When civil war broke out in England in 1642 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), an unremarkable member of Parliament with virtually no military experience, dutifully raised a troop of cavalry for the campaign against the King. It quickly became apparent that he was a natural leader, creating a well organised and well-disciplined unit that soon made a name for itself, and he rapidly rose through the ranks such that by the time of the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 he was a Lieutenant General of horse, and Parliament’s cavalry, which had initially been a poor second to that of the King, was becoming a professional and formidable force. With the establishment of the professional army known to history as the New Model Army in 1645, Cromwell was the commander of the cavalry and the second in command of the whole army. He would go on to become Lord Protector of England - the only time that England has ever been a republic - and his life and legacy are still fiercely debated today, but his abilities as a commander of cavalry are beyond doubt.
At the start of the Civil War there were basically three types of horsemen - heavily armoured cuirassiers, lighter harquebusiers and dragoons. Cuirassiers were expensive and so hard to raise and maintain, so relatively few fought in the Civil War, and dragoons at this stage were still mounted infantry who fought on foot, so the great majority of the cavalry were harquebusiers, as modelled in this set. Indeed the image of these 'Ironsides' has become one of the most recognised soldiers of the Civil War, and until this set appeared only the excellent Revell Thirty Years War Cavalry provided anything like suitable models.
The first impression of this set is very good. The sculpting is excellent - lovely detail and really nice figures overall with only a small amount of flash, although there is a bit of a ridge in places round the mould line. The men fit the horses very comfortably, but the fourth pictured figure, who has a choice of right arms, requires some assembly and as there is no significant peg and hole arrangement the arm must be glued, so you might either want to use cyanoacrylate or support the join with a pin. That aside this is a top class sculpting job, and a good performance too from those that made the mould.
The poses, however, are pretty disappointing. Not that any of them are actually wrong or inappropriate, but simply because there are only three fighting poses and each one has a different type of weapon, so don't work together easily. The trooper with the carbine would be on outpost or picket duty rather than in a battle where swords or pistols have been drawn, and while the other two could be seen together in such instances as in a melee, most customers are likely to want to have multiple soldiers with drawn swords or multiples using their pistols. Instead we have a pose for each of the major weapons, but with only one each there is no way of modelling a charge or any other group cavalry activity. Other manufacturers have provided cavalry sets of just four poses, which is not ideal, but have wisely made them all holding a sword so at least a decent charge can be modelled. In this case, while we might have liked the fact that all weapons are represented, a set with just three fighting poses is not the place to do it.
It could easily have been done better. The fourth pose has a choice of arms as you can see, holding either a trumpet or a standard. By having a separate arm both pose options are much better than the usual offerings of this sort, particularly for the trumpeter, who looks very natural. However why couldn’t a sword arm, and perhaps one holding a pistol, have been added to the sprue, instantly making the choice of poses considerably greater? Without them, every three troopers get a trumpeter or a cornet (standard-bearer), when in fact there would typically be one cornet and two trumpeters for every 50 or 60 men, which means either a lot of conversion or a lot of wasted figures. Again, other manufacturers have offered extra sword arms, so this was an opportunity missed, leaving us to wonder what can really be achieved with the few poses provided.
We now come to the subject of accuracy; the men look nice, but are they an authentic recreation of Cromwell’s horse? Starting with the helmets, we were very surprised to see no examples of the most common type, the 'lobster' pot with the three-bar hinged faceguard. Instead what we have here are examples of the Zischagge type, with a reinforced crown and the classic 'lobster tail' protection down the neck, but with just a single (sliding) nasal bar on three of them and no face guard at all on the fourth. Such a helmet was certainly worn during the Civil War, although as they were European imports they were mostly worn by the Royalists rather than Cromwell’s troops, but by far the more common type was the three-bar pot. Had someone been making a set with a dozen different poses then a couple with this helmet might have been justified, but with just four poses you really have to stick mostly to the most common characteristics in our view, not omit it entirely.
Moving to the body, we find all the men wear a coat with front and rear cuirass, which is fine. Contrary to popular belief not all such men wore the classic buff coat, and the price (and therefore quality) of buff coats varied greatly as you might expect, but we found the sculpting of these coats was fine and could be painted as either buff leather or fabric. The front and rear cuirass too is fine, but two of the four poses also have tassets (armour on the upper thigh) and a culet (armour covering the upper buttocks) below the cuirass. These were worn by cuirassiers and infantry pikemen, but never by harquebusiers, so are wrong here (and have been sculpted as some sort of continuous skirt, which is also wrong). It should be pointed out that there was no absolute uniform for any man in the Civil War, so many variations are possible and indeed likely, but for this set our judging was based on what was typical rather than feasible.
All the men wear gloves on their right hand, which is good, and three have a long metal gauntlet on their left, or bridle hand. This reached up to the elbow and was to protect this vulnerable area so they could keep control of the horse. It has been properly done here, although it seems this particular item became less common later in the war, and would not have been universal at any stage, so has about the right level of representation here. The long boots reaching to the hem of the coat look good too.
There is one thing missing from these figures, and that is a sash, scarf or other form of field sign. Both sides fielded large numbers of men dressed more or less like these, so identifying friend from foe was very important as it had always been throughout military history before the widespread adoption of uniforms. During the Civil War scarves, sashes or other bits of material tied on the body served this function, but no one here has any such thing, which is a real pity.
Having discussed the various aspects of 'uniform' we really need to consider the last figure separately, because whichever arm you choose will make him something other than a trooper. If he is to be a cornet then he would certainly not be carrying a clumsy carbine around like this man - after all, how could you use it while holding the standard? Some cornets seem to have been more flamboyantly costumed than the troopers too, but some may have looked more or less like this man. However the trumpeter is wildly wrong, because they seem always to have been in something akin to civilian costume, as befitted their primary role of signals and message-carrying, rather than combat. Certainly they would have no carbine, and probably no pistols either, while the sword, while a necessity for any gentleman, might well have been blunted and just for show. They would also have no armour, and probably no buff coat, plus his trumpet and its banner are both much too small, so really this man is no good at all as a trumpeter, despite the arm.
Like the men the weapons are beautifully sculpted, but happily they all look accurate too. You can see that the pistol is a flintlock rather than a wheellock, so the detail is great. How many men actually went into battle carrying a carbine is open to debate, but many probably did not, though all these poses carry one. Parliament had access to much of the country's manufacturing industry, so it is likely most of their cavalry carried two pistols whereas many Royalists did not. They all have a powder flask, but no sign of a bag for the shot their pistols and carbines would need.
Next we come to the horses. Over the years we have seen many horse poses that no animal answering to that name could possibly achieve, usually erring on the side of legs flying in all directions. The first horse pictured above answers this description perfectly, and while the second is not perfect it is certainly a good deal better. However even if the first pose had been entirely natural, having two poses of animals at full gallop is of little use to us. Imagine the trooper firing his carbine from either of these animals - ridiculous, and the man with the pistol would have been almost as bad, since pistols were almost useless at anything other than point blank range. Even the man with the sword, who could certainly be in a charge, would very rarely find himself on such an animal as the manuals recommended a charge to be carried out at a trot. Doubtless on occasion a horse really went flat out, but again if you are offering a lot of poses then perhaps make a couple like this; if only offering two, make sure they are useful, which means standing, walking or trotting at most.
Staying with the horses, the bridles look OK to us as far as they go, and the saddles, though very simple and perhaps not typical of horse at the time, are probably OK as many types were pressed into service. The rolled cloak or coat behind the saddle is reasonable, but the saddlebags either side of the saddle are not - we found plenty of contemporary and modern reconstructions of horse from this date, but none have saddlebags like these. Saddlecloths of the day tended to be square and sometimes fringed, but we found no evidence for the scalloped edging produced here, which make them look more Napoleonic than 17th century. Both animals have a brace of pistols in holsters on the front of the saddle, which is good. From contemporary illustrations it seems clear there was no standard way of arranging these pistols, by which we mean whether they had the handle facing the rider or forward. Since both would be pulled by the right hand it makes sense to have the left pistol facing forward and the right facing the rider, but this seems to have been entirely up to the rider, so the arrangement here is fine.
This has been a particularly wordy review, for which we apologise, but there has been a lot to say about this set. In a nutshell, only having four poses goes nowhere near adequately depicting these men with all their weapons, while there are some odd decisions (the helmets) and some inaccuracies (the lower body armour). The trumpeter is a waste, and who needs one cornet for every three men? The horses are badly chosen and badly posed, while they also have issues with the saddle furniture, so many will look elsewhere for better mounts. Lovely sculpting and production standards are all very well, but cannot make up for the deficiencies in this set, which unfortunately are plentiful.