French foreign policy in the first half of the 17th century was largely concerned with one country. While much of Europe concerned itself with what would become known as the Thirty Years War in Germany, France was more concerned with Spain and the possibility of being effectively surrounded by Austrian and Spanish Habsburg territories. The result inevitably was war, and in a series of conflicts that extended far beyond the Thirty Years War itself, France inflicted a number of defeats on the Spanish which would see her supplant Spain as the predominant military power in Europe. Of course artillery played its part in these operations, although at least at the start of the period the guns were so large and heavy as to be difficult to move in open battle, and were more useful when it came to siege work. This was a time of great improvements in the army of France, with the Duc de Sully being charged with improving the artillery. As a result there were 400 new pieces available for the field army, although the artillery was not held in particularly high esteem, and it continued to use many foreigners as well as introducing a number of Swedish innovations.
Many artillery sets contain four crew figures, and that is what we find here. We often point out that such guns require many more, but four seems to be the minimum decent complement. Some other crews have figures all performing their assigned tasks, which of course could not happen simultaneously, but here we have a more co-ordinated crew. The man directly interacting with the gun is the second pictured figure, who is applying the match to the piece. The man in charge of the sponge or ramrod is cheering - perhaps at a particularly good shot - while the others are carrying a barrel of powder and a bucket. As a result all make sense deployed around the same gun, which is good, and we really liked the choice of poses too. The cheering man has plenty of character, but all the men are nicely poised and look very natural. In an age before uniforms all wear standard working dress of the age, with the bucket-man in particular in short sleeves - a touch of realism often overlooked in figure sets.
Unusually this set also includes a number of mounted officers. The two poses are much less active, apparently observing events, which is perfectly likely for such men. Both are suitably dressed for gentlemen, with the hatless man wearing a cassock and the other having a long coat or hooded cloak. The six horses with which they have been provided (all different poses) are quite basically equipped but look OK nonetheless, with each having a brace of pistols for emergencies. For officers watching their unit and in apparently quite relaxed poses, some of the horses are anything but relaxed, so some combinations of man and beast will seem a bit odd. The horse poses themselves are better than some but still leave room for improvement, although some of the legs are quite well done. This, however, has been at the cost of extra plastic between these legs, which is invisible in our photographs but a lot more obvious in real life.
Finally we come to the gun itself. There was a dazzling array of types and sizes of guns at this time, but with a barrel of 39mm (2.8 metres) this is one of the larger examples. The barrel is nicely done, and the carriage, although simplified, is also not too bad and of the most common design. However for a barrel of this length the carriage should be significantly longer, although this is not too obvious to the casual observer. What is more obvious is the way the barrel meets the carriage. A peg on the underside of the barrel meets with a peg on the bed of the carriage. Yes, you read that correctly, two pegs meet, which of course is a nonsense. In fact both pegs have to be removed before the barrel will sit in its trunnions, and it needs gluing to stay in place, but this is no great hardship.
The gun goes together easily enough (once you remove those pegs), but the sculpting of the figures is quite variable. In places they are quite nice and reasonably defined, but in others things do go wrong, as for example the man who is not actually gripping his ramrod, and the linstock with the match only sculpted on one side. In any case the rod holding the match should have a forked end, which it does not. The officers sit on their mounts very well, and a good paint job will, as always, rescue most of the problems with these figures, but before paintbrush hits paint there will need to be a great deal of trimming of flash, which is quite considerable on two of the figures and the wheels of the gun, but absent at the other end of the sprue. Maybe this is a feature which will vary between individual sets.
You get a lot of mounted officers with this set, which is nice to see although verging on overkill, but many of the artillery gunner’s tools of the trade are missing. Nothing unusual in that, of course, and there are other sets of 17th century artillery to add variety anyway. The variable quality of the sculpting, or at least of the mould production, is disappointing, but everything here is accurately done and we liked the poses (at least those of the humans), so there is much to recommend this flawed but interesting set.