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Zvezda

Set 8036

French Knights

Click for larger image
All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Stats
Date Released 2005
Contents 19 figures and 19 horses
Poses 9 poses, 4 horse poses
Material Plastic (Fairly Hard)
Colours Grey
Average Height 25 mm (= 1.8 m)

Review

The fifteenth century was a momentous time for France. By its conclusion she not only incorporated most of the Angevin lands but also Burgundy, Anjou and Brittany - in short she began to resemble the France of today. As in the rest of Europe this was a time of many wars, and although the effectiveness of cavalry was fast declining the mounted knight was still seen as the elite of any army.

As is normal Zvezda practice, they have labelled each figure in this set. Their descriptions, reading left to right on each row, are:

Row 1
  1. General
  2. Herald
  3. Standard Bearer
  4. Sword Bearer
Row 2
  1. Knight
  2. Sword Bearer
  3. Knight
  4. Mounted Crossbowman
  5. Mounted Shooter
Heralds were usually unarmed and their task was to identify liveries, keep records of performance, deliver messages and so on. The figure in this set is not a herald (although he is dressed as one) but a trumpeter, which were again often unarmed but whose task was to convey instructions to the troops. It is notable that only six of the 19 figures in this set are identified as 'knights', the rest being ancillary or 'support' personnel (hand gunners and crossbowmen were never considered knights).

By the early years of the fifteenth century the jupon or surcoat had largely disappeared, and knights were 'harnois-blanc', meaning they wore bare armour. Such is the condition of the knights in this set, which are also wearing the correct style of armour for the century. The great helm too was from an earlier age, and the basinet was also disappearing, although some here seem to wear it still, or at least the successor bicoquet helmet, while others wear a visored sallet. None have shields, which were considered largely redundant now knights were encased in full plate armour, and they were reserved only for the tournament. One knight is holding his sword aloft while the other is armed with a lance, couched under his arm as usual. This lance is 47mm (3.4 metres) long - a just barely respectable length - and has a large pennant towards the point. Given that a whole century is a long time in the evolution of armour, these figures are properly done.

The handgunner and crossbowman are more problematic. They are reasonably attired in helmet and reinforced jacket with leather gloves and boots, and are in fact the same figure with simply a choice of right arm and weapon distinguishing them. Sensibly Zvezda have provided sufficient of these arms to make all six figures either one sort or the other, which is a good idea, and they also come with either a bag of ammunition for the gunner or a bag of bolts and a 'goat's foot' loading device for the bowman, both of which attach to the saddle. The gun is a simple device that is having the match applied manually rather than using a trigger, which suggests it is appropriate for the earlier part of the fifteenth century rather than the later. However the stock is pressed against the shoulder rather than resting on it, so the whole apparatus is basically supported by the left hand, which is precarious indeed. While crossbowmen could move about on horseback like any other part of the army (and crossbowmen were sometiumes used as mounted scouts), firing while dismounted was more common although firing from the saddle was sometimes practiced when the crossbow could be reloaded on horseback. Yet in this set we find just as many crossbowmen and gunners as true knights, all of whom are firing from the saddle. We feel this is a very poor choice for a pose, particularly when there are so few actual knight poses anyway. Worse yet they have not been given a standing mount, so not only would they have all the obvious difficulties of operating while mounted, they could not hope to aim with any precision. In short, we felt these are very inappropriate, particularly for a Western European army like the French.

None of the horses have full housings, which were out of fashion by the fifteenth century, but some do have plate armour - a development that occurred around the middle of the century. The harness and saddlery are correctly done, and it should be noted that the higher rear portion of the saddle is actually done as part of the figure rather than on the horse, which is a good idea. Each figure has been allocated to one specific horse, so there is less room for variety than in most other sets. This is because all the riders have pegs on their legs that are meant to fit in holes in the sides of the horses. This is a common arrangement in larger scale figures, but very rare in 1/72 scale, but since legs were held quite straight (rather than gripping the horse) it must have seemed a sensible move when the figures were designed. In reality however they are a nightmare. As the figure is forced down into the saddle, the pegs naturally bend up, making it almost impossible to persuade them to enter the holes. Frankly we eventually gave up and cut the nuisance pegs off, using them to fill the now unwanted holes in the saddle. A great pity the idea was not thought through.

It may seem tedious to say this, but yet again Zvezda have produced a simply beautiful product. The sculpting is just superb and the detail immaculate, much as we have come to expect from this manufacturer. We found the hole for the lance needed slightly enlarging before it would fit, and we were disappointed that the banner and one of the horse's coverings were engraved with a design, but in general these are a top class example of the sculptor's art. No trace of flash, and where items fitted together, as in the separate arms, the engineering was faultless. Sadly however we felt the design of these figures let them down, with the misguided attempt to fix men to horses and the unwise inclusion of so many gunners and bowmen in a set labelled as 'knights'. When you consider that knights increasingly dismounted to fight in the fifteenth century anyway, we were much disappointed overall by this set.

Ratings

Historical Accuracy 8
Pose Quality 7
Pose Number 5
Sculpting 10
Mould 10

Further Reading
Books
"Agincourt 1415" - Osprey (Campaign Series No.9) - Matthew Bennett - 9781855321328
"Armies of the Middle Ages Volume 1" - Wargames Research Group - Ian Heath
"Fornovo 1495" - Osprey (Campaign Series No.43) - David Nicolle - 9781855325227
"French Armies of the Hundred Years War" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.337) - David Nicolle - 9781855327108
"Orléans 1429" - Osprey (Campaign Series No.94) - David Nicolle - 9781841762326
"The Age of Chivalry Part 1" - Ward Lock - Liliane and Fred Funcken - 9780706358087
"The Armies of Agincourt" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.113) - Christopher Rothero - 9780850453942
"The History of Armour 1100-1700" - Crowood - Paul Walker - 9781847974525
"Weapons and Fighting Techniques of the Medieval Warrior" - Amber - Martin Dougherty - 9781906626068
Magazines
"Tradition (English Language)" - No.10
"Tradition (English Language)" - No.8

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