Dragoons are generally described as mounted infantry – ‘foot’ soldiers that were fast moving because they rode to where they were needed but dismounted to fight. By the beginning of the 18th century that definition was already looking anachronistic as dragoons in all armies attempted to gain the elevated social status (and better pay) of genuine cavalry. This process was far from complete however, so in the army of Charles XII of Sweden (ruled 1697 to 1718) dragoons might still fight on foot or take part in traditional cavalry actions.
Except in minor details many military uniforms of the day were similar in most major European armies. Ironically Sweden’s dragoons were something of an exception, mostly wearing the Swedish Karpus cap at the start of the Great Northern War. Over time the familiar tricorn became more common, which is the headgear worn by all these figures, so they are better suited to the later years of the war as well as being potential troops for other armies of the time. Otherwise the uniform is entirely typical, with the coat and riding boots, while a musket is carried slung from one crossbelt and an ammunition pouch from another. This musket is surprisingly long, looking more like the infantry version (which technically is what they were still), although perhaps Dragoons carried such a weapon rather than the shorter cavalry carbine. Also the cartridge pouch has been sculpted to appear attached to the waist belt (which actually carried the sword). If this were so then the second crossbelt would serve no purpose. Not a significant problem but just a curiosity of the design.
It is often said that Swedish horses of the period were small by European standards, and for native breeds this was certainly true in the 17th century. However the Swedes had successfully improved their horses during their campaigning in Germany under Gustavus Adolphus, so it is possible that by 1700 their horse stock was little different to any other. Sadly evidence is lacking in this department, but while many commentators still insist the horses were small Zvezda have provided animals which are entirely appropriate for Germany or France. Whether this is an error is hard to say, so ultimately the customer must decide for themselves. However all the saddlery is certainly accurate, although we were less than enamoured with some of the unrealistic poses. The grazing animal makes a refreshing and very welcome change from the norm however.
Of course the reason we get the great standing horse is because one of the dragoons has dismounted to fire. Dismounted cavalry figures, even dragoons, are rare enough in this hobby, so again it is a pleasant surprise to see such a figure here. All the rest of the poses are fairly conventional, although the contemporary Swedish emphasis on cold steel means the man firing his pistol would have been the exception rather than the rule.
As usual the sculpting is great with nice clear detail. As Zvezda sets go this has very little assembly – only the dismounted dragoon has a separate right arm – but the fit is perfect as always. Snip off all those annoying and counter-productive pegs on the inside of the riders’ legs and you will find figures that sit very comfortably on their assigned mounts, making some lively and appealing models.
Another Zvezda habit which we could do without is engraving designs on flags. In this set the guidon has a cross with a crowned monogram at its centre. We could not find confirmation of this design, and would have preferred that shown on the box artwork, but dragoon standards came in many different designs so more reason than ever to leave it up to the customer. Interestingly whoever painted the examples on the back of the box seems to have known their stuff better than the sculptor, for they have ignored the dubious cross entirely and painted a more plausible design.
If niggles there are then they are at least confined mainly to the debatable horses, which those that choose to can remedy by substitution, but in the main this is still a very nice set and worthy of the quality stable from whence it came.