The centuries prior to the 13th saw the rise of feudalism in many parts of Europe, whereby lords were vassals of their king and contracted to provide troops in return for their lands, and they in turn required similar services of their tenants and vassals. This provided armies for the monarch, though not always as quickly as they would have liked, and not always enthusiastic or of the best quality. The 13th and 14th centuries, covered by this set, saw a move in England and elsewhere away from feudalism and toward professional soldiers who were hired with taxes and dues paid in lieu of military service. This provided better, more professional and manageable soldiers, though the great cost was a problem. During this period the knights of the realm continued to provide the elite heavy cavalry, though not all heavy cavalry were knights, but the infantry became increasingly professional, and might travel great distances to fight for a new employer. For England such men fought numerous wars with Scots and Welsh, as well as campaigns in possessions in what is now France.
By the end of this period the longbow was the most important weapon in any English army, but even armies with large numbers of such men still needed other types, particularly for close-quarter combat. Having already produced a set of longbowmen, Strelets complete the infantry with this set of mixed arms (although admittedly crossbowmen and eventually gunpowder troops would also play their part). Here we find a handful of swordsmen, one man with a spear, and many with axes and polearms. Such weapons came in many shapes and sizes, and generally everything here looks to be authentic for the period. We were a little surprised by there being two men holding swords with both hands, but the various forms of axe (some known as gisarme) are very good. We did wonder about the use of the horn (bottom row) for military signalling this late in the medieval period, but the Swiss were using them in the 15th century, so we have no reason to doubt their use in England at this time, though trumpets were perhaps more common.
Of the poses we were mostly pretty impressed. Sure a couple are still quite flat (those holding their weapons directly over their head, pointing to the side), but the rest are nicely done and with good depth. The spearman is surprisingly good, since his spear is part of the piece, and just the shield is separate. Equally, one man in the second row has a separate weapon, but the rest come complete and look good. Certainly compared to some earlier medieval sets from this company the poses have come a very long way and are much more useful now.
Fighting men of the period could source their battle gear many different ways, and there was certainly no uniformity in this beyond field signs or occasional attempts to stick to one colour or symbol. All the figures in this set have a pleasing variety of clothing and armour, and everything is correct for at least a good part of the period, though some items such as pieces of armour could easily last decades with little or no alteration. Almost everyone wears some form of mail, generally a hauberk or a coif, and over this some have a quilted aketon/gambeson or a coat of plates, while others have a surcoat, which might display some form of heraldry. A good selection of different helmets is on show, with several designs of kettle-hat as well as simpler one-piece helmets, though the deep reinforcing ridges on a couple of them are open to some doubt despite being illustrated in some books. There are also a couple of poses wearing the flat-topped helmet, which was popular in England by the start of the period. As might be expected, no one here has the very expensive helmets with full face masks, and certainly not the great helm, which would be seen on many of the more wealthy knights. However a few do have plate armour on the knees (poleyns) and some form of greaves, and there are some plate arm defences here too.
Shields were desirable for many, though if you carried a two-handed weapon then they could be more of a hindrance. Most of the shields here are round, including some small bucklers, but a couple have acquired the modern heater-shaped variety, which are slung on their backs. Only one shield is separate – that for the spearman – but all look good and when held in the hand the positioning is excellent, which is so often not the case with such sets. One is held the old-fashioned way, with a single central grip behind a boss, but even this was still to be seen at this time, though most were held by straps and had pads.
Sculpting is very good – certainly a great deal better than much produced by this manufacturer over the years, with really good detail on the armours and clothing and some nice facial expressions. The one separate shield and axe fit well into the correct place without need to glue, and there is only a small amount of flash.
This set raised a smile because it reminded us of the old Airfix 1/32 medieval set, particularly the first figure in the second row, and are almost as nicely sculpted. There are some nice energetic poses, though we are still not happy where long-shafted weapons are held high on that shaft, though apparently this can be valid in some movements. A couple of flat figures supposedly swinging their weapons don’t seriously impair the otherwise very good poses, and with fine sculpting and no accuracy problems this is part of the impressive improvement in quality that this company has demonstrated just lately. Certainly a set worthy of consideration by anyone with an interest in this period of European history.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.