It is rare for anyone to make sets of sailors in this hobby, so this set and the two complementary sets (English Sailors in Battle and English Sailors Artillery) are something of a treat. The advertised period is a long one - two centuries - and much changed in the English navy during that time. The period began with English shipping mostly confined to the north-western waters of Europe, engaging in important trade such as with the Baltic, but with no political or military impact on the continent. Henry VIII, after his accession in 1509, did much to build up his country’s maritime abilities, but this dropped off again with the reigns of his children Edward and Mary, only picking up again under the watchful eye of John Hawkins during the long reign of Elizabeth. With her death there was another decline, then a revival in the 1620s, followed by considerable reform and enlargement under the Commonwealth and then under Charles II, when Samuel Pepys made his name. By 1700 Britain's maritime reputation was well established and she was on her way to becoming the dominant world maritime power.
For much of this period there were very few ships belonging to the monarch; during times of need vessels, and crews, were hired by the state from what we would now call the private sector. Therefore there was virtually no difference in appearance between merchant seamen, fisherman and those few employed directly on the King’s or Queen's ships, with practicality being the most important element of the clothing. A sailor’s clothing had to be hard-wearing and durable, and had to expect to get wet frequently, so was often of canvas rather than wool, so it dried more quickly. That apart, the clothing was much the same as that of any manual labourer of the time. From around 1623 some clothing was supplied, or rather sold, to the sailors by the Government, which was known as 'slops', and consisted of basic garments like shirts, jackets and breeches. The sailors in this set wear the usual very baggy breeches and shirts, and a variety of caps, all of which look appropriate for the period, despite being such a long one. Our only concern with the accuracy of these men is that all seem to be wearing shoes, and possibly stockings, when bare feet was the normal order of dress when on board. Also some of the sailors carry swords, which would only have occurred if they were very likely to have to assist the soldiers in a fight. The last two poses in the second row are much smarter than this, and so are not ordinary seamen. The first wears fairly typical clothing for a Tudor craftsman or merchant, so is likely to be a professional such as a master gunner or pilot - someone who would not be expected to man-handle the ship. The last figure, resplendent in his armour and with sword drawn, must be a senior officer, perhaps the captain, and he is dressed like a gentleman (not surprising since some captains were drawn from the nobility). Given his attire we might have expected him to also be wearing a helmet, or at least a hat, though this is a tiny point.
In general the poses are exactly what we might expect from such a set. A lot of running a ship at this time involved pulling on ropes and scaling the rigging to adjust the sails, which is what we see here. The first figure in the top row is handling a grappling hook, so could be about to attempt to grapple an enemy ship, while the fourth figure seems to be pushing something. The first figure in the second row is a helmsman holding the top of the whipstaff, which controlled the tiller and hence the rudder. The two baseless poses are of course men for the rigging, which just leaves the higher status men. The pilot or whatever holds his hand out to his right and the captain similarly to his left. Why we are not sure - it must happen from time to time, but neither seem like particularly useful or obvious poses to us, although if the first man is a pilot then he could simply be indicating direction.
The sculpting is pretty good, especially all the lose clothing, which is well represented. The faces are quite variable, with the captain’s being the best, but generally detail is good, though in places such as the feet it does get hard to make out. However the good sculpting is largely wasted thanks to the considerable amount of flash on most, but not all, of the figures. Why a manufacturer can achieve a good result on some figures, but not others on the same sprue we do not know, but at its worst there is a large amount here in many places, meaning you would need to spend a lot of time removing it to rescue the sculpts.
The quantity of flash is our major beef with this set, because it disfigures what is pretty decent sculpting, although anyone wanting to portray a Tudor or Stuart ship at work would probably want many more poses than the handful available here. Although few in number the poses are pretty good and realistic, though note they are not all the same as those depicted on the back of the box. Sailors of any Christian nation of the time would look much the same as these English, so this set has many uses, including of course merchant shipping and voyages of discovery/piracy (such as those of Drake and others). The two elite figures are very much 16th century in appearance (the captain even has a ruff), so are not appropriate for the whole of the period, but despite all that this is a creditable set that finally delivers some decent crew for a momentous period in the history of European seafaring.