Some subjects are a challenge to research because of the paucity of published information, but not European knights of the 15th century. The classic image of a knight in shining armour is the knight of that century, encased from head to foot in steel and almost impregnable. The truth was a little different, but still this was the peak of the art of the armourer, when those that could afford it covered themselves in plate not only for protection, but also to announce their wealth and importance.
The whole subject of armour is a large and complex one, and we won’t be boring anyone with it here. Styles varied considerably, and the underlying principles developed over the course of the hundred years in question, but to our eye everything here looks authentic. Of the two great armour-producing regions of the day the style is more Italian than German, although this does not limit their use to Italy as Italian armour was widely exported throughout Europe. With very little mail visible these are better figures for the second half of the century, although far from inappropriate for much of the first half too. No one wears surcoats or jupons, which were disappearing early in the century, so everyone here is 'alwite' - just bare armour. In fact these figures are probably not as varied as the real thing would be, as all are quite similar in style, although there are a number of differences which can help to pinpoint time periods, or just as easily illustrate the use of old armour long after it was made.
Five of the poses have visored or great basinet helmets, which declined in usage through the period. A mixture of rounded and sharply-defined styles covers a wider time period, which is nice to see. Four wear the later sallet helmet, which grew in popularity later in the century. Here all are of similar design, with a single slot in the face for visibility, so again while other forms could have been modelled all these are perfectly reasonable. Finally three have the curious barbute, a single-piece helmet with a narrow opening for the face which much resembled helmets of antiquity. Again the styles vary but all these are correct.
The main knightly weapon was the sword, and that is how two thirds of these poses are armed. The sword styles look great, and of course everyone is carrying one even if they are not using it. Those that are not using their sword have a polearm, generally called a pollaxe, which combined blade, hammer and spike in one weapon. With no reins or shield to hold both hands were free for using this highly effective form of weapon, and many knights did just that, particularly after 1400, despite it’s less exulted status compared to the sword. Once again designs were far too numerous to mention, but those in this set all look excellent. The simple spear may be just a shortened lance, and again is appropriate. All the men also have daggers on the right hip, which is quite correct although we thought that a few seemed particularly large.
When considering the poses the most obvious thing to say first is that everyone is dismounted. By this time cavalry was still seen as an elite, and of course all knights were mounted, but its limitations in battle were widely recognised and many knights dismounted to fight. Figures with edged weapons always present figure-makers with problems, and the results can often be very flat. Caesar have never produced flat figures and these are no different, yet nearly all come as one piece. The only exception is the first figure in the bottom row, who has a separate sword. Clearly the usual superior Caesar mould technology has been used again, as these poses are lovely and deep and work perfectly for the weapons they carry without compromising detail or having too much excess plastic. There is plenty of life here too, with the only really static pose being the last in the last row. For some reason this individual has not been given a base (he stands OK without one), but he put us in mind of the many empty suits of armour to be seen in some of the great houses of Europe.
Caesar always use a slightly softer compound of plastic than many other manufacturers, and since the figures are never delivered on a sprue this can mean long thin weapons can suffer from being bent while in the box. Certainly we found most of those in our review box to be so bent, which means an annoying but not impossible task straightening them out again (placing them in boiling water vapour for a few seconds does the trick). Equally this does not bode well for keeping paint on if the figures are roughly handled. However we cannot fault these figures for the level of detail, nor for the overall proportions, which are perfect. As we said all bar one of the figures come complete, yet all, even those holding a shield, have no loss of detail, and none have any flash at all. The one separate sword fits very nicely into the drilled fist so does not even need gluing.
With a healthy level of trade in arms and armour throughout Western Europe, a knight in one country would look no different to that in another, and there were very many wars in which to display their skill at arms. Being so carefully protected, dismounted knights seldom carried a shield, so the two in this set are an appropriate representation, and much the same goes for the mix of weapons. There are no accuracy issues here, and perhaps just as importantly these figures look really good, so this is certainly a set to be commended.