While many will know the Normans by their conquest of England in 1066, their impact on early medieval Europe went far beyond that one campaign, and they were to establish themselves in lands as far flung as Ireland, Italy and Syria. For the period their military capability was efficient and resourceful, and they readily adopted features from others where they saw value in them. For a long time these warriors were only depicted in the now scarce Revell set, but more recently Strelets released a set of cavalry and with this product the foot soldiers now have their turn.
This is the first set in the Strelets Mini range. The declared purpose of this range is to provide troops suitable for large organised formations where the usual Strelets all-unique pose philosophy is less appropriate. Consequently the intention is not to provide an entire army in a box, but rather to provide figures based on a theme, and in this case the theme is the shield wall. Therefore we find no officers, flags or instruments, nor any running, marching or shooting poses – just those which can be put together to build a reasonable shield wall. All the poses have their shield to their front and are wielding a variety of weapons with the free hand. While those who are face on to the mould (and therefore hold their shield against their body) are a nice element of variety we much prefer those poses which hold their shield at arms length, thereby reducing the impact of any blows made against them. Happily this type of pose is much in the majority, although when lined up shoulder to shoulder all the poses make a very lifelike shield wall. For once the rather flat poses are actually entirely appropriate as the men endeavour to make the wall as solid as possible, and the resulting formation is very appealing.
Although the history of the Normans spanned several centuries these figures do not attempt to cover it completely. Basically the men wear coats of various lengths ranging from knee-length to lower shin, with much of it apparently of mail. However scale armour is also represented which could conceivably be of leather or horn, and some seem to have either quilted armour or a fabric coat with metal studs. The coats mostly have elbow-length sleeves, although some are full sleeved and may also incorporate mittens. This all tends to make them unsuitable for the early Norman period, but good from the battle of Hastings, with those that have longer coats and sleeves being better for the hundred years following that battle. The helmets are mostly conical and display the familiar nasal guard. A few rounded helmets are also on show, as is one with a face mask, marking these are more appropriate for the 12th century. One helmet has a style reminiscent of Italy, but again some Italians were present at Hastings and may have been early adopters of this later fashion. Equally one figure has mail hose, another later innovation, but the absence of flat-topped helmets and plate armour date them to before the 13th century.
The sculpting is of the best Strelets standard, with good detail and proportions. Occasional areas where detail seems to disappear do not spoil the generally positive impression these figures make, and there is zero flash, which is always a good thing. Most of the figures have weapon and shield included, but four have ring hands into which one of several available weapons can be fitted, and this fit is perfectly engineered to be nice and tight, so no glue required here. Just two of the poses have a separate shield, but these fit very well on the peg and again require no glue to stay put – a far cry from the first medieval sets Strelets made.
The figures have been deliberately made in the same dark grey plastic as used for the Revell Normans, but when placed side by side the Revell figures are noticeably slimmer. However the height is the same, and to all but the closest inspection both sets of figures can be intermixed. As an idea we warmly welcome this new series, as too often figure sets try to cover too many types of action and end up covering none particularly well. Perhaps this sort of specialisation will become more common in future, but these are very nice figures that should receive a warm reception.