The end of the sixteenth century saw a revival of interest in the military writings of the Romans. Translations of these works and studies of them, made their way to the commanders of the armies of the Northern Netherlands, causing the Frisian stadholder William Louis of Nassau, his brother John, and their cousin Prince Maurice to reorganise the armies under their command according to the Roman model. By thus standardising commands and instructions they managed to transform the motley mercenary troops with whom they had to fight the unequal battle against Parma's regiments, into a well-disciplined army, ready for battle.
From preserved lists of standard commands in various languages we can see clearly the thorough approach of it all. Instructions on the use of weapons were, moreover, accompanied by explanatory illustrations. The best known example, also internationally, is the Wapenhandelinghe van roers, musquetten ende spiesen * depicted by Jacob de Gheijn. Less well-known, but by no means less beautiful is the book from which a page is reproduced here: Adam van Breen's *Nassausche wapen-handelinge, van schilt, spies, rappier, ende targe. The written instruction accompanying this illustration gives as the starting position: ‘He shall carry his shield on his back and nowhere else, and put the lance beside his right foot, his arm not outstretched but bent, so as to facilitate holding the lance to his side when the ranks are closed’.
The illustrations were designed by the painter Adam van Breen, who was working in The Hague from 1611 to c. 1618, and had his drawings engraved by various artists. On 8 December 1617 he sold the copperplates to the Hague printer and bookseller Aert Meuris, who wanted to publish them in book form. When it was published it only bore the name of Van Breen, without the imprint of Aert Meuris.
There is a painting by Van Breen (now at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam) portraying Prince Maurice and Prince Frederick Henry walking along Korte Vijverberg in The Hague. Van Breen must therefore have been in contact with the Oranges, and he has presented his Wapen-handelinge to Prince Maurice himself. The copy that is now part of the collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek was originally in the library of Prince Maurice.
De Nassausche wapenhandelinge, van schilt, spies, rappier, ende targe [...]. Adam van Breen. - Gedruckt anno 1618, in 's Gravenhage in Hollant. 2º. - 344 G 18, plate 1