One result of the Reconquista was that at the end of the 15th century the newly united Spanish kingdoms had a core of battle-hardened and highly experienced soldiers, many having benefited from instruction in the latest techniques by the then-matchless Swiss. Spain would soon organise these men into what would become the famous Tercio, and over the next century and more Spanish infantry would dominate Europe as Spain vied with France for pre-eminence. The first half of the century saw much of the fighting in Italy, but outside Europe Spanish soldiers would also see action in America, Africa and Asia as the Empire grew and Spain became a world power.
The figures in this set wear a variety of doublets and short trunk-hose (or gregüescos) plus a codpiece. The style of these garments places these men firmly in the second half of the 16th century, especially after 1575 when the particularly short trunk-hose were in fashion. All here look to be pinked or slashed, which was highly fashionable at the time, and soldiers took care to be well dressed where possible. A few here wear helmets of various styles, but the majority wear soft hats, again varied in style, some of which are decorated with a plume or feathers. Knee-breeches were replacing trunk-hose by the last years of the century, but no one here has these, so the actual dates for these figures would be c.1550 to c.1595. All these men are gunners, and apart from helmets such men increasingly rarely wore any metal armour, so by our period it would be reasonable to find none wearing any, as here. The exception is the officer in the bottom row, who still wears a cuirass and tassets more as a sign of rank than anything else, though the most obvious such symbol is the sash across his chest. Other items could also have been included on these men such as false sleeves and ruffs, but nothing about any of these figures is incorrect.
A very obvious feature of this set is that all the men are gunners. A Spanish Tercio was made up of pikemen, sword-and-buckler men and missile troops – originally mostly crossbowmen but later more gunners. By the later part of the century, although the pike still ruled the battlefield very often, guns were increasingly important and could turn battles by themselves. Of the 12 gunner poses here nine carry the arquebus and just three have a musket. The musket appeared during the last third of the century, and even then the arquebus remained popular because it was easier to handle and cheaper. The examples here are all about 12 mm in length, which is a little under a metre, so perhaps slightly small, but not noticeably so. Detail is generally good, so on many we can see the serpentine, though the lack of a match is understandable given the scale and difficulty of sculpting such a thing!
Three of the men (two in the top row and one in the third) are using the relatively new matchlock musket. This had a bigger ball and longer barrel, and so required a support. The muskets look a fair size, being about 16 mm long, so pretty good. Both musketeers and arquebusiers have pre-prepared charges hanging from a bandolier around the body, and most also have a horn or flask for powder (often finer grade) and a bag for balls and tools. Apparently pre-prepared charges were not so popular with arquebusiers, though as some certainly did use them these figures are fine. All also have a sword, which would have been of basic quality and only for self-defence normally.
Having 12 poses all basically handling their weapon has allowed a really good breadth of positions, with various stages of firing being illustrated as well as figures on the move. We liked all the poses, though the two men actually firing their arquebuses are holding them perilously close to their face, which was an issue as the powder in the pan could flare up, so generally a lower position was normal, particularly as hitting a target was more down to luck than any attempt to aim.
The generous 16 poses allows for some really nice speciality figures as shown in our bottom row. Fifes and drums were standard accompaniment to any infantry, so great to see both in this set. We worried that the fifer looks odd because he holds his instrument to the left rather than the usual right, but there are sufficient illustrations of this practice to make us think this was possible if not necessarily typical. The drummer is unusual in this hobby in actually being sculpted as beating his drum, and doing so convincingly too! The flag-bearer is nicely done, waving his flag as high as he can. Flags of the day were usually about 2.5 metres square or slightly wider than they were high, but this one is 18 mm (1.3 metres) high and about 30 mm (2.16 metres) wide, so despite being a fair size it is really too short, though the width is OK. We were also surprised to see no finial on the staff, and concerned by the short staff. Such short staffs were certainly used in ceremonial and displays, as they still are in some places, but there seems doubt as to whether these were actually carried on campaign; the longer full staff being much more practical and so more likely. Though unproved, if this was the case then this figure would not be appropriate for battle.
Sculpting is of the usual RedBox standard, which these days is very good with lots of clear detail. Good proportions and good poses without any sense of being flat, though on some of the weapons there is some loss of detail where the mould cannot fully reach them. Also on some examples we found the third figure in the top row had not been fully formed, and was missing part of the end of his musket and a gap in the support causing it to be in two pieces. A very few areas of flash don’t seriously detract from what are generally very clean figures, so a very nice production job all round so long as you don’t get the malformed figure.
As we have said, the lack of any pikemen or swordsmen make this far from representative of Spanish infantry in the 16th century. However since this is labelled as ‘Set 1’ we must assume other sets will redress the balance, and by splitting troop types like this customers can choose to have whatever proportions of each type they like in their table top army, which is always good. Equally we must hope that future sets will include men with a halberd, though the extras in this set are very good. What we do get however is very well done and entirely accurate for the second half of the century, particularly later on. This very nice set gives us high hopes for Set 2 and any others that are to follow, and certainly represents a very important component for an army that dominated warfare for a long time yet has been little modelled in this scale before now.