Although gunpowder weapons had reached Europe during the 14th century, they were in the form of bombards, usually very large and heavy barrels on thick wooden beds that needed much time to set up, and so were useful for sieges but little else. Slowly the technology improved, and fast-forwarding to the middle of the next century we find these enormous guns largely abandoned in favour of lighter pieces, increasingly mounted on their own wheeled carriage, which meant they could be moved much more easily and so used on the field of battle, where they were generally placed in front of the main battle or on the flanks. Although their particularly good record-keeping may distort the picture today, it seems the Dukes of Burgundy were major players in the development of artillery, with both Philip the Good (duke from 1419 to 1467) and his son Charles the Bold (duke from 1467 to 1477) being very proud of their large and advanced artillery park. The unsuccessful campaigns of Charles meant the Burgundians lost most of their field guns to the French, Swiss and Lorrainers, and what little remained was taken by the Habsburg Duke Maximilian of Austria, future Holy Roman Emperor. By this time however it was the French that lead the field in artillery, as they were to prove in 1494 and 1495 when they invaded Italy.
Each box of this Mars product contains four sprues, each with the six figures pictured above plus one carriage and a choice of two barrels. We have pictured both complete guns, even though there are only four carriages, and therefore four guns, in the whole set, basically because we really liked them. That is not something we find ourselves saying about any Mars product, but there you are. The carriage is perhaps a little simplified, though in truth the original was pretty simple too, and both guns are of the split trail elevation sort typical of the time. The lower part of the trail is a separate piece from the upper, which also has the barrel, so you can adjust the elevation (and even ‘peg’ it there if you provide your own pegs) to your own taste, and it works well. The main difference between the guns is in the length of barrel, with the one on the left being 17mm (1.22 metres) long and the shorter one, looking more like a howitzer, being about 10mm (720mm) in length but of a bigger calibre. Both are properly bound to the carriage and have the reinforcing rings you would expect. The longer one may even have a separate chamber so it can be loaded at the breech, which is authentic. The wheels of the carriage, which stand about waist high as they are 15mm in diameter, seem to have metal plates on the sides of the rim, which is odd because we cannot think why anyone would do this. We could find no evidence that it happened, so unless the sculptor completely failed to understand the concept of a tyre, we would have to put a big question mark against that feature, though it is easily trimmed away anyway.
Moving on to the crew, there is quite a generous six for this size of weapon. The first pictured holds a ramrod of course, and then there seem to be two both holding matches. The first in the second row apparently holds a ball which would be too large for the smaller calibre weapon, and then there are what look to be two officers. Certainly both are well-dressed, and don’t look ready for the dirty physical work of serving a gun, and neither seem to be exerting themselves in the least. The middle man, which we liked very much, is simply sitting on a small barrel holding a tankard and taking his ease, while the other is just standing and holding an enormous sword in a very odd way, and is a pose we did not like at all. However the ordinary crew are plenty adequate and match the weapon.
The two well-dressed gentlemen would not look out of place in many a civilian scene, and the seated man would look great in any camp scene of the later Middle Ages. The man with the enormous sword is hard to understand, since why would anyone hold a sword this way, but apart from the metal armour on his legs he too would work in many scenarios. The crew are wearing much more ordinary peasant costume apart from the helmet each wears, and only the last figure in the top row wears any body armour, both padded and mail. In as far as the clothing can be made out we found no inaccuracies here.
The guns are not the easiest to put together, partly because the wheels are very thickly attached to the sprue and take a lot of effort to extract. Once you do have all the parts, you find the holes in the wheels are much too small for the axles, so more work is required to make them fit. There is some flash on all parts, which will require trimming, but once parts are trimmed and enlarged as necessary they go together quite well to make a pleasing model. The human components on the other hand are not at all pleasing examples of sculpting. Not only do they have a lot of flash, but the usual Mars sculpting is much in evidence, with vague and hard to understand detail on some basically quite crude figures. The faces are pretty horrific, and hands are little more than blobs, so these are pretty ugly. Maybe no worse than many other sets from this manufacturer, but about the poorest work we see still being made these days.
Like most Mars sets, this one takes a lot of work to get the best out of it, and it is not for the impatient amongst you. There is not much that can be done to rescue the figures, sadly, but the relatively simple guns actually work quite well once the necessary trimming is complete, and they don’t even need glue to stay together. Having no accuracy problems helps, so for those interested in the later 15th century (not necessarily just Burgundy), these guns could well be very useful, making this a set worth considering despite its many imperfections.