Gunpowder weapons first seem to have appeared in western Europe around the end of the first quarter of the 14th century, and before long they began to revolutionise warfare. In a story very familiar to the modern reader, many states engaged in an arms race, producing ever larger cannons as much for prestige as for any military value, but this set from Zvezda concentrates instead on the more practical lighter types that appeared during the advertised period of 1300 to 1500.
On the top row we find a serpentine. This was so named from the long barrel, something like a snake, and in this form is really a weapon of the 15th century rather than the 14th. Here it rests on a two-wheeled carriage and has an elevating bracket to allow some rudimentary aiming. The barrel is about 25mm (1.8 metres) long and is loaded by means of a separate chamber, multiples of which allows very rapid reloading and firing. Many designs for this type of gun were used, and this one is quite a small example, but this model is quite authentic. The trunnion and screw became more widespread in the second half of the 15th century as methods of aiming, so this device is best suited to the earlier part of that century, although doubtless some still served well after that time.
Row 2 shows a veuglaire, a more generic name, although designations of gun types were far from set at the time. Basically this is a lighter piece than the serpentine, with a barrel of 15mm (1.1 metres) in length and wheels that barely reach the chest. It too is chamber-loaded, and is aimed with a single bracket towards the rear. As the set name suggests both this and the serpentine would normally be used in the field, but they were sometimes used in a siege, not to batter walls but to keep the heads of the defenders down. Again, the design of this item was not standard, but this model is perfectly typical, and is best for the first half of the 15th century for the same reasons as the serpentine.
The last piece of ordnance is a ribaudequin. This was one of the earliest forms of mobile powder artillery, and by the middle of the 14th century it may have been the most common. Also known as an organ gun, the ribaudequin consisted of a number of small barrels on a carriage which could be discharged together or in quick succession, thus becoming a potent anti-personnel weapon. Often used to defend narrow passages or breaches, it was sometimes employed in large numbers and could be considered the machine gun of its day. This Zvezda model has eight barrels, as well as a shield and pikes as a defence, both of which were common. Again, this design is one of many possibles, and seems perfectly appropriate.
The last row contains a two-horse team and limber, intended for the largest of the guns here, the serpentine. While many serpentines required four or more horses, this one is small enough to manage with two, and the limber has been particularly nicely done. The traces are the usual highly detailed affair, which plug into the sides of the horses, and there is even the chain attaching the front of the pole to the front of each animal. One horse is saddled, but the handler seems to have dismounted to try and persuade an obviously reluctant animal to move. This makes for a nice little vignette, and those who don’t wish to have dozens of such unique models on a battlefield can always remove the man, leaving a quite usable team.
An often frustrating part of buying models of vehicles and artillery is the lack of people using them, but in this case Zvezda provide a fair number of crew. Gunners tended to have little or no armour, but several of these guys have done quite well, with helmets and other armour, making them better suited to the 15th century. The boss, naturally, is the best equipped of all. Overall the costume is fine. In terms of poses there is something of a mystery. Most are OK, with the two men pushing the ribaudequin (on the third row) being especially pleasing (as illustrated on the box art), but one presents more problems. The second figure in row 1 and the first in row 2 are the same, but they have cupped hands into which you can place the ramrod and powder measure as we have done. The question, however, is what good is a powder measure when all the guns are chamber-loaded? The answer is no good at all, so this figure will have to be drafted to a later artillery piece that is muzzle-loaded. The ramrod suffers a similar problem, although there at least it could be used to clean or dampen a barrel.
Making these models is quite frankly a joy. Everything simply fits together perfectly, and the clear instructions make the exercise both quick and simple. The only tricky part is inserting the loose ring in the trail of the veuglaire (tweezers are recommended), but you could comfortably skip that minor detail if you wished. If you are wondering how well it takes glue then the answer is - who cares? All the parts snap together effortlessly and no glue is required anywhere. Both the larger guns can be elevated as required in just the same way as the real thing, so it is hard to know what else you could want. That is top quality model making, and we would expect nothing less from Zvezda these days. Detail on the figures is crisp and clear as always, and we found no flash at all. Even the separate tools for the pose we have already mentioned click firmly into his hands without difficulty or recourse to glue. The one piece lacking detail is the chest, which is almost completely smooth but could have been properly textured by having it at an angle to the mould as has been done before.
Still looking for a down side? Well all we can come up with is the blinkers on the horses, which seem strange to us although we cannot be sure that they are wrong. Other than that a superb set that fans of the medieval period have long been wanting. They will not be disappointed.