If you could program your TARDIS or DeLorean to journey back to Ireland during the period known in England as the Wars of the Roses, you would have been hard-pressed to see any sign of that conflict. Ireland in the later 15th century was ruled by a large number of local lords who had strong family and tribal loyalties, and often fought each other in small local wars or simply raided neighbours to gain livestock. The small portion nominally ruled by England, the Pale, was dominated by the two greatest Anglo-Irish families of the time, the Geraldines (Fitzgeralds) and Butlers, who took opposing sides in the English dynastic struggle. As a result the Pale shrank as England’s grip loosened, but few of the many small conflicts in Ireland could be said to be directly related to the Wars of the Roses, although the fortunes of each of the Anglo-Irish families broadly followed those of their allied side in England. The preferred method of fighting was raid and ambush, so stand-up battles like Piltown in 1462 were very rare, but Irish forces always had some mounted troops, so this set is the perfect accompaniment to the earlier RedBox set of Irish foot troops.
As elsewhere in Europe, cavalry were not the decisive battle-winner in Ireland, and the infantry were the most important part of any army. Inevitably the mounted troops were the wealthy and the elite, but even these were what we would call light cavalry. Their weapons were the spear and the javelin, and their prime function was to skirmish, watch the enemy and harass a fleeing foe at the end of an engagement. There was very little plate armour, and when armour was worn at all it was usually mail, which we find on two of the poses in this set. With his great helmet and mighty sword, the last figure in the second row is clearly a man of great substance and quite possibly command, but he would be the exception. The two horsemen in the same row have more modest open-faced helmets , and the first wears a long padded aketon with vertical quilts, known locally as a cotun. The three men in the top row wear no body armour, and instead have the typical simple tunic with large sleeves, trews and shoes. One man also wears a cloak, and he has a helmet with a curiously turned up nasal which is quite typical. Everything about the costume here is reasonable and appropriate for the period.
While the senior man carries a sword, the others have either a lance or javelins. The lance was used overarm as demonstrated by the man in the top row, since the Irish did not use stirrups at this time so could not couch the lance like others did. These lances are about three metres in length, which is good. The humblest men here carry javelins, a weapon abandoned in the rest of western Europe but still used to effect in Ireland. Finally all bar the chief carry round shields, again long abandoned elsewhere by this date but still in widespread use in Ireland.
Only having two horse poses in the set is not great, but they are unique to the Irish in several ways. Most obviously, they have nothing that most people would recognise as a proper saddle. Instead the Irish used a pad which here has been decorated with a checker pattern. Instead of a saddle cloth they are shown using a cover which is secured with a breast-strap, crupper and surcingle. All this is accurate, but we were not impressed by the sculpting of these animals. They have a decidedly podgy appearance, and while the Irish were more often mounted on smaller animals, even ponies, rather than the large war-horses seen in England, we did not feel these models did them justice. However there are no accuracy errors on these unusual models, and the poses, while not great, are much better than many we see done in plastic.
We liked the sculpting of the men better than the horses, for these are very nicely done with good detail and life-like proportions. The faces are pretty full of character too, and the hair styles are interesting, although we would expect to see the popular 'glib' style, which is not here, rather than the one man here who sports what we would now call a full Mohican, for which there seems to be no evidence! The figures in the top row are nice and active, while the better-off ones in row two are more sedate, but all the poses are useful. The middle figure in the top row is quite flat, however, since he is holding his javelin directly over the middle of his head, which is neither desirable nor anatomically possible.
Had you been standing in a boggy field somewhere witnessing a 15th century Irish fight we think these figures are a good reflection of what you might have seen, as apart from a doubtful haircut there are no accuracy problems here. The men are nicely sculpted, and in good poses that are for the most part lively and not flat. The horses are correctly furnished, but are not such good representations of the species, though the men sit on their backs well so they at least do the job. One other difference between man and beast is the men are very clean, with no flash or extra plastic anywhere, while the horses do suffer from quite a lot of flash unfortunately. This is a particularly interesting and unusual set, and covers an area that rarely gets coverage, so models and armies made up with these figures should be particularly attention-grabbing, and once more we must commend RedBox for covering their chosen subject so thoroughly.