The Wars of the Roses - a series of civil wars between rival factions for the throne of England - does not on the face of it have much to do with Ireland or the Irish. True Ireland was nominally ruled by the English at the time, but this control really only extended to a variable but small part of Eastern Ireland known as the Pale, centred around Dublin, while the bulk was made up of largely independent fiefdoms of various lords, many of pure Irish blood. Of course any conflict will attract mercenaries and others looking for action and reward from the surrounding area, so some Irish undoubtedly did fight on English soil, but Ireland was more important as a place of refuge for those currently out of favour or doing badly in the struggle, and as a launch point for further action in England.
The power struggles in England naturally weakened the English grip on Ireland, and the Pale did shrink during this period, but Ireland did not completely escape the effects of the war. One full-scale battle took place there - at Piltown, near Waterford, in 1462 - between rival Irish families backing different sides in the war, and in addition there was the Lambert Simnel revolt of 1487. This was a final Yorkist attempt to overthrow the Lancastrian Henry VII, and involved an invasion of England which included many Irish troops. The invasion was crushed at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16th June, marking the last act of the Wars of the Roses.
Irish infantry of the day were basically of two types - the kern and the galloglass. The kern (in which we are also including the 'horseboys') were very lightly armed troops, mostly called out when required as part of feudal dues. Their lightness both in arms and armour made them less effective in battle, but excellent as light troops and in hit-and-run actions, of which there were large numbers in Irish warfare. Such men were armed with javelins or spears, a bow, cheap sword or even a sling, and in this set we find four such figures, being those in the middle row plus the bowman at the start of the third. These figures are all appropriately armed, and wear no armour - not even a helmet - which is quite correct. Their simple clothing is fine too, as is the fact that some are barefoot. Shields had largely died out in the rest of Western Europe but two of these figures carry small wooden examples, as did the real thing. These have a circular pattern punched into the surface. The archer holds a bow that is much smaller than the classic longbow but is a good size here, and we were pleased to see he has simply tucked a few arrows into his belt rather than carrying some form of container. The archer and the spearman both have a style of haircut known as a glib, which was a common style where a thick fringe almost covered the eyes. Everything about these kern looks very good.
The other part of Irish foot soldiers were the galloglass. These were professional soldiers tracing their origins to Scotland some centuries earlier, and they were the tough elite of Ireland’s soldiers. Such men formed the backbone of any Irish lord's forces, and they were much more effective in a full-scale battle than the kern. They usually wore mail armour and a full helmet, although there was never any uniformity in that the style depended on individual wealth, taste, availability and other factors. All the rest of the poses in this set represent these men, and while no two look alike all are quite authentic, although we must doubt the very wide sleeves of the cotún (aketon) coat on the middle two figures in the top row. The fact that these two are also not wearing any mail over their coats is reasonable however. The four in the top row are holding the classic weapon of such men, the battle axe that was often almost two metres in length and could have a particularly large blade. This was their signature weapon, and it is good to see so many in this set. We thought the last of the two galloglass in the bottom row was particularly splendid and could serve as an officer, although he carries the rather less common two-handed sword.
The sculpting is very nice, with all the detail you could want and good textures in places such as the mail. Fabrics etc. hang realistically, and the general proportions are very good, while the faces are excellent and very expressive. Most have facial hair, which is as it should be, although a couple look to be clean-shaven, which would have been unusual at the time. Our stats section shows these figures to be a bit too tall for the average North European male of the period, but the galloglass were routinely described as particularly large and tall men, so while such accounts should be treated with care, the size of these figures is perhaps not so much of a concern, although we would still say that for the kern these are too tall. Past RedBox sets have suffered terribly from flash, but these are relatively clean apart from the lower legs, and look good.
The general array of weapons is fine, although inevitably there are others we would have liked to see. It seems most Irish forces had more kern than galloglass, so the proportions here are not ideal, although most will find the galloglass more interesting anyway. The poses are a little flat, which is inevitable when there is no assembly or clever work with sophisticated moulds. The kern are fine (although the running man is likely to trip over his scabbard soon enough), and to be fair so are many of the galloglass, but the man in the top row holding his axe up high is less than ideal in our view.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this set is that just 10 poses represent two distinct types of warrior, so there is not a lot of either. However RedBox have done a pretty good job given that limitation, and these are basically very nice figures for a subject which to date no one else has attempted to cover at all. While perfectly serviceable for the Wars of the Roses, it is perhaps the innumerable raids and minor local conflicts between rival Irish lords that offer the most interesting utility for these figures, which offer something fresh for a period that has seen many duplicate releases over the years. RedBox are continuing their policy of representing less obvious areas of human history with their figures, and that is something we would loudly applaud, especially now they are making such decent figures as these.