The early 17th century was a dramatic time for Sweden. Having effectively got rid of competition from the Hanseatic League, Sweden came to dominate the Baltic and establish what became the Swedish Empire, also known as the Age of Greatness. Wars with Poland-Lithuania. Denmark and Russia kept Sweden’s army busy, and it enjoyed many successes despite apparently great odds against it. However it was when Sweden intervened in the Thirty Years War, in 1630, that she reached the height of her international prominence under the famous king Gustavus Adolphus (1594 - 1632), though Sweden was not to reach its greatest territorial extent until 1658.
At this time the matchlock musket was steadily gaining ground on the battlefield, but the pike remained a vital weapon for protecting the shot against cavalry, so we were surprised to find far more musket poses then pike in this set. Seven of the 12 are musketeers, and they are in various poses both using the musket and in more relaxed mood. Most are conventional and have been seen many times before, though the first figure in the second row is more unusual in that he has either just drawn his ramrod prior to ramming home the ball, or is about to replace it. All the musketeer poses are authentic and useful.
There are just two pikemen here; far fewer than would normally march alongside seven musketeers. Both are in the second row, and as you can see the poses are of 'charge your pike' and 'charge for horse', which are the two best positions to choose in our view if you are only going to make two poses. The position of both men is pretty good, with the second one about to draw his sword. As with the shot, so both these poses are properly done.
The last three poses provide the officers. From their clothing we would think the first is a junior officer, followed by a more richly costumed man with a sash across his chest; both men hold a halberd. The last figure holding a partisan is perhaps more senior still. All are very static, which is how officers normally looked even on the battlefield, so again nothing wrong with any of these poses.
In an age even before the attempts of Gustavus Adolphus to regulate the costume of his men, there would have been little uniformity in such men unless in a special unit such as a royal guard. No two here are entirely dressed alike, but in general everything on display is reasonable for the period. All wear shoes and stockings, and the baggy breeches popular at the time. Upper body wear varies, with some having a jacket that is part cassock - another common garment of the day. The pikemen both have helmets and a cuirass front and back (although one has not been painted as such on the box), and one also has tassets on the upper legs. The musketeers all have brimmed hats of various shapes and in various styles, all of which look appropriate for the early years of the 17th century. This sort of mix of clothing, and different levels of armour, make sense and are a good feature of this set. The officers have much finer clothing, as you would expect, and of particular note is the ruff worn by all of them. By 1600 the ruff had gone out of fashion in Western Europe, but in the far North and East it was still worn as here, so these are fine.
We must pay particular attention to the muskets and pikes in this set, for two very different reasons. The muskets are fairly simply done, but the musketeer firing in the top row is using an form of short pike with a hook for resting the musket known as swine's feather or Swedish feather. None of the other musketeers have any kind of support for their muskets at all, and although lightened matchlocks would appear later in the century, at this time these can only be calivers, which is reasonable though we were very surprised to find so many in the set.
The pikes, as you see, are not with the men. In the past Mars have provided really poor pikes engraved into a slab, and we have complained bitterly. This time they have provided some strands of plastic to serve as pikes, for which see our image of the sprue. Each is around 12cm in length, so plenty long enough for even the longest pike, but they are just cut strands - no attempt at modelling a pike head (despite what the painted figures on the box may suggest). The width is good and the length plenty, though ours were all somewhat curved, which may be a problem. Compared to the old way of doing it we thought this was an improvement, though enterprising customers will have plenty of work trying to fashion a convincing head for these weapons.
So far it has been mostly good news on this set, though Mars never fair well when it comes to sculpting. Like the others, these figures are quite chunky and though they have good amounts of detail it is not done especially well, though the two senior officers are actually quite well done, at least by comparison. The faces are not too good, and the finer details of matchlock could be better too, so you would not call these figures attractive or elegant, though compared to some Mars offerings we thought these were amongst the better examples. We are happy to report no flash to speak of, and as everyone is keeping their arms close to their body there is no excess plastic either, so while still a long way short of the best these are not too badly produced.
Though we do not care for the basic sculpting style of these figures, accuracy is good and all the poses are pretty useful even if too much weighted in favour of the shot. Simply providing plastic strand in lieu of pikes feels like cheating, though actually the result is better than the sculpted offering in previous sets, even if you get no head for your pike. Apart from the fairly ugly overall appearance then, this is actually a quite useful set, and while many of the figures could be used for the Thirty Years War some feel a bit too early for that, making it something completely new in the hobby.