dordrecht, becoming a “pensionary,” an official who conducted public business, including diplomacy. He published his first emblem book in 1618, illustrated by van de Venne, as well as two pastoral poems. A secondemblem book, published in 1620, was the first to be translated into English from the Dutch. His book Houwelyck (Marriage) appeared in 1625, one of two very popular books he wrote on the subject. Some 50,000 copies of Marriage were printed over the next three decades. In addition to his career as an author, he was also continued as a public official; he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Charles I of England (1600-1649) in 1627. He continued to write after his wife died in 1630, publishing perhaps his most popular book, Spiegel van den ouden en nieuwen tijdt (Mirror of Old and New Times), in 1632. He also constructed an estate near The Hague (still in use today as the Dutch Prime Minister’s official residence). Cats was appointed Grand Pensionary of Holland in 1636, and served in that post until 1651. His diplomatic mission to Oliver Cromwell in 1651-1652 was unsuccessful. He continued to write, and quotations from his books became household sayings. Van de Venne continued to illustrate his works until at least 1656. Translated into English, French and German, Cats’s works remained influential into the 19th century. He died in 1660, at the age of eighty-two. (TNB 10/2012) Selected bibliography: “Jacob Cats.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. “Jacob Cats.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vo. 23. Detroit: Gale, 2003.