In the later part of the 17th century the Habsburg lands found themselves in an unenviable position. The ravages of the Thirty Years War had greatly damaged much of Germany, and the Empire now found itself sandwiched between, and threatened by, two great powers. To the west, France was fast becoming the dominant power in Europe, and under the ambitious rule of Louis XIV she was looking to further expand her borders, which would likely include lands currently ruled from Vienna. To the east, the Ottoman Empire had been established for centuries, and continued to be an obvious threat as its rulers dreamed of extending their territory into Hungary and central Europe. Facing powerful enemies on both sides, Vienna had to maintain forces to meet threats from either, and to do so with a fragmented and complicated empire and a constant lack of funds.
Despite many sets on contemporary Ottoman and Polish-Lithuanian armies, this is the first to portray Habsburg forces from this crucial time in the history of Central Europe, and it focuses on the ‘German’ infantry in the Imperial Army. The mid and later 17th century saw the establishment of sizeable standing armies for the first time in the West, though this did not necessarily mean complete central control of an army. Colonels of individual regiments in the Imperial Army were responsible for the clothing and equipping of their men, and had much leeway in what they prescribed. However most western armies of the day looked very similar, broadly following normal civilian fashion. All the men in this set follow that theme, with loose-fitting coats reaching to the knees and with large cuffs. On the head there is a broad-brimmed hat, breeches cover the upper legs, stockings the lower, and shoes on the feet. This straight-forward uniform applies more or less for much of the latter half of the century, so is very appropriate here.
While the costume is OK there were some developments which help to more precisely date these figures. While the hats here have the brim pinned up in various places, no one here wears a tricorn, which was a style that became popular during the 1680s, so by the 1690s these men would be rather old-fashioned. The last figure in the second row is a grenadier, and such men underwent more dramatic changes than the musketeers that occupy the rest of our first two rows. Grenadiers were first established in the Imperial Army in the 1660s, and during the 1670s the standard hat began to be replaced by a brimless fur cap so as not to impede the thrower’s arm, and to allow easier slinging of the musket. Since this man wears exactly the same uniform as his comrades, he seems to be caught in the relatively few years between the 1660s and 1670s. Moving on to the first two men in the third row, who are pikemen, they reveal the gradual loss of body armour by such men at this time. One of them wears a cuirass and possibly a back plate, but the other has no armour. 1650 would have seen such men usually wearing a metal helmet, but by the 1670s they were no longer doing so although any here might be wearing a ‘secret’, a metal cap worn underneath the hat.
The last two figures are of officers; an NCO and a more senior field officer. The NCO is dressed much like the men, and his rank is only announced by the halberd that he carries. The senior officer is very different. Officers had no uniform at this time, except anything required of them by their colonel. This man is fairly typical in that he wears breast and back plates over his coat, a popular choice for much of the period. His coat is much like that of his men, although of course of much finer workmanship in real life. He wears large riding boots, but has lost his hat, which gives us a good view of his very fine wig. Another common feature, which has not been reproduced here, is the wearing of a sash either round the waist or across the chest, but everything about this man is accurate.
All the musketeers have a bandolier with prepared charges hanging from it and a pouch for more powder and shot held at the right hip. Such bandoliers disappeared during the 1690s, so again fine for all but the last few years of the period. The grenadier has a large bag for his grenades, but has no match attached to the strap, which again suggests the early days of such men, before this item became normal. The only other item of kit is on the kneeling musketeer, who has some sort of drawstring bag on his back, though how this is held is unclear.
The musketeers naturally carry muskets, but exactly what type is far from clear. None have any sort of a recognisable lock, but a few seem to carry a length of match cord, which makes those weapons matchlocks, which would be correct for all of the period. The grenadier holds a grenade in his hand, but the two pikemen hold nothing. Instead the set comes with eight strands of plastic as pictured. To call them pikes would be a gross exaggeration; they are nice and thin strands, but with no attempt at making them look like pikes, so many customers will either want to somehow fashion a head for them, or else use something else. The strands are 112mm in length, which scales up to over eight metres, so as the real thing was usually between four and five metres long, some cutting down is necessary. The halberd of the NCO is basic but of fair design, and the officer carries two pistols. This image is clearly taken from an illustration in the Osprey book, which depicts a named individual, and a siege rather than open battle, but it was fashionable for officers to carry two pistols into battle, normally tucked into their sash. All the men carry a sword, as they should, but one item noticeably absent is the bayonet. Socket bayonets only appeared at the end of the century, but the plug bayonet, which was simply inserted into the muzzle of the firearm, existed throughout this period and so should be here. Since most of the musketeers are clearly in the process of firing their weapon (and so unlikely to be within reach of an enemy), it would obviously not be appropriate for them to have the bayonet fitted, but they would normally have one slung in a scabbard on their waist belt, which none here have. Equipment and weapons for the Empire were increasingly standardised and mainly manufactured in the Venetian arsenals, yet even here the colonel had a say, and it is known that some men were not issued bayonets, so their absence here is not a mistake. It certainly helps explain why there are still pikemen in attendance! One last point is that the grenadier has no sign of a hatchet, a common tool usually issued to such men.
The choice of poses is on the whole perfectly sound, although the execution leaves much to be desired. We could not work out the pose of the NCO – perhaps he is waving his men forward, but to our eye he looks awkward, not least because he seems to be losing his hat in the process. The pose of the officer is dramatic, but not typical for such men. This man is defending the barricades of Vienna, but a more sedate posture would have been much more representative, if much less exciting.
The sculpting you can see for yourself, and it isn’t pretty. These are quite basic figures, with chunky and poorly defined detail and some quite uncomfortable positions for the arms. Faces are ghoulish and hands are almost unrecognisable as such, while even quite large details like the locks on the matchlocks and pistols are largely missing, as of course are smaller items like coat buttons. Folds in clothing are minimal and not convincing, and the lengths of match cord some carry look more like rope. The long hair all these men have helps, but all still lack a neck and the NCO looks like a hunchback. In some cases the swords hang so low the hilt as at their knees, and none of the swords or scabbards could be described as realistic. It will be quite a task to attach the strands to make a plausible pikeman, and there is plenty of flash everywhere.
Once again Mars have shown a commitment to produce all the necessary sets for a chosen campaign, and in this case these figures are a necessary complement to their Ottoman range. Although fashion and the proportions of pike to shot varied over the period, this set is largely correct for the period from the 1660s to around 1690, although the grenadier has his own dating issues as we have mentioned. We were a bit disappointed that there was none of the traditional field sign (oak sprig or straw), although larger details than that have also been missed out. However the pretty poor overall sculpting inevitably dominates the view most people will have of this set, even though the accuracy is very good and the mix of poses is to its credit. A fairly typical Mars offering, with the best features largely swamped by the really unattractive look.