During the medieval period warfare at sea had simply been an extension of warfare on land, where each side attempted to reach and then overpower an opponent by boarding and capturing their vessels. As on land this might be preceded by a shower of arrows or crossbow bolts, but the ultimate objective was to capture the ‘territory’. With some of the finest soldiers in the world, Spain was very happy with this method, but the world was changing, and advances in artillery technology during the 15th and 16th centuries were causing many nations, starting with the Portuguese, to realise that massed gunfire could cripple and subdue an opponent without the need for hand-to-hand combat. The Spanish largely refused to recognise this, and continued to build and deploy ships with plenty of space for soldiers while other countries increasingly built more manoeuvrable ships that could bring fire to bear on the Spaniards but avoid being caught by them. The Spanish use of artillery was twofold. First, it could be used to bombard shore installations, and second, their guns were loaded well in advance and fired just before the ships came together and the soldiers would board, hopefully disrupting the enemy as they were about to be attacked. As a result they were supposed to be one-shot weapons in a battle, but by avoiding contact their enemies frustrated this Spanish tactic.
As can be seen from our pictures, the set includes four guns and a generous seven poses. The gun is in many ways typical of Spanish naval ordnance of the 16th century as it rests on a carriage with just two wheels, similar to a field carriage. This was seen as very old-fashioned as the 16th century wore on as it made retracting the gun to reload it very slow and difficult, but as we have said most of the time this was not how the guns were used anyway. The barrel is 17mm in total length (122cm) and rests on a carriage that is 30mm long (216cm). This makes it far smaller than most guns carried on a Spanish galleon or galley, but there was no standardisation of guns on Spanish ships, so a gun of this size is quite feasible, perhaps on a much smaller vessel. Since it is unlikely to inflict much damage on a ship, it would presumably be an anti-personnel weapon, although swivel guns, as previously made by RedBox, would have been the normal weapon for this. The gun comes with separate barrel, carriage and two solid wheels, and fits together well without needing glue. Its very small size limits it use greatly, but it is a nicely detailed and pleasing little model nonetheless.
One figure particularly stands out in this collection, and that is the last in the bottom row. He is very finely dressed and clearly a gentleman rather than one of the ordinary seamen. He has the fashionable soft-brimmed hat, doublet with slashing and slops or trunk-hose in classic 16th century style. As a landsman he wears boots, but we could not tell if they have a wide top or his hose have been allowed to fall. He has a sword as a personal sidearm, and is using a cross-staff, which was a device used to calculate the latitude of the ship, so he is obviously the pilot. As such he would be the most technically skilled man on board, with immense responsibilities for guiding the ship, and in many ways more important than the captain or the master. Although nothing to do with the artillery, his inclusion here is welcome and nicely done.
The rest of the poses are directly related to the gun. The first couple of pictured figures are in generic poses, and the third is holding a long straight object which has no features so we could not identify it. The fourth looks to be carrying a shot for the small gun, and the fifth clearly holds a sponge. Finally the figure in the second row is applying the match. As we have said, except during a bombardment, guns were generally loaded well in advance of their single use – several ships recovered from the Spanish Armada show guns were loaded and ready even though the ships were not lost during any battle. However whenever the loading procedure was performed, these poses all make sense for that routine, so we liked them all. The man with the match was not counted as an able seaman (marinero); he was the gunner, of which there was generally one per gun, and was in charge of the weapon, directing the seamen as necessary and, of course, igniting the gun at the appropriate moment.
The gunner, like the pilot, was a landsman, so again is dressed as such. He wears a shirt or doublet along with slops, hose and shoes, and has a sword as a sidearm, all of which is fine. The five seamen in the set all wear very basic costume, as you would expect. They have a shirt or long smock that reaches to the mid thigh, although one has proper trunk-hose. Two have caps but we were a little surprised to find several bare-headed, though obviously the choice of clothing and head-covering would depend on the weather as much as anything. All but one of the seamen have bare feet, which is as it should be because such men rarely wore any sort of shoe when on board (despite what you might think about the dangers of splinters from the deck). In short, everything here seems authentic.
The sculpting is good, and limbs in particular are nice and slender – a contrast to some manufacturers that make limbs far too fat. We were a bit uncomfortable with some of the proportions though, more of a slight feeling of concern than anything we could put our finger on. The detail is excellent where it is needed, and the gun is simple but easy to put together. If the poses of the pilot and gunner are a shade flat it does not noticeably detract from the overall look, and we found no flash anywhere.
So we liked the poses, thought the costume was very appropriate for each kind of individual, and admired the sculpting and quality of the mould. The gun was a bit of a disappointment simply because of the small size, but apart from that this is a set that delivers what it promises and does so very well. Although the box claims 16th and 17th century, we thought this was much more about the former than the latter, which makes it perfect for many of the voyages of exploration as well as the wars of Philip II. During the 17th century the Spanish accepted the inevitable and built ships with a view to using them as mobile gun platforms, like everyone else, but for the crucial 16th century this set offers some very useful figures.