Ask most people to draw a picture of a knight and they will probably come up with a man in full plate armour, but perhaps running a close second would be the knight dressed head to foot in mail with a large enclosed helmet and a surcoat with a cross or other heraldic device on it. If you are of a certain age then chances are you played with those very colourful Timpo knights in your youth, and this set from Caesar is pretty much the solid 1/72 scale equivalent, for surely Timpo had the 13th century very much in mind when they designed their products.
All these figures are entirely suitable for the advertised 13th century, but not necessarily all of it. Instead between them they illustrate the features you might find on a knight at the start of the century or those that were introduced as it progressed. Common elements are the virtually full-body mail and the surcoat, but the helmets, which range from open faced and simple conical to full great helms, follow the evolution of this item; one man even has a very pleasing crest and ribbons on his fine example. The surcoats vary in style but all are reasonable apart from four of the poses, who have surcoats that are full length at the back but only reach just below the waist at the front, and are split up the sides rather than up the middle. The practice of cutting short the surcoat at the front dates from around 1325, so post-dates the advertised 12th century of these figures. Several have poleyns (knee defences) and several also have half or full tubular greave-like protection on the lower leg. These are schynbalds, and were known in the 13th century (though perhaps not until around 1290), but were not common until the 14th, so we felt they were much over-represented here.
Moving on to what these men carry, we find most have the most important weapon of the knight's arsenal - the sword. Given the scale we thought these were all reasonable models, which leaves just two poses carrying an axe and the figure with a pennant on a lance. Axes may not have had the same cache as swords, but they were still used so these are fine, although both examples here are much too large to be realistic. The shields most carry are of the common heater type by this time, so all here are fine, and interestingly one figure carries a shield more almond shaped, which is a style that was more common in the East but perfectly good here.
The sheer action in these poses is a real highlight of the set. When we complain that you can't really do a good figure with edged weapon and shield without making multiple parts we always exclude Caesar, for their more sophisticated moulds allow them to make beautifully deep and natural poses without a single separate weapon or shield, as here. Almost all the poses are really nicely animated and full of life, and don't suffer from one of the common problems with one-piece man-and-shield - they are actually holding the shield in front of them as protection! Sometimes we pick our favourite poses, but in this set all of them are terrific.
The sculpting too is a joy to behold. A very decent effort at texturing the mail is complemented by some really well done folds in the surcoats and excellent detail on finer features like the helmets and the faces. Sword scabbards don't just follow the line of the leg because that is easier for the sculptor, and yet there is no trace of extra plastic hidden from the mould. We were however shocked, SHOCKED, to find some flash. Now there is very little of it, and on most sets that would count as very good, but this is about the first time we have ever found flash on Caesar figures. Don't let that put you off though - compared to most manufacturers the flash is still minimal and only in a handful of places.
Naturally a 13th century knight would feel most comfortable mounted, and indeed every man here is wearing spurs, but all the figures do lack a dagger, which was an item increasingly commonly worn on the belt as the century progressed. Again, its absence is not wrong, but a few daggers would have been a good move, particularly since so many of the figures are only really appropriate for the latter part of the period. The mix of early and late items is not a problem as older items continued in use for a very long time, so even at the end of the century their use would merely have marked out the less wealthy knights. In an otherwise highly commendable set the shortened surcoat on four of the figures and the oversized axes are the only real flies in the ointment, so while we would much prefer no flies in our ointment this is still a very welcome set.