The men from the cantons which we today recognise as Switzerland (a name not used until the 16th century), were in the forefront of developing military tactics. They had been amongst the first to show how the humble foot soldier, suitably trained and organised, could overcome the most splendid mounted knights, and had shifted the balance of power away from the elite landed classes, much to their disgust. The Confederation (Eidgenossen), as they were then known, successfully resisted attempts by the Habsburgs to incorporate them in their lands, and went on to make themselves famous as the best infantry in Europe. During the Burgundian Wars of 1474 to 1477 they defeated one of the best armies in Europe, and ended the century in the same way they had started it, with another victory over the Habsburgs in the Swabian War.
This is the second set from Ultima Ratio concerning the Swiss of the 15th century, and for no particular reason it concentrates on the men of Bern. As a device to help distinguish this set from others in the series the logic is reasonable, but nothing here is unique or unusual to Bern apart from the banner, which has the famous Bern bear on a diagonal stripe. The men are dressed in various forms of armour and ordinary clothing of the day, which would have been appropriate for much if not all of the 15th century, though fashions such as slashing came and went over time. There are a number of sallet helmets, and the man with the sword (perhaps an officer?) has a form of barbute helmet. The second figure in the top row is noteworthy because he seems to be in combat, yet has attached his helmet to his belt and wears a cap with a feather in it. We would imagine that if this figure knew combat was coming he would have taken the trouble to don his helmet. The man carrying the banner does not seem to have any armour (which was unusual as such men were usually at least half-armoured), but what we assume to be the officer and the drummer both have tall feathers on their headwear making them easy to find.
There are four polearms in this set, all in authentic designs, which is good as this was a very important weapon for the Swiss, particularly earlier in the century. There is also one hand gunner, who has a very simple gun mounted on a stock. He clutches some match cord, has the stock under his arm, and there is no trigger mechanism, so this is one of the earlier, simpler weapons which would have been more common earlier in the century. The officer’s sword looks good, and both the tall slim banner and the shallow drum are accurately done; the latter is held by a belt around the trunk, when some seem to have been held by a strap around the left wrist. So, all the weaponry is correct, but the obvious missing component is the pike, which was by far the most important weapon of such men later in the century, and was used in good numbers even at its commencement. With only eight poses it would be impossible to depict all weapon types properly, so we must assume other sets in the series will bring us the pikes.
The men with polearms seem to be in contact with the enemy rather than manoeuvring, and we liked all the poses, although the second man in the top row would be better advised to look where his weapon is pointing rather than ‘at the camera’! Although the hand gunner is not actually firing the pose is very useful, and the command figures are also perfectly acceptable, though again the drummer might like to face the front.
The very proficient Ultima Ratio sculpting is once more on show, with lots of nice detail and a good look overall to the figures. The faces are nice, particularly the bearded man carrying the banner, and there is very nearly no excess plastic between areas hidden from the mould, and negligible amounts of flash. The banner has been engraved on both sides with the Bern symbol, but the banner itself, which would have been fabric, has been done very thickly. The drummer must have been a particularly tricky pose to realise, but has been well done, so this is a very good job of sculpting.
Some of the men have the cross on their clothing which identified them as from the Confederation, and the gunner has a good array of bags for his powder and shot, so all the details are handled properly here. These are great figures, and had there been many more of them it would have been a great set too. The relatively small number of figures in the box is made worse by there being three banner men, three drummers and three officers, so most will find themselves wasting a lot of figures to get the numbers of troops they want. What there is however is worth having, and while nothing here is much use in building a typical Swiss formation (as is true of so many figure sets), there is enough to whet our appetite for the supposed sets three and more which we hope will provide a much more complete picture of these remarkable 15th century soldiers.