For those unfamiliar with the Wars of the Roses, they were essentially a dynastic struggle for the Crown of England between various powerful families. This struggle repeatedly flared into open warfare at various times between 1455 and 1485, when each side called armed men to its cause, both retainers and mercenaries, and even on occasion foreign allies from overseas. Since the source of troops and equipment was the same for both sides, individual soldiers could only be distinguished by any livery or badge that they wore, and whole units would most readily be identifiable by the banners they carried. Therefore for the purposes of unpainted figures both sides had the same appearance, so this set from RedBox is the first in a range depicting the various types of troops that fought at that time.
The later 15th century was a high point for the use of plate armour, with men going into battle effectively encased in protective metal. However this was expensive, and not all knights could afford such a suit, so they often had to make do with only certain parts. Some retainers were much more lowly, and often wore little metal armour, particularly if they were archers, who continued to be highly regarded at this period. This set contains a selection of such individuals, with a fairly typical variety of costume and weaponry.
Our top row shows a number of men carrying various pole-arms, a popular and inexpensive weapon yet very effective on the battlefield. Such weapons came in many different designs, of which those modelled here are fairly typical. Some of the poses are OK but some are pretty awkward, with the first figure in particular being impossible to achieve with the standard human anatomy. Had this figure been less two-dimensional then the pose could have been fine, but as it stands it is a very poor figure. All these men are quite heavily armoured, as might be expected since they would need to come face to face with their opponents. Three have a tabard or coat, which partly obscures their armour, but all have arm and leg protection and all have a helmet. This latter is mostly the popular sallet, but the third figure has the barbut style, which is still authentic.
The longbow continued to be a much-favoured weapon in England, and the three archers in this set are pretty good. All are in classic poses but all are correct, with two carrying their arrows in a bag while the third has arrows stuck in the ground for ease of access. As with the bill-men all the archers have typical sallet helmets, but all have coats of mail. Two have managed to have some plate armour on their legs, and one also wears a brigandine, a protective jacket, which was very popular as a cheaper form of armour. One has a sword and knife/dagger, but surprisingly neither of the other two have any visible edged weapon. The man reaching for a new arrow is strange not only in that the arrow he holds has absolutely no definition at all, but also because he is holding the bow upside down, which would be of no benefit and particularly unlikely if a high rate of fire is required.
The bottom row begins with a man holding an impressively well-sized banner. This is unengraved, so happily the customer can impose whatever design they wish on this. Such a man might well find himself in combat, so is fully armoured and has drawn his sword, although as he has no scabbard on his sword belt it is anyone’s guess where he drew the sword from. Beside this man is one holding a rather short axe-type polearm. He carries a horn, which we found quite suspicious as for the most part signals were made by trumpets or drums. While we could not establish whether horns were ever used in England at this time, we are doubtful and would have much preferred an uncontroversial trumpet instead. Otherwise this figure is well armoured and wears a helmet with a feather crest that would have been quite unusual, especially in this form, although it could always be trimmed off. Finally we find a swordsman who again has a rather fanciful feather display on his visored helmet, which is perhaps there to suggest higher rank. He brandishes a sword, although like the banner-man he lacks a scabbard for it.
RedBox have had an unenviable reputation for the poor quality of their figures in the past, but recent releases have shown a marked improvement, and these figures too are much better than their earlier output. The finer detail like mail and faces are quite nicely done, but in places things still go astray, with poor or no definition. A few of the poses are noticeably flat, but the eye is inevitably drawn to the amount of flash here, which is extensive. While much of the flash surrounds the sprue, which will not worry anyone, the figures themselves also have a good deal of it as can be seen from our pictures. It is however entirely inconsistent, with some figures having an admirable lack of excess plastic while others wallow in it. Much time with a sharp knife will be required to rescue some of these models from the poor mould.
While the two dominant styles of armour at the time were German and Italian, armour in England had something of both styles and was often made locally, and all the figures here look to have quite typical armour. Only the horn and the feather crests gave as any concern regarding accuracy, and as we have said the sculpting is pretty good. Where this set really fails is in the quality of the mould, which has large amounts of flash, and we also found some pieces (the longbows) were already broken on some sprues even though the plastic is the normal quite flexible type. One final problem with the process of turning sculpt into product is the sizing, for these figures are on average too tall for late medieval Europe. So these are some quite fair sculpts that have been let down by the process of turning them into plastic figures.