While the royal guards are by far the most well-known, it was normal for nobles and senior public servants to maintain their own guard in 17th century France. Apart from the King no-one was more senior than his brilliant chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), but he was not so popular and faced several assassination attempts, so in 1626 he was authorised to raise a guards unit which was smaller but otherwise closely resembled the Kings Musketeers. These men served their master until his death, and they had a sort of unit rivalry with the King’s men which meant there were numerous altercations in the streets between them. However they performed their job well, and their master died of disease rather than meeting a violent end.
While there were no uniforms as such at the time, it was fashionable to dress your own guard by giving them a cassock in your livery. For the Cardinal this meant a red garment with a simple white cross badge, and seven of the poses in this set wear a cassock, although all bear the badge of the King rather than their master, which is odd and not correct. The rest of the clothing follows the ordinary dress for a gentleman of the day; a suit including quite full breeches, a sleeveless coat and a wide-brimmed hat decorated according to taste. Some have a sash around the waist, and they wear either boots or shoes and stockings. One officer in the bottom row wears a cloak, and the man next to him wears the ecclesiastical robes of a cardinal, and so is presumably the patron of the unit himself. Apart from the badge then, everything here is authentic.
The rapier was the main weapon of choice at this time, as carried by all here. Several have theirs drawn, and look good, and two also hold a dagger in their left hand, which was used to parry an opponent’s blade. Two men carry a halberd, which might be a ceremonial weapon but could also identify these men as NCOs. Two more poses are carrying a musket, rather short in the barrel but with no sign of a rest. Finally we have one man armed with a bottle of something, which we have imagined he is passing to another with raised glass or goblet. The swords would have been the main weapon of these men, and the halberd a close second, but the muskets too are fine.
The action poses in this set are the four men using their sword, which might be in defence of their master, but are perhaps more likely to be either training or in some sort of duel or street fight. The two men with halberds make much the best ordinary guards, and the two carrying a musket are useful for parades or on the march, but not much more. The two involved in drinking are certainly depicting something the Cardinal’s guards doubtless participated in with enthusiasm, so are more useful for scenes of a non-military nature, which are becoming increasingly popular these days.
The bottom row shows the ‘command’ figures available here, and an interesting mix they are too. The first man in the cassock is presumably an officer as he wears richly decorated clothes and has his long hair dressed in a very elaborate way. The next man has no cassock but is still a gentleman of some wealth from the looks of it. He is making a small bow and is one of our favourite poses in this set. The Cardinal – for it must surely be he – is dressed in typical robes as we have said, and holds a paper in his right hand. There is nothing uniform about the last figure, for this is a woman in a low-cut gown of some sort which contrives by some imagined and un-historic means to be split right up to the waist, revealing her very un-ladylike long boots and a dagger tucked into her garter. She also carries a sword, so very far from the typical lady of the time (or any other really), and we must assume this is a reference to a character such as Milady de Winter in the famous Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers. She wears a fine necklace and a large decorated hat, but if it is not too absurd a thing to say of something only about 2mm square, we thought the face itself seemed more that of a man. Perhaps our standards have got too high now, but this is a fun but very tricky figure to use in any kind of a genuine historical context.
On the subject of faces, the male examples are great, with moustaches and long hair as was the fashion. The clothing too is really nicely done, with nice details such as the lace collars and bows on the shoes. Weaponry too is well done, and if the daggers are a bit fatter than they should really be, that is only because they would need to be to avoid being too fragile. Even little touches like the wicker container for the bottle are nicely done, and there is hardly any flash, so these are well-made figures for an attractive subject.
Apart from the wrong badge on the cassocks, which can be fairly easily removed with a knife, these figures depict the Cardinal and his protectors very well. The first pose in the second row is a weird one as the man is wrapping a cloak around him and his sword arm, so not really actually using that sword and instead being much more a man of mystery, even sinister – again more of a literary figure than anything the guard might see regularly. History does not record the number of woman in 17th century France carrying a drawn sword and with thigh-length boots and a dress split up to the crotch, but we are guessing the number would be small – very small! However you do get a good number of perfectly usable poses here, so perhaps there is room for some fun too. Lovely sculpting and mostly great poses still make this a very appealing set, even if some elements are more useful than others.