Although the pike has a history going back to ancient times – the Macedonian phalangites being the most famous users – it was the Swiss that truly brought it back into fashion in Europe with their disciplined and well-trained use of it en masse during the 15th century. Against a well-formed body of pikemen the finest knight in Europe could do nothing, much to his disgust, although pikemen needed other troops to defend their exposed sides, and were not as manoeuvrable as others. Naturally others in Europe followed the Swiss example, notably the Germans but also the Italians, and until perhaps the middle of the 16th century roughly half or more of an army in Italy might be pikemen. The rise of the arquebus would see their decline later in the century, but for the Italian Wars the pike remained the dominant weapon of the infantry.
There are just the six poses in this set, and although it is labelled as ‘pike’ only four of those poses actually hold one. Two men hold the pike horizontally in the ‘at charge’ position, while the man in the middle row has his pike at the ‘charge to horse’ position, which naturally would be the front rank in the event of receiving cavalry. These are all common and necessary stances for a body of pike, so it is a pity that there are so few here. The fourth pikemen, last in the bottom row, has his pike resting on the ground, as if at the command ‘order your pike’, though he actually looks quite relaxed so may simply not be formed up. Again a perfectly valid and useful pose, but just the one. A body of pike recreated with just these four poses would hardly look natural, although nothing here looks to be wrong.
Two of the six figures carry not the pike but a halberd. A fearsome weapon in its own right, it did not have the prominence it had enjoyed in the 15th century but remained in use for such things as guarding or helping to protect the exposed flanks of pikemen, which is perhaps why they have been included here. Both men grip the halberd with both hands, as they should, but we found the pose in the top row to be quite unconvincing, though certainly not impossible. The second pose is much better in our view, but both are useable.
Most of the figures wear typical costume for the early 16th century, consisting of a short doublet with large sleeves, hose on the legs with a codpiece, and one of a wide variety of caps on the head, often decorated with a feather or similar. Some seem to have armour, and the first pikemen in the bottom row has managed to acquire three-quarter armour including not just a cuirass but also a full helmet, arm defences and tassets. Everything about the costume looks good to us and appropriate to the subject.
Looking closely at these figures it is clear that the original masters were quite a work of art. The detail is excellent and the folds in the often very loose clothing are perfectly done and very lifelike. Since all the figures come as a single piece there is some excess plastic in areas between man and weapon, which is inevitable, but to be honest these have been minimised quite well without apparently compromising the pose, so no real complaints there. The pikes are nice and slender, and have a fair attempt at sculpting the point at the end. Each is about 60mm in length, which scales up to about 4.25 metres, which is a shade on the short side, although to our eye these look plenty long enough and are perhaps more realistic than the historical claimed lengths of from five to eight metres, which would have been very hard to handle. The figures come in a poly bag, and we found the pikes, particularly the one being held upright, tended to be sharply curved when removed from the box and bag. Careful straightening while applying heat will fix this problem, and the real thing was not perfectly straight in any case. Where the sculpting is let down however is with the amount of flash we found here. This is very evident in our photographs, particularly around the legs, so while it can be removed it will annoy anyone looking to clean and paint a large number of them.
Apart from our least favourite halberdier we really liked all the poses, and greatly enjoyed the fine sculpting too. Although the level of flash spoils things a bit, our main problem with this set is the small number of poses, particularly as only four of them actually hold a pike. There could have been much more here (how many times have we said that over the years?), but for the most part what there is is well worth having.