Crusader armies tended to be small, whether raised within the Crusader States or despatched from Europe, yet they still needed all the usual command and control structures of any army. Such command was exercised by the highest levels of nobility, yet in small scale the difference between such commanders and their men would be hard to detect. In reality those in command could probably afford the best or latest armour, and of course with the rise of heraldry they would have been identifiable by their livery, but such things are lost on small models. This set attempts to address that by providing several specialist figures for Europe's feudal armies.
We start our review at the top, literally, with the first figure of a king. This splendid figure wears a crown but no helmet. Naturally kings in battle wore a helmet - suitably modified to indicate their status - so this king is not in harm's way at the moment. He does however look superb, wearing mail armour, poleyns on his knees and a large trimmed cloak.
Next we find the only dismounted figure in the set. This is a valet or servant apparently holding a horse (presumably that of the king). Although not front-line troops esquires and servants were expected to guard the baggage and even to join the fight in an emergency, so this man wears mail and carries a sword. However as he is clearly not in battle at the moment he wears an ordinary hood rather than a helmet.
All armies of the day issued battlefield orders with the use of trumpets, and drums are also sometimes mentioned. The next two figures represent these men, with a really nicely produced drum and trumpet/horn. We would have preferred the standard straight medieval trumpet here, but both these figures are good and useful.
The remaining four poses are more generic knights - perhaps part of the king's retinue. All are dressed much the same, with mail armour that covers almost everything including the hands and feet, and a mail coif under a fairly simple kettle-hat. Over the mail they wear a surcoat, which appeared around 1125 in Europe, while full mail sleeves and mittens are also early 12th century innovations, as are the hosen or chausses leg coverings seen here. In general then these men look right for around the mid 12th century and the following century or so. However by the mid 13th century the great helm appeared, and as command figures we would expect these men to be amongst the first to adopt this new technology, so by this later date they would be merely ordinary (and increasingly old-fashioned) knights. Other dating details include the mail on the hands, which we have described as mittens but look like they might be sculpted with separate fingers – a development that only occurred in the late 12th century. Also the king's poleyns only appeared in the mid 13th century, which rather contradicts the earlier simplicity of these figures.
As can be seen the second row of figures are provided with separate weapons. These include a spear (which could also be used to carry a standard), an axe and several swords. The swords are something of a surprise as they are all quite basic affairs. Such items were not uncommon in the medieval era, but it would be strange indeed for knights, and particularly those of quality as you would expect in a command set, to be seen carrying such modest items.
Another strange aspect to this set is the absence of shields. Until the advent of full 'white' armour, shields were a natural part of any knight's equipment and the lack of such items here is disappointing.
The horses are mostly saddled in standard medieval manner but one stands out as being considerably more sophisticated. This animal has a chanfron (face armour), mail covering the neck and an ornate housing. Such an arrangement did not appear until the end of the 12th century, and even then only for those who could afford it. We must assume therefore that this is the king's mount, and since it is not in motion that fits with the static nature of the king and the stance of the valet.
The sculpting is generally first-rate, with some great faces and nice texture on the mail. The figures are a little tall, but as elite nobility this is perhaps reasonable as such men would have had a much better diet and lifestyle than the ordinary soldier of the day. The knights have ring hands of a sort, but these are nowhere near sufficient to accommodate the separate weapons, despite the latter being very slim and elegant. The fact is either the hand needs to be drilled out to accept the weapon or the weapon must be broken and glued on. In particular the trumpet, which is also separate, cannot be threaded through the raised hand at all so must be broken and glued around the hand as two pieces, or else the hand converted to a cupped hand.
The horses are not so nice as the men in our view, and they all have rather peculiar stances whereby their hooves are almost on the same line, giving the effect of making them seem like they are walking on a tightrope. This is not a natural equine stance, and it does mean that they have no chance of standing, which particularly matters as there are no bases for any of the animals, either moulded on or separate. However one good idea is to have the high saddle as part of the man and not the horse, and it must be said that the men fit their mounts very well.
While this is for the most part beautifully produced, with the king figure being particularly outstanding, this is still a set with flaws. The discrepancies in the dates of some items can be resolved by not mixing the figures or treating them as ordinary knights or sergeants of a particular period rather than 'command'. Shields could be added from elsewhere, as could more appropriate swords, although we still think customers should expect to have such things provided. The horses are more of a problem, with awkward leg positioning and the lack of any bases making their usefulness very marginal indeed. Some very fine sculpting here but just too many problems to make this a great set.