The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was at the height of its power during the early part of the 17th century, and was one of the largest states in Europe. While it did not take part in the Thirty Years War directly its armies still found plenty of work battling Muscovites, rebellious Cossacks, Swedes, Ottomans and others. The title of this set points out that Poles could be mercenaries in the great conflict in Germany, and certainly that was true, with many serving in the Imperial armies. However the history of Poland provides plenty of opportunities to use such men, which can also partner the various sets of winged hussars and Cossacks already produced.
The ‘haiduk’ of the title was simply the regular Polish infantryman, and such troops had originally been introduced from Hungary, which remained a strong influence on the appearance of these men. Despite the widespread use of the pike in Western Europe most Haiduks were armed with the arquebus or matchlock musket, partly because they were seen as merely a support for the noble cavalry which dominated Polish armies of the day. If attacked by enemy cavalry it was assumed the Polish cavalry would provide suitable defence.
Our top row shows all the regular troops to be found in this set. As they should be, all are armed with a firearm and many also have the axe which was so commonly carried, although whether this was primarily intended as a close-quarters weapon (as for the last figure in the row) or merely for chopping wood seems to be uncertain. While the infantry were not often called upon to close with the enemy an axe would still make a very handy weapon if the need arose.
The second row shows some of the more specialist troops on offer. The first man appears to be carrying a bagpipe, or part thereof, since it is missing at least one pipe. Such an instrument is quite appropriate here, although it is not particularly well modelled. Next comes a flag-bearer with what seems like a fairly modest sized standard, and the last two figures are of ‘tenth-men’ – essentially non-commissioned officers in charge of nine other men who generally carried one of a variety of polearms. Both those on show here are OK, and were more a status symbol than a serious weapon, hence the decorative but inconvenient banner on one.
Haiduk officers were termed rotamasters, and we find two such men in the bottom row. One is holding something aloft which at first glance looks like a flaming torch but is probably meant to be a mace. The other rotamaster is in more conventional posture, raising his arm as if signalling. The diminutive final figure is a rotamaster’s boy, who was employed as a general servant which might include carrying their master’s sword, as here.
Unusually for the time haiduks were uniformed, and these figures conform to this dress code. They all wear the overcoat with fastenings of Hungarian style and carry a Hungarian sabre suspended from a waist belt. The tight trousers are typical of these men and of most Poles of the time, and the shoes are trzewiki. Finally the cap is, once again, Hungarian in style, sometimes decorated with feathers. The officers, as in any other army, wore the best clothes they could afford, so we find both these rotamasters with voluminous cloaks and much more extravagant caps. Although on the payroll boys would not necessarily wear a uniform, but the costume of this figure is appropriate.
The sculpting of these figures cannot be called great, yet it is not too bad at all. A fair amount of detail has been included and the folds in the loose clothing are mostly very believable, while the faces are quite good too. However some of the sculpting is quite flat and proportions can be a bit variable too, so we would have to say the sculpting is adequate, with the figures seeming rather weedy. The poses are quite fair although the man with axe raised in the air is pretty poor. Having less than half the figures in a box representing the ordinary soldiery is also quite disappointing as customers will inevitably find themselves with more pipers, NCOs and officers than they can usefully use. We felt the set could easily have lost an NCO and an officer in favour of two more ordinary soldiers.
The continued strength of this hobby at the time of release can be illustrated by the appearance of such relatively unknown subjects as this, and while the sculpting is a bit rough and there is too much emphasis on specialist figures this is still a very usable set which finally shows that Polish armies were about more than just winged hussars.