With the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and the placing of William of Orange on the English and Scottish thrones as William III, the Dutch Stadtholder gained many more resources with which to continue his fight against the seemingly all-powerful Louis XIV of France. The Nine Years War that followed (1688-1697) was not particularly successful, and as soon as it came to an end the English and Scottish armies were greatly reduced in size. When war with France broke out again in 1701, this time over who would succeed to the throne of Spain, the English and Scottish armies (combined as the British Army in 1707) had to be quickly expanded once more, and became a major element in the armies of the Grand Alliance facing Louis, especially in Flanders and Spain. Under the inspired leadership of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), the British infantry would contribute to many great victories and raise the prestige of British arms on the continent for many years to come.
For their coverage of the War of the Spanish Succession, Strelets have begun by following the same strategy they have used for other periods, which is multiple sets for a given subject, split by type of action, and this ‘in advance’ set is the first of those. The result is a selection of figures advancing with musket on the shoulder, held with bayonet to the fore or held at high port. All are valid poses and we have a couple of each to add some variety. Also included are a couple of grenadiers with musket against shoulder, plus a corporal and sergeant. Our last row shows the ‘command’ figures in this set, a musician, two ensigns with flags and an officer. Again all are moving forward, and all are well-chosen poses. The first ensign pictured above is somewhat more casual than his colleague, as he rests his burden on his shoulder, so is probably not actually leading the men towards an enemy, but like the rest of the figures is a very useful pose.
By 1701 most western European military units were uniformed, and for the British (both English and Scottish), this meant wearing the red coat that had been the usual garb since the restoration in 1660. By 1701 this coat was full-bodied with large cuffs, but most lacked the lapels, collar and skirt turnbacks which would become standard features in a later age. The coats on these men reflect that very well, including the two pockets low on the front of the skirts, and lack only the pleats down each side, which would be impossible to do with the usual two-piece mould. The coats are unbuttoned below the waist, as they should be, and are presumably also unbuttoned at the chest, which would reveal the waistcoat, although the straps hide this. At the neck each man wears the neckcloth, which is nicely done. Of course the uniform gradually evolved over the 13 years covered by this set, and one area of change was in legwear. At the start of the War, most wore the usual knee-breeches and stockings, which is what we find on every man here. This is fine, but as the years went by the wearing of long gaiters became more common. Every man here wears the usual square-toed shoes with the long tongue and buckle, and basically the uniform on these men is entirely accurate.
Corporals wore the same uniform as the men, but the sergeant at the end of the second row (identified as such by his halberd) should technically have a sash, although needless to say after a long campaign such things might well be less than universal. The musician also has the same cut and style uniform as the men, so he too is fine, but the two ensigns are junior officers, and so have rather more ornate costumes. Both have a sash round the body, and both wear a gorget at the throat; two classic symbols of authority. Another difference is the wearing of the full-bottom wig, more the mark of a gentleman than an officer as such, but absolutely correct here. The rest of the uniform is much like the men, but would have been of superior quality of course. The officer at the end is similarly attired, with sash, gorget and full wig, and there is more decoration on his hat too. Officers and men wear the usual tricorn hat of the period, but the two grenadiers wear the grenadier cap, which here has a stiffened front but the bag drooping at the back, which was the style in the early part of the period (later the fashion became to attach the bag to the front, forming the mitre). While there were variations in uniforms, everything here is authentic.
The men (we would call them privates, but at the time they were known as ‘centinelles’) each have a pouch on the right hip held by a crossbelt, in which were the cartridges and, for the grenadiers, possibly some grenades (though these disappeared early in the war). All wear a waist belt, from which hangs a short sword and to which a bayonet scabbard is attached at the front. All of the men also wear their knapsack, a bag-like device suspended over one shoulder, although it was usual to set these aside before going into action, so are not always appropriate here. Both grenadiers also carry hatchets next to their pouch, which is correct although not all grenadiers were issued these, and their use declined over the period. All this is fine, but there is a problem as all the men have a haversack slung over the right shoulder and sitting over the sword. There seems to be no evidence for these in the British Army, so this appears to be a mistake. Finally, many of the men carry water containers, which were not issued and so varied widely in style to suit individual taste. Many different shapes are to be seen on these figures, which is fine, although we did wonder at the triangular ones.
The muskets carried by the British at this time were of several different models, but all those modelled here are obviously flintlocks and look good. When the war began the transition from plug bayonets to socket ones was not complete, but this was not long in coming, so it is good to see that all bayonets here are of the modern socket type. All are fixed to the musket, which is great, and are of a good length. The sergeant’s halberd and officer’s half-pike or spontoon are also of a good design.
The fife had been a popular musical instrument in the military in the 17th century, but by 1700 it was out of fashion and not used in the British Army. The main instrument was of course the drum, but for something more melodic many regiments had the hautbois, which was the forerunner to the modern oboe. This is the instrument we see in this set, and very nicely done it is too. The two flags are also nicely done, and although pretty large are perhaps a little smaller than the enormous examples actually carried at the time, although this hardly shows. Neither are engraved, and are very natural with their folds, but this does make painting more tricky, and wargamers wishing to substitute paper flags will have a big job parting the flag from the rest of the figure.
Sculpting is simply excellent. Lovely detail everywhere, including great expressive faces and well-done hands. The proportions are great, and even where the musket is side-on to the mould they have been well done, with particularly good locks. The fairly long hair of the men is very good, with the sergeant’s neatly tied back, and the wigs of the officers are terrific. The items are kit are especially sharp and clear, and we were frankly amazed to find how clean these figures are. On the men there is not a trace of flash anywhere except occasionally between the legs, and often the seam is, well, seamless. This is something we rarely see on figures, so is well worthy of special note. The four command figures are a little different, because they seem to fall into two camps. Some copies of the sprue have no flash, but certain extremities like the ends of swords and staff weapons are not fully filled with plastic, while the staff of the officer is also not complete on some. Other copies do not have this problem, but do have some relatively moderate amount of flash, so clearly there is some variation in quality here. Nevertheless overall the quality of production is extremely good.
During the period in question elements like lapels and collars became more common, so inevitably the suitability of the set for any given year is a bit variable, but in general these are aimed at the early years, at battles like Blenheim and Ramillies, which is a good target to aim at in our view. Small details like the small amount of shirt visible at the cuff are beautifully done, and the hands of the musician are extraordinary, so we were very impressed with the sculpting here, and with the quality of the mould, with almost no flash. The haversacks on all the men is a feature of French and Prussian troops but not the British, which spoils an otherwise very accurate presentation. Ideally we would also have liked to have seen separate sets for grenadiers rather than the mix here, but essentially this is a great set of figures with many good points and hardly any bad ones. A very worthy introduction to the War of the Spanish Succession from Strelets.