February 2014 Book of the Month: The Exercise of Armes by Jacob de Gheyn II (1608)

Title-page: Fellows’ Library II Arch 2. 22 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Title-page: Fellows’ Library II Arch.3.22 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This military manual provides instructions for handling pikes and muskets, together with standardized commands for drill masters. Its most important feature, however, is its 117 engraved illustrations. These provide step-by-step guidance for using weaponry, as well as depicting contemporary military dress.

The large folio format suggests that it was not necessarily affordable for soldiers, but was aimed at gentlemen in command of militias. The College’s copy is sadly incomplete, but it does have two noteworthy features. The English coat of arms, title, and imprint are pasted over Dutch and French originals on the title-page, and the engravings have been customised with handwritten captions.

Illustration of handling a musket with the manuscript caption 'hauinge shotte, to take the peece and holde it in the lefte hand': Fellows’ Library II Arch 3.22 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Illustration of handling a musket with the manuscript caption ‘hauinge shotte, to take the peece and holde it in the right lefte hand’: Fellows’ Library II Arch.3.22 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The work was created by Dutch painter and draughtsman Jacob de Gheyn II. Published in multiple editions and several European languages, it testified to the international reputation of the Netherlands as ‘the nurserie of soulderie’ (in the words of Henry Hexham, author of a similar manual).  It was considered so important in England that a new edition was published in 1631 by order of the Privy Council.

Dutch military reform had been fostered during the revolts against Spain, under Maurice, Prince of Orange. He promoted classical drill discipline, which was to influence military training during the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War.

Emma Jones (Graduate Library Trainee, 2013–14)

Sources and further reading:

  • Catalogue record on ESTC
  • Kist, Cas (editor). The Exercise of Armes: All 117 Engravings from the Classic 17th-century Military Manual. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 1999.
  • Lawrence, David R. The Complete Soldier: Military Books and Military Culture in Early Stuart England, 1603-1645. Leiden: Brill, 2009.
  • Van der Hoeven, Marco. Exercise of Arms: Warfare in the Netherlands, 1568-1648. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
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One Response to February 2014 Book of the Month: The Exercise of Armes by Jacob de Gheyn II (1608)

  1. jesuslib says:

    Harvard University’s Houghton Library has digitised and animated four of the engravings from their French-language edition of 1607:
    http://houghtonlib.tumblr.com/post/75158053811/gheyn-jacob-de-1565-1629-maniement-darmes

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