Commissioned from Rubens in late 1619 or early 1620 by the Estates of Southern Gelderland, this frontispiece was designed for a book of 'customs' which clarified and celebrated the rights of their province and its principal city at Roermond. The treatise had been ratified on 19 September 1619 by the Archduke Albert (1559-1621) and his wife the Infanta Isabella (1566-1633), the Governors of the Habsburg Netherlands, and the printing patent followed on 21 January 1620. In the course of six chapters the various municipal rights of Roermond's citizens were listed, ranging from their right to justice (in Chapter One) to ownership and inheritance (in Chapter Three) and the penalties for crime or abuses of the system (in Chapter Six). Unlike most of Rubens's designs for title-pages, this frontispiece was not made for the Antwerp publisher Christophe Plantin (circa 1520-1589) but for the printer Johan Hompes in Roermond.
Engraved by Hans Collaert (circa 1525-1580), it is one of only seven such designs not connected to Plantin's publishing house. Rubens left the cartouches and escutcheons blank for Collaert to complete, as well as leaving the expanse of drapery empty for the addition of the full title: ‘Gelresche Rechten des Ruremundtschen Quartiers, Van nieuws oversien ende verbetert door last van haere Doorluchtichste Hoocheden’ ('Rights of the quarter of Roermond in the Province of Gelderland: Updated and improved, by order of Their Serene Highnesses'). This would not only have saved Rubens's time, but also allowed the design to be reused or adapted for other purposes if necessary. Collaert's print shows an extended composition, with an additional upper part in which a rearing horse and rider surmount the architectural surround, flanked by putti. This section does not appear in the present drawing, and it has been argued that this proves the sheet to have been cut, perhaps because the upper part was felt to make an attractive independent composition in its own right. However, it has recently been suggested that Rubens may not have been responsible for this upper section, which differs stylistically from the rest of the composition, and may have been added by Collaert from the design of another artist. This would mean that the present sheet has not been trimmed as extensively as has previously been supposed. According to Judson (op. cit.), the sketch on the verso was Rubens's first idea for the design, which was then elaborated on the recto and reversed so that the figures would appear as intended in the final engraving. Rubens later reinforced the sketch on the verso with pen and ink to give clear directions to Collaert as he transferred the composition to the plate. The original copper plate survives in the Roermond Municipal Archives, along with a letter listing the costs of the commission: Rubens was paid 12 florins for his preparatory drawing, while Collaert received 65 florins for engraving the print.
Rubens based his composition on an earlier title-page designed by Henricus d'Oultremannus (1546-1605) for Plantin's publication Descriptio Triumphi et Spectaculorum Serenissimis Principibus Alberto et Isabellae, published in Antwerp in 1602. Here Albert and Isabella are again shown in an architectural setting, flanking the title cartouche. However, in his depiction of the figures and costumes, Rubens turned to studies that he had himself made of the Governors, who by this date had been his employers and most important patrons for ten years. The daughter of King Philip II of Spain, and the younger brother of the Emperor Rudolf II, they had been married in 1599 and had ruled as joint sovereigns of the Netherlands since 1601. The present design emphasises Albert's regal qualities, giving him an ermine mantle and a crown, rather than showing him bare-headed as he appears in the other surviving portraits of him by Rubens and his school. Isabella's costume and hairstyle, however, are very close to those in her other portraits, such as that by Rubens and Jan Bruegel the Elder in the Prado (M.D. Padrón, El Siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: Catálogo Razonado de Pintura Flamenca del Siglo XVII, Madrid, 1995, II, no. 1684).
Shortly after his purchase of this drawing, I.Q. van Regteren Altena offered it to his former employer Frits Lugt, who was always keen to fill gaps in his collection of drawings by Rubens, but at the time Lugt felt that he could not afford the price. Years later he came to regret his decision and, on 5 March 1970, he wrote hopefully to van Regteren Altena, asking whether he might be prepared to reopen discussions about a sale. However, van Regteren Altena was evidently so fond of the drawing by that date that he preferred to keep it in his own collection, and as a result Lugt's request was declined (Heijbroek, op. cit.).