The 14th and 15th centuries saw considerable social change in Europe - change that was to an extent reflected in the art of warfare. The old feudal system was to decline greatly during this time as a falling population gave the commoners a stronger position, and much military service was commuted into money payments, while towns steadily grew in importance. The rise of the merchant and lower classes were seen as a threat by the established aristocracy, which also suffered the indignity of discovering that their chivalric method of fighting wars from horseback was rapidly becoming outdated, so that by the mid 15th century the Hundred Years War was mainly one of infantry conducting sieges. In the popular mind the knights dominated medieval warfare, but in reality the common and paid infantry became crucial to later French successes, and this set from Zvezda, a companion to their French Knights, depicts these men.
Without the wealth that many knights could command the common foot soldier was far more varied in his appearance and weaponry. Those still fulfilling feudal obligations might use equipment that was decades old, while the best professionals could afford the latest and best paraphernalia. With only 12 poses these figures cannot cover the full range, but they do a pretty good job anyway. Many of the men wear mail, to which some elements of plate armour have been added, while others make do with a jack or similar padded tunic, although all sport a helmet. The helmets are mainly the bascinet or the chapel-de-fer, but a couple have a sallet - an item which only appeared during the mid 15th century. That aside the clothing is appropriate for the whole period and properly done.
Weaponry too is diverse, with several polearms, a spear, axe, long hammer and mace. Two of the figures are using the crossbow - many such men being the famous Genoese crossbowmen that served the French. The man reloading his crossbow is using a windlass, which is fine but only dates from the later 14th century. Shields are much in evidence, which became more associated with sieges than open battle later in the period, which matches the nature of the war, so no problem there. In short, while not every figure is suitable for the entire period claimed on the box there are no accuracy issues here.
The poses are for the most part really great, and this inevitably is attributable in large measure to the fact that most of the figures have multiple parts that require assembly. With pre-gunpowder armies however this is much the best approach to achieve complete realism, and we really liked almost all those in this set. The one fly in the ointment is the last figure on the second row, which is almost the only figure that requires no assembly, and therefore is rather flat, especially when compared to his comrades.
Zvezda have long been known for their excellent sculpting, and this is as good an example as any. Detail is clear and plentiful, and proportions are excellent throughout. Although multiple parts need to be put together these are all flawlessly engineered so no filing or glue is required at any stage yet the fit is virtually permanent. The occasional slight loss of detail where the piece is hidden from the mould is hardly noticeable as the parts make lively, three-dimensional figures with no excess plastic at all.
This is a rich and wide subject which 12 poses can never cover in much depth, and there is plenty of other features we would have liked to see, but there are already several other sets that could complement this one. This therefore merely adds to what is already available, but does so with style, and no one with an interest in the period will be disappointed with these figures.