The succession of wars between the crowns of England and France over who should pay homage to whom and who owned which bit of the planet meant that at various times in the medieval period English troops fought on French soil and French troops fought on English soil. During the Hundred Years War the English had some notable victories such as Crécy and Agincourt, but this was an age where wars were increasingly won by possession of towns and castles, and ultimately it was the French crown that prevailed.
The longbow was the super weapon of the age, and by the later part of the war English armies often contained far more bowmen than men-at-arms or knights, so it is pleasing to see almost half the figures in this set representing these men. That still under-represents them of course, but is probably as far as Zvezda felt they could go for sound commercial reasons. The bowmen are all in the act of fetching an arrow or drawing their bow, and we loved all the poses. The second figure is particularly fine, and has been achieved with a separate right arm, but the rest are a single piece. Costume too is good if you assume the set depicts Agincourt (which is our guess), with a couple wearing helmets but no other metal armour apparent. There are no quivers (which is as it should be), and arrows are either carried in bundles at the waist or stuck into the ground, close at hand when they are required, while the arrow is correctly held (an improvement on some earlier sets). Several seem to have their hose draped around their ankles, alluding to the practice at Agincourt where many were suffering from dysentery.
Most of the rest of the poses depict the men-at-arms - ordinary soldiers contracted to the king for the duration of the campaign. The falchion sword, axe and polearms are fine but no one is using a spear, hammer or dagger, and few even have a knife, while many of the scabbards are much too short, which is very strange. Perhaps Zvezda felt these are already well covered in other sets, which is true, but we would still prefer to see some here. Shields too are an interesting element. The heater style was the norm, and one man has the older semi-kite shaped style, which was more common during the earlier part of the war. The set also includes a round shield, which might seem far too archaic for this period but was in fact still being used, particularly by skirmishers.
The costume for the men-at-arms is also very well done. They wear tunics or hauberks, some of mail, and some have quilted gambesons or similar. These are professional men-at-arms, not a peasant horde, so they all have the benefit of a helmet and all carry a sword. Again assuming a date of around 1415 these are accurately done, but by the end of the war more plate armour would have been worn. The poses are all very good, often achieved through separate arms and shields.
The standard-bearer, trumpeter and knight are equally pleasing to the eye. The standard is not caught by the wind and is therefore limp, and happily has no engraved pattern. The knight wears a great helm - a device increasingly rarely seen on the battlefield as the war progressed as it severely restricted vision, but not yet unknown by Agincourt.
Sculpting is superb in all departments and flash is barely visible, while the separate parts mean there is no excess plastic. As with all Zvezda figure sets the separate parts are numerous but fit very securely with no need for glue, although we did find one or two arms left a small gap between arm and shoulder, and were a difficult shape to handle. For the axe man at least the arm can be set at various angles, adding some variety to the pose.
As can be seen the set includes an accessory - wooden stakes hammered into the ground to form a rudimentary palisade. At Agincourt, and doubtless elsewhere, these were described as '...six feet long, of sufficient thickness and sharpened at both ends.'. They were to be '...driven into the ground pointing towards themselves, the other end pointing towards the enemy at above waist height.'. Past attempts at this have resulted in rather short stakes that would not seriously worry cavalry, but here the stakes are longer and look more credible as a result.
We felt the longbows were a little too long for comfort - usually they were only a little taller than the archer, and while these are perhaps only as long as the longest a more representative mixture would have been nice. A bigger problem is that the figures are too tall for the period, although the complete absence of buckler shields and some of the most common weapons were also a disappointment. These are beautifully sculpted and beautifully engineered figures, but Zvezda still need to address the scale of their creations. Labeling their figures to something more precise than a period of over a century might be a smart move too.