Although crests had been very popular since ancient times for decorating a warrior and giving him an extra sense of height to intimidate the enemy, for many it is the development of the often outlandish helmet crests of the High Middle Ages that represent the high point of the form. From around the middle of the 12th century heraldry as we know it developed in Europe, in part to aid identification of important persons on the battlefield, particularly as closed helms, which made the wearer entirely anonymous, started to appear in the late 12th century. Helmet crests were a part of that, and began appearing in the last decade of the 12th century, although as time went on they became less common on the battlefield and were increasingly reserved for ceremonial and, in particular, tournament. Although the figures in this set are equally suitable for war or tournament, the many accessories show that it is the tournament that is the focus here.
To begin with the set is unusual in that it is less a set of figures and more a kit of parts from which seven mounted knights can be fashioned. For this reason we have chosen to show the component parts rather than completed figures so as to give some idea of the enormous variety that is available. Each part on the sprue is numbered one to seven, which we have followed in grouping the components above. However this is just a suggestion, and with little or no work many of the parts can be swapped around more freely than this, so if you have ever wanted to build your own knight in 1/72 scale then this is your chance! Take a look at the sprue to understand the way this works, but essentially you get seven bodies with legs, and you add arms, heads etc. to taste. We have chosen one head and one left arm for each, and shown the rest of the options alongside. The plastic is quite rigid and perfect for this sort of fine engineering assembly, and we found all the parts fitted really well, although of course some are pretty small. Everything has to be glued, but the plastic takes ordinary cement extremely well so this is no problem.
The dizzying array of options covers a multitude of possibilities in that various types of helmet, surcoat and armour cover a good bit of the heyday of white armour. The crests which appear on many of the helmets are all really nicely done and all are authentic, although a huge number of designs would be anyway. Most of the decoration and armour is generic, but one figure – the first in our photo gallery – is clearly meant to be Edward, the ‘Black Prince’ (1330-1376), son of Edward III of England. This is because he has the very distinctive helmet and lion crest, and both his surcoat and the horse’s trapper have engraved what is formally known in heraldry as ‘label of three points’, which is the silver horizontal line with three points coming off it – a cadency mark denoting the eldest son and so still to be seen today on the coat of arms of the current heir to the British throne.
Apart from the mount of the Prince of Wales all the trappers are plain or have a discreet line engraved around them, so are ready for painting however you like. The horses have several different styles of trapper, and many have some plate armour of different types on the head and/or neck. The poses are all excellent, achieved by the simple yet rare device of having all the animals as two separate halves. The men fit the animals very well.
Apart from the splendid knights the set is made a good deal larger by some sizeable accessories. To begin with there are two grandstands, each coming as one piece with a number of figures engraved as spectators. These are really semi-flats, but would still look good decorating the edge of a scene. These two pieces betray where Emhar must have got at least some of their inspiration, because such erections are pictured in two very similar illustrations, one in a Funcken book and the other in an Osprey Elite book (see below). From these we learn that the first pictured grandstand holds the judges with their staves of office, along with others concerned with identifying the participants and recording the results of contests. The coats of arms displayed on the front of the stand identifies the judges themselves. The second is simply a stand with a number of ladies watching the action, all wearing the very tall headdresses fashionable at Court in the late medieval period. Between them is a man who is holding aloft a crested helmet, which apparently belongs to the nominated knight of honour at the tournament, who will not be engaging in combat.
Beside one of the stands is the sole foot figure, a fashionably-dressed man who might be part of the party of one of the knights – perhaps his squire. He seems to be holding a stick on which he might place his master’s helmet for display prior to the action getting started. Perhaps useful as a herald or referee?
Finally we have a tent, which looks perfectly appropriate for the medieval period. It is however especially large, being about 70mm (5 metres) to the top of the crown and 56mm (4 metres) in diameter at the base. We are no experts on tents, but that seems absolutely enormous for a tent of this design, and a mounted knight can easily ride through the entrance without lowering his head, even with an extravagant crest! We felt the entrance should be about the height of a man, with all the other proportions kept as is, which would make a more believable structure and also take up much less room in the box (as the tent comes in just two halves).
As with all Emhar figures, the sculpting here is superb, with all the detail beautifully crafted, which is just as well with such complex subjects as these. As we have said, all the many parts fit together perfectly and there is no flash anywhere. The various arms can be positioned at any angle you like, and all the long slender lances and swords are exactly as slender as they should be.
It is hard to be critical of this set, although if it had been ours we would have ditched the tent and provided a few more foot figures as spectators, heralds and varlets, and perhaps a dismounted knight or two. As it is however it is not a complete set for a tournament, but then it does not claim to be. As a set of crested knights it offers exactly that, along with some interesting extras that help create a suitable setting for them. The amount of options is certainly an impressive element, and will improve the usability and appeal to those who enjoy putting their figures together. The effort required to design and sculpt a complex set such as this must have been considerable but in our view the results were well worth it.